Expert column: Hampton Roads needs to “pivot to the positive”

By: Bryan K. Stephens
Inside Business, July 8, 2016

bryan k stephens

Living and working in Hampton Roads can be frustrating. We’ve all been late to something important because we were stuck in traffic on I-64. Many have faced years of uncertainty in our jobs, especially in the defense industry. And we routinely read reports of the lack of cooperation and collaboration among the municipalities. Negativity is a powerful magnet and a very deep, dark hole easy to fall into.

However, America’s First Region is also steep in riches and opportunity. It’s simply a matter of perspective.

In my opinion, we need to break the cycle of complaints and negativity in Hampton Roads starting right now. We are blessed to live, work and raise our families here. America’s First Region is truly steeped in opportunity and primed for greatness if we collectively make that turn.

“Pivot to the Positive” is my call to action for all who work and live in Hampton Roads. This summer, let’s take a moment to pause, refocus and appreciate our surroundings. Instead of focusing on traffic congestion, disagreements about development projects, or political uncertainty; let’s look at why everyone is coming here (and causing that traffic), our great job market, and our region’s stability and amazing quality of life.

The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce advocates for the regional business community. Along with other regional partners, we look beyond the boundaries of our magnificently diverse cities and breathe in the new life collectively growing all around us.

Big things starting to happen

Some may try to take you down that dark, negative path by highlighting the lack of collaboration between cities as the long-standing hindrance to regional development, but we see rapidly emerging efforts starting to take root and flourish.

Regional alliances like the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, Opportunity Inc., and the newly formed ReInvent Hampton Roads are breaking down those walls and working together in a meaningful, collaborative way. As we collectively “Pivot to the Positive,” great things are starting to happen.

Additionally, with major developments like Waterside District, The Main, Premium Outlets, the Cavalier Hotel, the Hyatt, the Pier, and the arena all coming online soon, our footprint is forever changing for the better. Visitors from across the globe will consider Hampton Roads a premier destination.

Quality of life has solid foundation

The foundation for our high quality of life is solid. We have award-winning hospitals and health care, great colleges and universities, strong public schools and exemplary private schools. Museums, theaters, and concert venues host top tier arts performances year-round. Our ocean, bay and rivers offer the unmatched euphoria of the “salt life.” Whether by boat or by beach, the water offers pleasure for all.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on our strong pro-business environment. All the aforementioned contribute to the economic development and strength of our region. Our three-legged economic stool, the Port of Virginia, tourism, and the military are all in expansion mode.

The Port is welcoming the gigantic neo-Panamax ships and has plans and financing for improved infrastructure to increase efficiency and capacity. Tourism is growing and with all the new developments in the queue, will certainly continue to grow.

Our military presence will always be strong and we will certainly do all that is necessary if there is a BRAC in our future to help local military leaders successfully expose to national decisionmakers the true values of their Mid-Atlantic bases here in Hampton Roads.

Economic diversification

Additionally, we are beginning to diversify the economy. Recent headlines are full of announcements of new businesses choosing Hampton Roads for relocation of their business interest; a positive result of our more collaborative and focused economic development efforts. There is also a new concerted effort to establish a Hampton Roads integrated “entrepreneur ecosystem” to support talented entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses.

So as we enjoy these long days of summer, perhaps it’s time to “Pivot to the Positive” and recognize (and celebrate) our wonderful assets here in Hampton Roads. We are truly blessed America’s First Region is America’s best region.

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Bryan K. Stephens is the president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.