2016 Top 40 Under 40 honoree: Andrea Harrell

Inside Business, October 11, 2016


At work • I oversee workforce development programs for youth within the Hampton Roads community, including the Youth Career Center, the Career Access Network that has over 50 locations and more than 15 federally funded youth programs. The programs reach reach more than 10,000 individuals in the community annually.

Home and family • I’m always on the go with family, including parents, brother and sister-in-law, three nieces, two nephews, my fiancé, my children and two extremely spoiled Yorkies.

Volunteer activities • Center around my passion for supporting children. As a board member of Junior Achievement Hampton Roads, the KamCares Foundation and member of the Up Center Foster Parent Advisory Committee, I am involved with numerous community partnerships. I can be found in various activities from instructing an elementary school Junior Achievement Class to assisting community organizations with building partnerships and creating programs that benefit youth.

Motivating factor • To be the very best mother, foster mother and family member I am able to. Also, supporting our next generation on their journeys and decreasing barriers to their success.

Advice for young people • Learn to be flexible and roll with the punches. Things don’t always turn out as planned, but if you do your best and are patient, you’ll find that in the end things can be better than you ever believed they could be.

Professional goal in five years • To continue to build on this foundation, having a leadership role within the community that supports children and families.

The one thing I’d change about Hampton Roads • We’re on a great path to increasing partnerships between the various localities and developing a cohesive identity for Hampton Roads. I would like to see us continue to make strides along this pathway.

Region’s biggest asset • The presence of the military. It continues to be one of the largest economic engines in our community. It’s hard to meet someone in our area that is not touched by our military in some way.

Downtime • I love to be outdoors. Whether it’s on the beach, in the mountains or in the woods, you can find me on a road trip that allows me to reconnect with nature.

What really gets under my skin • Bullies. I feel everyone should be valued, treated fairly and with respect.

TCC president sees herself as a servant leader

By: Nora Firestone
Inside Business, September 26, 2016

Photography by: Harry Gerwien

Edna Baehre-Kolovani sailed across the room like a breeze: cool, swift and quietly in command. She’s a welcome presence to faculty, students and proponents of Tidewater Community College, where this veteran leader in higher education spends the bulk of her time and heart since her 2012 inauguration as its fifth president in almost 50 years.

August sunlight poured through the colossal windows and over majestic-blue walls, hardwood furnishings, potted plants and framed memorabilia. A small plaque conferring the Morehouse College 2007 Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award for Peace faced her office door as if to greet entrants with a quiet assurance that this executive leads by service, not selfdom.

She’d already met with Bryan Stephens, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, and Bill Crow, president of the Virginia Ship Repair Association, to discuss roles for a new network of local centers to assist military veterans separating from service to successfully transition into a civilian workforce. For many, this would include further education or workforce training for job readiness, a realm that Baehre-Kolovani has steadfastly championed at TCC by partnering with businesses and industry leaders to gauge demands and enhance or develop high-quality programs.

Later she’d meet with other movers and shakers regarding numerous initiatives designed to positively affect people, education, business and opportunities throughout the region.

Now she broke for a brief, informal photo shoot with Robert Guess, associate professor of information systems technology and principal director of the college’s cybersecurity center. He’d arrived to celebrate and document the school’s recent designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Two-Year Education by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency. With authority granted by Baehre-Kolovani, Guess had devoted countless hours over the course of a year to the application process. His hard work and her ardent support paid off in May, when TCC became one of only three community colleges statewide to have achieved the designation. The award endorsed TCC for significant contributions in meeting the national demand and the highest industry and government standards for educating and developing a growing number of professionals with cyber defense expertise for the critical work of securing, protecting and defending the nation’s complex information infrastructure.

While Baehre-Kolovani embraces such distinction on behalf of the school, she sees herself as a humble “servant leader” in all causes and gave credit where due:

“You have every right to be proud of what you accomplished for the college,” she told Guess.

“It’s not me; it’s the institution,” Guess replied, likeminded. “This is a signifier of an institutional commitment to cyber defense education, and we are fortunate to live in an area where there are jobs, and these jobs pay very well. We’re going to do everything we can to help ensure that we have a cyber-savvy workforce.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median annual wage for information security analysts exceeded $90,000 in 2015. Increasingly high demand prompts a projected growth of employment in the field of 18 percent from 2014 to 2024. Guess, Baehre-Kolovani and others involved in TCC’s expanding cybersecurity education programs have spearheaded the mission to position the college as a leading developer of talent with this expertise.

a new term and a fresh eye

Those who know Baehre-Kolovani best say it’s this level of desire, devotion and ability to act on behalf of others that makes her a great leader.

Joseph F. Bouchard, now vice chair of the Tidewater Community College Educational Foundation, was among those who’d interviewed the most recent presidential candidates for TCC and conveyed their recommendations to the Virginia Community College System chancellor.

“Edna was articulate, sincere and enthusiastic; I think everyone who interviewed her or had a chance to meet with her concluded she would be a strong, effective advocate for TCC,” Bouchard recalled. “I was impressed by her understanding of the role of a community college in the community, her vision for Tidewater Community College and her grasp of the importance of workforce training programs.”

As the second largest college in the Virginia Community College System, TCC serves some 40,000 students a year, including approximately 14,000 who are military-related, with four full-size campuses – Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach – and six regional centers, including its Advanced Technology Center and its Center for Military and Veterans Education in Virginia Beach and Centers for Workforce Solutions in Suffolk and Virginia Beach. With 12 nationally accredited programs, it’s also the country’s 17th-largest producer of associate degrees among two-year colleges. And, like any other, it’s had its challenges.

According to Bouchard, for several years prior to Baehre-Kolovani’s arrival, TCC’s priority had been preparing students for four-year colleges. “That was appropriate because the ‘echo boom’ generation was applying to colleges in record numbers, making competition intense and acceptance rates low,” he explained. “Transferring from a community college was the only way many students could get into a four-year college.”

Unfortunately, he noted, that focus resulted in TCC’s workforce the training programs languishing and growing concern within the Hampton Roads business community that TCC couldn’t meet their needs in certain job-readiness realms. “So, for members of the business community like myself, listening to Edna describe her vision for TCC’s workforce training programs and the role that TCC could and should play in regional economic development was exciting and signaled a welcome change in TCC’s priorities,” Bouchard said.

Ruth Jones Nichols concurred.

“I listened to her [inauguration] speech about the opportunities ahead and left feeling very strongly that she was going to do amazing things for our community as TCC’s new president,” she said. “At a time when student enrollment was declining and student demographic characteristics were shifting, she outlined a visionary plan that would enhance learning opportunities and offer comprehensive supportive services to ensure student success.”

During three years to follow, Baehre-Kolovani and Nichols, then executive director for the YWCA South Hampton Roads, collaborated effectively to make higher education more accessible to mothers by establishing affordable, licensed child-development centers on TCC’s four campuses.

Baehre-Kolovani successfully wrangled several other critical objectives, including developing a five-year strategic plan promoting “One college, one voice, one future,” by which she involved more than 400 faculty and staff to help define and support their goals toward unification of the individual campuses and focus on key areas of workforce development, academic excellence, student success, efficient use of resources and philanthropic growth. Dual-enrollment programs that she established with Chesapeake and Virginia Beach high schools now enable students to graduate high school with industry-related credentials and a jump start on their college degrees.

And under her leadership, TCC has received significant support for multiple pursuits, including a $3 million grant to continue hosting the Southeast Maritime and Transportation Center for maritime career training and $1 million in grants from the Office of Naval Research for initiatives that support academic achievement, employability and continuing education for military and other students.

The recent cybersecurity education designation better positions the school for additional grants, Baehre-Kolovani added, and, according to Guess, the expanding program’s enrollment is up 50 percent since a year ago.

In addition, the Virginia Apprenticeship Council in June approved the state’s first-ever Virginia Department of Labor and Industry cybersecurity apprenticeship programs, which will facilitate the placement of some cyber defense students with employers specializing in cybersecurity for an enhanced workforce-education experience leading to licensure. TCC partnered with Peregrine Technical Solutions LLC of Yorktown to provide the apprenticeships beginning this fall.

“This is the ball starting to roll,” Baehre-Kolovani said. Employers are already calling TCC for employees.

Her commitment to personal and professional development extends to myriad causes outside TCC. Among them: She and Nichols now serve together on the board of directors for Opportunity, Inc. and are fellow members of the United Way Women’s Leadership Council, and she chairs the Moving Minds Committee of Future of Hampton Roads, where she works closely with Bouchard.

Baehre-Kolovani’s impressive array of accomplishments, awards and accolades reflects her approach toward each day with a servant leadership perspective and the values instilled since youth.

an apple from the tree

The fruits of her formative years bear the seeds of success for future generations. Born Edna Victoria Waldherr in 1949, she was raised by hard-working professional parents, Friedrich and Helmi Waldherr, in a small village in southwest Germany. Her parents owned apartments, which they rented to American soldiers, and intentionally exposed their son and daughter to people from other cultures and parts of the world.

Her father, a successful architect, instilled in his children that whatever they wanted in life, they had to earn. Hence during summers, young Edna pursued odd jobs like painting and basic electrical and plumbing work at his construction sites.

Her mother, a multilingual interpreter, kept a group of close friends who were also accomplished professional women with families. Knowingly or not, the women all helped shape impressionable Edna by mentorship and modeling the successful merging of professional life and family life. Looking back, Baehre-Kolovani lovingly refers to her early home as “the first suffragette household in Germany.

“It was kind of like my imprinting, to realize as a young person that as a woman I can almost have it all – if I just have the will and the vision and the intelligence to do it,” she said. Later in life, as a wife, mother and working professional in America, she’d learn about “almost,” about finding balance, and she’d clarify the notion: “You can have it all,” she confirmed, “but you have to be prepared to make some sacrifices along the way.” For example, waking at 4 a.m. in the early years to cook the week’s worth of dinners that she, her husband and two children would enjoy around the table together in the evenings.

Edna Waldherr met Richard Baehre in Germany, where he was stationed with the U.S. Army. They fell in love, married in 1971, and she came to America in ’72. To become a U.S. citizen, she had to relinquish her German citizenship.

“That was scary,” she recalled. “I gave up the home I’d grown up in. I’d given up all my friends. Giving up your citizenship is a big step.”

“I did what I had to do, which was go find a job and earn money,” she said. There’s great value in a strong work ethic; it’s how people build a life or a career, one stepping block upon another. She believes that eventually hard work and integrity – not entitlement mindsets – get people where they deserve to be.

Her career as a college president began in 1997, at Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania. By then she and Richard had a daughter, Lisa, and a son, Nicholas. In 2001 the couple divorced. Edna Baehre remained at Harrisburg until 2010. Meanwhile, she’d met Bill Kolovani, a businessman from nearby Lebanon. Kolovani called it “fortuitous.”

“I was in the middle of a huge downtown revitalization project, changing the face of downtown Lebanon by restoring and revitalizing the original 1892 farmer’s market, creating a new restaurant, café, art gallery, retail, parking and more,” he recalled. A vice president of Baehre frequented Kolovani’s restaurant, Niko’s, and she thought he and Baehre should get to know each other. “So her V.P. kind of arranged for us to meet at one of [the college’s] building projects that they were showcasing,” he said. “Edna said, ‘It was love at first sight.’”

Kolovani fell too. “Edna was kind and gracious to everyone,” he recalled. “She was such a great conversationalist and treated everyone with such dignity and was so incredibly humble.” He admires these traits and believes they enhance her leadership. And he recognizes the impact she has on others:

“Dr. Kolovani wants to leave her mark on society, not for the notoriety but for the impact she can make in students’ lives, in their futures,” he said.

The couple married in 2011, midway through Baehre-Kolovani’s two-year position as president and superintendent at Napa Valley College in California. Though she hardly considers anything a failure, per se, as long as a person learns from his or her mistakes, she does consider the move out west a self-imposed derailment of sorts. For the first time, she’d based a major career decision on personal wishes – in this case to be close to daughter Lisa Baehre, who’d moved there. But the West Coast personnel didn’t appreciate her East Coast business savvy when it came to how to manage mandatory budget cuts.

“All the things that I was hired for were the things that the employees, in particular, faulted me for,” said Baehre-Kolovani, who had to make tough decisions that they didn’t all like. “There is more of this entitlement mentality in California than I think any other state in the country.”

That contradicts everything she knows about hard work, accountability and earning what you get. The position was a poor fit. In 2012, she and Kolovani came to Hampton Roads, where she’d long considered living, and an opening at Tidewater Community College enticed her.

“I was attracted to TCC because of its reputation,” Baehre-Kolovani recalled. The campuses, which she calls “state-of-the-art phenomenal,” rival many universities. Its reputation for innovation and awards of multi-million-dollar grants spoke volumes about people here “being willing to break out of their molds and take risks,” she said.

“What I found at the college was a real interest by the college community to come together as a cohesive unit,” she continued. TCC had thousands of employees, and they wanted to work together. That’s a good fit.

the leaders’ leader

Nichols, who is now CEO of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, praised Baehre-Kolovani’s leadership style:

“She leads with vision, creativity and compassion for serving others” and seeks to ensure “that they have opportunities for personal or professional development in a manner that is meaningful to them,” she said. “She is also focused on measurable results that point to transformational changes in the lives of those impacted by her work.”

“I’ve always believed that quality leadership is about people,” said Micky Nye, president of Farm Fresh Food and Pharmacy. Baehre-Kolovani has served with Nye on committees and has been instrumental in connecting her with others whose causes she can help.

“It starts with a clear vision of where the leader wants to go and sharing with the team why that direction is important,” Nye said. “Follow this up with a clear commitment to action and accountability to get to the goal. People follow leaders that are strong in their convictions and believe in their teams. People naturally want to be part of the solution.

“Edna has an amazing vision for TCC and she has done a terrific job of articulating that vision on campus and in public through formal presentations, press” and more, Nye continued. “My observations of Edna are that she holds herself accountable first and then expects the same from her team. She is straightforward in her communication and very efficient on her follow-up to keep everyone on track.”

The traits Baehre-Kolovani most values in others include honesty, integrity, humility and straightforwardness. She admires others who’ve had positive impact in the world, including former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Mahatma Gandhi, whom she quoted regarding the notion of servant leadership as teaching, “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing” regardless of whether you will ever see the fruit.

Perhaps more than anyone, Baehre-Kolovani’s own father, “a gentle man of great character,” epitomizes integrity to her. “He was humble, and he imprinted on me that you have to be honest and have integrity in everything you do,” she said. “Whatever he got, and what he ultimately accomplished, he’d earned the hard way.”

Bill Kolovani said he’s fortunate to see all facets of his wife, including what others might miss. “She knows no race, color or creed; she has no prejudices and is thankful for her blessings every day,” he said. She’s “trustworthy, sassy, vivacious, captivating and truthful,” and “there’s so much depth to her” as a wife, mother, friend, woman and professional. Others seeking to emulate her would be wise to adopt her servant leadership mindset, Kolovani noted.

“She personifies being a servant first and then leading, assuring that everyone’s needs are met first, preparing them for leadership,” he explained. “Nothing is beneath her, just like Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago washing his disciples’ feet.”

“The bottom line for me is doing things for the right reasons,” Baehre-Kolovani said. “It’s not about me. It’s about our college; it’s about our mission.”

Nye recommends people adopt her “always look forward” attitude. “Have a vision for what you want to accomplish, make sure everyone else understands the vision and knows what they have to do to bring it to life,” she urged. Then “bring that vision to life through your people.”

Lisa Baehre, now 37, living in Virginia Beach and the executive director of the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts Foundation, said her mother is “fantastic,” a “pioneer” in the area of balancing the responsibilities of family, work and personal life.

“I always felt she was very much involved in my life and activities growing up,” she said. “At the same time, she was building a successful career, mentoring employees, developing innovative programs, etc.

“My mother believes strongly that great leaders are committed to the principles of servant leadership,” she said. “She has taught me that not only are they listening and learning how to serve others in the leadership roles, they are also constantly evaluating themselves. Good leaders listen to others. Great leaders listen, adapt and practice the principles they are instilling in others.”

Their own mother-daughter relationship has evolved on new levels, Lisa Baehre affirmed. “I feel I can discuss my own career and life responsibilities with her. She is a great sounding board and truly my best friend.”

from here, keep going

The future’s bright for students who’ll benefit from the truth in TCC’s longstanding “From here, go anywhere” motto.

Furthermore, Bouchard said he’s seen a significant increase in the cohesiveness and energy of the TCC senior leadership team. Baehre-Kolovani has built a stronger team than she inherited, he said, and as a visionary, articulate and tireless advocate for TCC, she’s inspired masses and quickly built a broad range of valuable relationships with business leaders, elected officials and the broader community.

“Similarly,” he noted, “I have seen a welcome increase in TCC’s visibility in the community.” He praised her strides in taking TCC in “bold new directions” per her “compelling vision” for its future.

There’s a solid spiritual core to Baehre-Kolovani’s nature, and she pondered coincidence vs. destiny: “I think back on my life, and there have been so many touch points of things that have happened … that ultimately, somehow, come together. I think about those things and say, OK, somewhere along the line maybe that was part of somebody’s plan.” She’d wanted this to be the last stop in her career, and it is, she said. The culture’s inspiring, the mission is sound, the vision is clear.

“I have no plans to go anywhere else.” – IL

Suffolk company awarded first of new grants

Suffolk News Herald, September 24, 2016

Tidewater Community College and Opportunity Inc. will partner to offer the state’s first Incumbent Worker Grant to a Suffolk general contractor seeking to improve the skills of its employees.

The Hampton Roads Incumbent Worker Innovation Program aligns employees with skillsets desired by their employers in order to increase productivity and promote company growth, according to a press release from Tidewater Community College.

It targets employers with 250 employees or fewer in the advanced manufacturing; information technology; transportation, warehousing and logistics; and health care sectors.

Allfirst LLC, an industrial general contractor in Suffolk, will receive the first grant to improve the welding skills of eight of its employees.

Founded in 2000, Allfirst employs riggers, machinists, millwrights, pipefitters, carpenters and welders. The company serves manufacturers, power plants, the oil and gas industry, warehouses, health care and other industrial customers in Hampton Roads and throughout Virginia.

“The Incumbent Worker Grant is yet another way TCC is supporting the goal of a well-qualified workforce in Hampton Roads,” said Corey McCray, vice president for Workforce Solutions. “It allows small businesses to gain their footing and develop a competitive edge through relevant and in-demand professional development for their incumbent workers.”

TCC and Opportunity Inc. will enter into contracts with employers for up to 50 percent reimbursement of the training costs for each employee, up to $1,800.

“Opportunity Inc. is committed to collaborating with education and business partners to ensure a highly skilled workforce equipped to meet the advanced demands of growing industry clusters,” said Shawn Avery, president and chief executive officer of Opportunity Inc.

“We look forward to extending resources to small businesses, such as Allfirst, to assist with training and credentialing efforts that ultimately support the development of meaningful career pathways for incumbent workers.”

For information on how to apply for the grant, contact TCC’s Jennifer Palestrant at jpalestrant@tcc.edu or 822-7669

Libraries host human-sized Life game

By: Sterling Giles
Suffolk News Herald, September 23, 2016

From left, Ayla Piro, Molly Spruiell and Anatasia Grund play a human-sized version of the popular board game, Life, at the North Suffolk library on Thursday evening.

Teens at the North Suffolk Library laughed and learned about life as they traversed a human-sized version of the popular board game of Life on Thursday.

The Morgan Memorial and North Suffolk libraries hosted Life Sized Games of Life for Teens on Sept. 8 and Sept. 23, respectively.

Much like the board game, the enlarged version featured decisions about budgets, taxes and other life expenses, teaching the teens about how their choices will affect them in the process.

“They’re having fun while learning about life,” said Lori Piro, one of the mothers in attendance at the North Suffolk library.

The Youth Career Center of Hampton Roads, a subset of Opportunity Inc., an organization dedicated to administering workforce development initiatives in the Hampton Roads area, introduced the activity as a part of its career immersion projects.

The purpose of the projects is to expose students to career exploration, job preparation and financial literacy education.

“We want to immerse them in their learning,” said Andrea Harrell, senior director of Youth Initiatives and Community Affairs at Opportunity Inc. “We try to have them participate in something that’s important to them.”

The life-sized games have been “requested a lot,” Harrell said. “They are very appreciative with the work we do.”

The organization has offered the activities at more than 50 libraries, schools and other institutions in the region. In addition, the group offers a life-sized version of the board game, Clue, as another one of its career immersion projects.

“Students are learning, active and excited about it,” Harrell said.

The libraries plan to host more Life games in the coming weeks, according to Angela Sumner, marketing and community relations coordinator for the city’s library system.

TCC, Opportunity Inc. partner for grant program to train incumbent employees

Tidewater Community College, September 21, 2016


Tidewater Community College and Opportunity Inc. will partner to offer the state’s first Incumbent Worker Grant to a Suffolk general contractor seeking to improve the skills of its employees.

The Hampton Roads Incumbent Worker Innovation Program aligns employees with skillsets desired by their employers in order to increase productivity and promote company growth.

It targets employers with 250 employees or fewer in the advanced manufacturing; information technology; transportation, warehousing and logistics; and health care sectors.

Allfirst LLC, an industrial general contractor in Suffolk, will receive the first grant to improve the welding skills of eight of its employees.

Founded in 2000, Allfirst employs riggers, machinists, millwrights, pipefitters, carpenters and welders. The company serves manufacturers, power plants, the oil and gas industry, warehouses, health care and other industrial customers in Hampton Roads and throughout Virginia.

“The Incumbent Worker Grant is yet another way TCC is supporting the goal of a well-qualified workforce in Hampton Roads,” said Corey McCray, vice president for Workforce Solutions. “It allows small businesses to gain their footing and develop a competitive edge through relevant and in-demand professional development for their incumbent workers.”

TCC and Opportunity Inc. will enter into contracts with employers for up to 50 percent reimbursement of the training costs for each employee, up to $1,800.

“Opportunity Inc. is committed to collaborating with education and business partners to ensure a highly skilled workforce equipped to meet the advanced demands of growing industry clusters,” said Shawn Avery, president and chief executive officer of Opportunity Inc.

“We look forward to extending resources to small businesses, such as Allfirst, to assist with training and credentialing efforts that ultimately support the development of meaningful career pathways for incumbent workers.”

For information on how to apply for the grant, contact TCC’s Jennifer Palestrant at jpalestrant@tcc.edu or 757-822-7669.

Expert column | Creating career pathways because it’s “incumbent” upon us

By: Shawn Avery
Inside Business, September 16, 2016


In an increasingly digital world, employers are demanding greater skills and more certifications to outpace competitors.

Growing industry clusters in Hampton Roads — such as information technology, analytics and security; advanced manufacturing; life sciences and health care; maritime logistics and supply chain; and business and financial services — require a highly skilled and educated workforce equipped to meet the advanced needs of the 21st century.

Many businesses are responding to this shift by placing greater emphasis on recruitment efforts. While it is true hiring and recruiting are critical to cultivating talent and ensuring a vibrant economy, employers should also consider harnessing the power of their existing workforce and invest in training and professional development programs that will amplify individual strengths and identify opportunities for improvement.

By elevating and upgrading the skills of incumbent workers who have demonstrated company commitment, employers are able to garner significant benefits — retention, compliance and productivity — that will ultimately impact the company’s bottom line.


According to a recent statistic cited at Recruitment.com, 40 percent of employees who receive poor job training resign from their positions within the first year. This is especially true for millennials who are shaping today’s workforce and economy.

Gallup’s latest report, How Millennials Want to Work and Live, reveals 59 percent of those in the demographic value positions that offer opportunities to learn and grow. Employers should empower their current employees through training courses, tuition reimbursement and other professional development activities. Further, it’s no secret retaining an employee is much more cost effective than working to recruit another.


As businesses are mandated to comply with federal, state, and industry-specific regulations, employees are tasked with ensuring compliance to avoid penalties and restrictions. Technology advances have made this process cumbersome for many corporations, as they must modify existing practices to meet new 21st-century regulatory requirements.

Facilitating compliance with stringent and ever-changing regulations in a workplace environment with the constant onboarding of new talent can make it challenging for businesses to maintain their competitive edge in the market.


Routine training and professional development equips employees with greater tools that can increase work performance. Training on new strategies, IT platforms and systems increases efficiency and productivity, which drive company revenue and growth.

While the development of career pathways offers a myriad of benefits, the costs associated with training are often steep. Small businesses, in particular, are struggling to ensure employees remain current with skill sets necessary to effectively perform their jobs, and as a result require highly credentialed talent.

But resources do exist. To support small businesses at the state and local levels, Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently announced a $1 million program to assist with efforts to improve the occupational and technical skills of workers through workforce credentials that drive business growth.

Training funded by the new program, provided through the Workforce and Innovation and Opportunity Act, will target the fields for which employers are demanding skills development and certifications, to include manufacturing, energy, information technology, cybersecurity, health care, transportation and logistics.

In June, Opportunity Inc., in partnership with Tidewater Community College, was one of seven regional Workforce Development Boards in the Commonwealth awarded a grant to work with small businesses, community colleges and other partners in their regions to provide workforce training and credentialing for incumbent workers.

The $150,000 in incumbent worker training funds will be used to support Hampton Roads businesses with 250 employees or fewer by contributing a percentage of the training and certification assessment costs that lead to a certification or occupational license. Allfirst LLC, an industrial general contractor based in Suffolk, was awarded the first grant to improve the welding skills of eight of its employees.

The future is promising for businesses that engage in career pathway planning. As the old adage goes … your greatest asset might be standing right in front of you. Leveraging support from workforce development stakeholders, such as Opportunity Inc., many businesses will have the resources to develop the talent required to meet their demand and compete in our increasingly globalized economy.


Shawn Avery is president and CEO of Opportunity Inc.

Senator Tim Kaine Acknowledges Opportunity Inc. as the Regional Hub for Workforce Development



Senator Kaine’s speech highlights the success of Opportunity Inc. and the Hampton Roads Workforce Development Board in developing workforce strategies and solutions in administering programs and services to strengthen the regional workforce, even through recession and sequestration. Senator Kaine hopes to keep this development in the national spotlight by encouraging his own reforms which encourage a focus on providing access to career and technical education as well as raising the quality of those programs.

Norfolk’s new “Nighthawks” program will launch Friday for young adults in high-crime neighborhoods

By: Eric Hartley
The Virginian-Pilot, July 14, 2016

norfolk nighthawks article image

Bill Tiernan | The Virginian-Pilot
Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander during remarks Friday morning, July 1, 2016, after he was sworn in at City Hall.


The city will start a recreation and jobs program for young adults tonight in neighborhoods that have seen increased crime.

“Nighthawks” will be aimed at people ages 18 to 25 – those most likely to commit violence, Mayor Kenny Alexander said. It will be on Friday and Saturday nights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., when crime peaks.

The program will be at the community centers in Huntersville and Berkley starting this week and at the Norview Community Center later in the summer, according to a city announcement.

The highlight and lure will be basketball, but people who come to play can also connect with job training and programs that deal with anger management and conflict resolution.

When young people come in to sign up, they’ll also be asked about where they work and whether they have high school diplomas.

Tidewater Community College will work with young people to get them training and credentials for jobs that pay well but don’t require four-year degrees, Alexander said.

Those include electrician, welder, pharmacy technician, dental assistant and cybersecurity jobs.

Opportunity Inc., a government-backed nonprofit workforce development organization, will pay to help qualified young people earn credentials.

Alexander said the city already has great services for children and senior citizens but hasn’t been able to reach young adults.

That’s especially urgent, the mayor said, given a recent increase in violent crime.

“We just can’t sit back and have no response,” he said.

Nighthawks will run through Aug. 27, but Alexander said he wants civic leagues and religious groups to help sustain similar efforts in the long term.

The mayor and City Manager Marcus Jones said they’re asking police officers to get involved, including as coaches and players on the Nighthawks basketball teams.

Parts of the program echo the “midnight basketball” leagues that drew national attention during efforts to combat rising crime in the early 1990s.

Councilwoman Angelia Williams Graves said community centers and programs offered there give young people job skills and discipline – and can even save lives.

“It gives them somewhere to go that is safe, and it keeps them off the streets,” Graves said Thursday during an announcement of the Nighthawks program.

Norfolk also is considering extending regular hours at recreation centers, though details were not available.

Graves asked about longer hours for the summer during a late April meeting.

Rec centers normally close at 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 6 p.m. on Friday; those that open Saturdays close at 4 p.m., and all are closed on Sundays.

“I mean, 4 on a Saturday gives kids from 4 until 8 or 9 when it gets dark to have nothing to do,” Graves said at the time.

Jones said this week that extended hours and new services won’t require new funding. He said the city has had extended summer hours in the past.

Alexander said young people – particularly those without high school diplomas – often don’t realize they have a shot at good jobs with some help.

“What is the alternative?” he said. “The alternative is what we have.”


Eric Hartley, 757-932-7511, eric.hartley@pilotonline.com

100 to 120 jobs still available at Isle of Wight solar facility

By: Reema Amin
Daily Press, July 13, 2016

solar farm article image

Construction has begun on what will be Isle of Wight’s first solar farm, but officials are still looking to fill half of the jobs that are needed to complete the facility by December.

Between 100 and 120 jobs were still available as of Wednesday to help build Woodland Solar, according to Daisy Pridgen, spokeswoman for Dominion Power Virginia. The $44 million project is owned by Dominion Virginia Power and will take root at the corner of Woodland and Longview drives over 200 acres of Oliver Farms.

The 19-megawatt facility, which would power nearly 5,000 homes, received a certificate of approval from the State Corporation Commission on June 30, according to SCC documents.

SCC approval is required because Dominion is a regulated utility and must prove to the state that its projects are in the best interest of its customers. Woodland Solar was one of three projects the SCC approved last month, according to a press release from Dominion on Wednesday. The others are in Powhatan and Louisa counties.

Together, the projects will call for 800 construction jobs, Dominion said, 200 of them at the Isle of Wight facility.

Georgia-based Amec Foster Wheeler is responsible for the facilities’ construction and had a hiring fair in Smithfield on June 21. People who didn’t make it there can still apply online at http://opp-inc.org/for-career-seekers/jobs-board/#s=1 or on Amec Foster Wheeler’s website, https://amecfw.quickbase.com/db/bjvx24f3w?a=dbpage&pageID=2, Pridgen said.

Jobs on both sites have been posted for a few months.

Amec Foster Wheeler is looking for electricians, carpenters, cement finishers, solar panel installers, heavy equipment operators and general laborers for the three facilities. Experience is a plus but not necessary – there will be on-the-job training, Pridgen said.

Construction is estimated to take six months, according to Dominion. All three projects are supposed to be completed and running by December, Pridgen said.

Tom Elder, the county’s director of economic development, said 200 temporary jobs won’t have a major impact on Isle of Wight, but the project as a whole is beneficial.

“It doesn’t generate a lot of tax revenue for the county, but it’s a feel-good thing to use solar energy,” Elder said.

Dominion’s goal is to develop 400 megawatts of solar energy in the state by 2020, according to its release.


Amin can be reached by phone at 757-247-4890.

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.


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

Launch Hampton Roads sends 111 into entrepreneurial orbit

By: Pete Humes
Inside Business, Monday, July 4, 2016

launch article photo
Launch Hampton Roads alumni Allen and Andrea Fisher used the program to help them start LOVEnorfolk, a “vegetable-forward” catering and pop-up restaurant business.

Launch Hampton Roads celebrated four years of helping local entrepreneurs start their own businesses last Tuesday.

This year marked the last year of available funding for the training program and organizers said it will not continue.

The initiative was designed to help “adult and dislocated workers” who were interested in starting their own business. Launch Hampton Roads was made possible by a partnership between regional workforce development board Opportunity Inc., local business leaders, three schools (Old Dominion University, The College of William and Mary and Tidewater Community College) and the Virginia Employment Through Entrepreneurship Consortium.

The consortium and SkillSource Group were awarded an $8.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor in July 2012. Opportunity Inc. received $1.8 million to offer free entrepreneurship training and technical assistance through the newly formed program.

A comprehensive report distributed during the June 28 gathering showed the program had 474 applicants and helped create 111 businesses. In addition, 131 participants were referred to traditional employment.

Launch Hampton Roads director Stephanie McCombs addressed the data at the event and said goals and expectations were “exceeded in every way.”

Look closely at the outcomes and results and you’ll find plenty of acronyms in the fine print. Each of which corresponds to a local, state or national organization or initiative created to help boost employment and move the economy forward.

Funds come from budget items and grants. Money moves from Point A to Point B and then to Point C. Organization A falls under Organization B which then distributes funds to Organization C.

It can get a bit overwhelming and frankly, hard to follow. And sometimes the constant barrage of official press releases from economic development offices, government officials and corporate communications departments makes it easy to forget that ultimately, business is about people.

But watching some of the 111 “graduates” of Launch Hampton Roads walk across the Big Blue Room at the Ted Constant Convocation Center and ring a symbolic bell made it clear. Start-ups begin with one person and succeed with collaboration.

The group of new businesses ran the gamut from cleaners, accountants and jewelry-makers to franchise owners and vegetarian restaurateurs.

Motivational speaker and author Benita Adams delivered an upbeat keynote speech that reminded entrepreneurs “the distance between dreams and reality … is action.”

See this article in the Inside Business e-Edition Here

Banking and finance roundup: Credit union CEO retires, Bank of America boosts nonprofits

By: Pete Humes
Inside Business, June 3, 2016

Virginia Beach Schools Federal Credit Union CEO to retire

Sally W. Fontenot, CCUE, is retiring as president and chief executive officer of Virginia Beach Schools Federal Credit Union. Fontenot started with VBSFCU in 1981 as a collector. She became president and CEO in 1996 and will retire June 30.

According to a release, Fontenot has overseen the building of the credit union’s main branch and two additional branches, and she has helped grow assets from $25 million to $95 million.

Current Executive Vice President L. Brian Clark, CCUE, will serve as president and CEO of VBSFCU starting July 1. Clark joined VBSFCU in 2001. In addition to being a Certified Credit Union Executive, Clark earned his master’s degree in Business Administration from Old Dominion University.

Bank of America awards $127,000 to local nonprofits

Bank of America recently announced that it will give $127,000 to 16 nonprofits working to increase educational and workforce development opportunities in Hampton Roads. The nonprofits focus on connecting youth and adults, including the unemployed and under-served, to skill-building, education and job opportunities.

“By partnering with organizations like Opportunity Inc., Hampton Roads’ Workforce Development Board, we’re connecting young people in the community to opportunities that can prepare them to lead more financially secure lives,” said Charlie Henderson, president of Bank of America, Hampton Roads market.

Opportunity Inc., one of the nonprofits receiving a grant, will use the funding to help operate its Youth Career Center. The center provides workplace readiness training, mentoring opportunities, career exploration, and job preparation, while also emphasizing financial literacy education to youth and young adults ages 14 to 24.

Other organizations receiving grants include: Access College Foundation, An Achievable Dream, Big Brothers & Big Sisters Services, Chesapeake Services Systems, Communities In Schools of Hampton Roads, Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, Governors Magnet School For The Arts Foundation, Hampton University, Horizons Hampton Roads, Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, Nauticus Foundation, Rita Welsh Adult Literacy Program Inc., Thomas Nelson Community College, Tidewater Community College Educational Foundation, and United Way of South Hampton Roads.


Email banking and finance tips to Inside Business writer Pete Humes at pete.humes@insidebiz.com or call him at (757) 222-5356.

Bank awards money to nonprofits

Suffolk News Harold, May 26, 2016

Bank of America recently announced it will award $127,000 to 16 nonprofit organizations working to increase educational and workforce development opportunities in Hampton Roads.

The organizations receiving support focus on connecting youth and adults, including the unemployed and underserved, to skill-building, education and job opportunities.

“According to recent data, 15.2 percent of Hampton Roads residents live in poverty, more than the state average of 11.3 percent,” Charlie Henderson, Hampton Roads market president for Bank of America, stated in a press release. “By partnering with organizations like Opportunity Inc., Hampton Roads’ workforce development board, we’re connecting young people in the community to opportunities that can prepare them to lead more financially secure lives.”

Opportunity Inc., the regional convener of workforce development, one of the organizations receiving a grant, will use the funding to help operate their Youth Career Center. The center provides workplace readiness training, mentoring opportunities, career exploration and job preparation, while also emphasizing financial literacy education to youth and young adults ages 14-24.

“We applaud Bank of America’s commitment to the region and appreciate their continued partnership as we work to provide strategic solutions that will improve outcomes for job seekers and employers,” said Shawn Avery, president and chief executive officer of Opportunity Inc. “We look forward to utilizing this contribution to further enhance our Youth Career Center and support the emerging workforce in Hampton Roads.”

Other organizations receiving grants include:

Access College Foundation, An Achievable Dream, Big Brothers & Big Sisters Services, Chesapeake Services Systems, Communities In Schools of Hampton Roads (CIS), Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, Governors Magnet School For The Arts Foundation, Hampton University, Horizons Hampton Roads, Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association (HRETA), Nauticus Foundation, Rita Welsh Adult Literacy Program Inc., Thomas Nelson Community College, Tidewater Community College Educational Foundation, and United Way of South Hampton Roads.

Shawn Avery: Community partnerships break down barriers to employment

By: Shawn Avery
Inside Business, May 20, 2016


With increasing demand for more qualified workers to meet the needs of the 21st-century job market, it is essential that workforce development programs and resources align with new and emerging job trends.

In March 2016, Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate ticked down 0.1 percentage point to 4.0 – the lowest rate since 3.9 in June 2008. While this decline shows great promise, the workforce must continue to be enhanced to ensure that companies looking to innovate and remain competitive in the global economy have access to highly skilled, trained and qualified workers.

Workforce development efforts aimed at connecting the dots between labor supply and labor demand help to boost and support a dynamic local economy.

Since 1974, Opportunity Inc. – through various iterations – has supported the region’s and Virginia’s economy by integrating workforce development and economic development activities. In March 2016, the Hampton Roads Workforce Development Board – comprised of leaders in business and industry, economic development, community-based organizations and education institutions – passed a resolution designating Opportunity Inc. as the Regional Workforce Development Convener for South and Western Hampton Roads, which includes the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach, and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties.

The region spans nearly 2,000 square miles, encompasses 1.2 million residents, and is home to more than 22,000 businesses. As the regional convener for workforce development, OppInc. will continue leading strategic efforts to facilitate partner engagement, at all levels, to ensure meaningful employment and economic growth for the residents and business within the Hampton Roads region.

To stay competitive in an ever-changing global economy, it is critical to continually assess all workforce development programs and realign and enhance when needed to improve system outcomes for employers, employees and job seekers. This means we must continue to look for barriers to employment, and how to effectively address the needs of the emerging and existing workforce. In one instance, through conversations with job seekers and solicited feedback from employers and business partners, Opportunity Inc. identified two recurring barriers impeding the job search process for the unemployed and underemployed within the region:

1. Access to career-related information

2. Comfort level and confidence among job seekers

From a logistical standpoint, many job seekers struggle with reliable and adequate transportation to community resources, such as the OppInc. One-Stop Workforce Center, which provides assistance with the job search process and access to computers, Internet, telephones and other essential resources. Further, the needs and skill sets of job seekers are extremely diverse and require customized assistance to meet the unique needs of individuals seeking assistance.

Unemployment is a sensitive area for most, as it is so closely connected to financial stability. Job seekers are often intimidated by the process of securing employment and may find it difficult to navigate the Internet or complex job applications – particularly those who have been out of the job market for several years. Alternatively, many job seekers prefer to visit their local library or community center to seek assistance from familiar faces in a more relaxed atmosphere.

After careful consideration of these factors, OppInc. endeavored to create a new strategic resource that would meet people in their own communities to eliminate employment barriers and increase the number of people served.

The Career Access Network

This past Fall, Opportunity Inc. launched the Career Access Network to expand its reach in the community. The network serves as a bridge that connects individuals to essential career and education-related information and services in the cities of Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach, as well as the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton.

The Career Access Network offers a multitude of self-directed career and education exploration resources, job search assistance, labor market information, financial literacy education, and employer recruitment activities – offered at more than 40 locations. Services are provided through a partnership with Opportunity Inc. and local libraries, community organizations, and municipalities.

To date, more than 1,500 people have logged on to the Career Access Network at careeraccessnetwork.org, allowing OppInc. to assist individuals who may not have otherwise utilized traditional services offered through the One-Stop. The Network also has facilitated more programs, workshops and hiring events led by OppInc. staff that reached nearly 300 individuals. As important, the Career Access Network enables OppInc. to expand services offered to employers seeking assistance with hiring skilled and qualified candidates.

Leveraging the network’s job board, employers are able to recruit new employees who are well-trained and qualified for some of the most high-demand industries, including manufacturing, information technology, cybersecurity, health care, and transportation and logistics.

OppInc.’s designation as the regional convener for workforce development reaffirms the organization’s commitment to ensuring a highly skilled labor force through greater employer engagement and new initiatives.

With the support of business and industry, educational institutions, economic development organizations, and all entities with a vested interest in assisting employers and job seekers and strengthening the regional workforce, Opportunity Inc. will continue to implement and deliver innovative, quality services that challenge the status quo, and ultimately bolster the economy in Hampton Roads.


Shawn Avery is president and CEO of Opportunity Inc.

A different kind of dough: Ex-banker delivers hot pizza franchise to Chesapeake

By: Pete Humes
Inside Business, May 13, 2016

jim samples

There’s a heat wave coming to Chesapeake.

It’s a never-before-seen phenomenon that will bring temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees to one specific section of the Great Bridge Shopping Center.

You won’t hear about it on the nightly weather report. It won’t appear in any forecast. But according to entrepreneur Jim Samples, it’s definitely coming … and it’s going to be delicious.

The rise in temperature begins this summer when Samples opens the doors of the first 1000 Degrees Neapolitan Pizza location in Hampton Roads.

The New Jersey-based restaurant franchise puts a fast-casual American spin on authentic, hand-tossed Neapolitan pizza. Diners choose their own sauces and toppings and get a piping-hot final product in about two minutes.

“Everybody loves pizza,” Samples said. “The beauty of this concept is pizza done right and done quick.”

“Quick” may be an understatement. The restaurant’s powerhouse oven can cook a fully loaded 10-inch pie in about 120 seconds.

“We don’t use shortcuts like frozen or pressed dough,” Samples said. “It’s all handmade every day and hand-tossed. We use fresh ingredients. We don’t even have freezers.”

Pizza is poised to become the next powerhouse in the growing segment of fast-casual dining, currently dominated by sandwich makers, burger joints and burrito spots.

Quick-service pizza franchises are growing. Restaurants such as MOD and Blaze Pizza have reported triple-digit sales growth. Even the now-struggling Chipotle has been slowly rolling out its own version of the model with Pizzeria Locale. The website shows three stores open, three coming soon.

The 1000 Degrees concept was the brainchild of entrepreneur Brian Petruzzi, who found a way to fuse his Italian heritage with a fast-casual franchise formula. Petruzzi launched the New Jersey-based restaurant chain in 2014. Today there are more than 18 locations in the U.S. and one international location in Malaysia, with another 14 coming soon.

Launching the pizza brand was a natural next step for Petruzzi, who has said that he grew up in his family’s restaurants and has been making pizza since he was old enough to handle dough.

Jim Samples, on the other hand, doesn’t have much of a restaurant resume.

Swapping mortgages for mozzarella

For more than 20 years, people didn’t go to see Jim Samples if they were hungry. They went to see him if they needed a house.

After growing up in Virginia Beach and graduating from First Colonial High School, Samples headed to Virginia Tech to major in finance. His path from college led directly to a career as a mortgage banker. After bouncing around North and South Carolina working for Wachovia and First Union, he landed in Richmond working for SunTrust.

But family issues brought him back home to Hampton Roads in 2015. While he was here, the 46-year-old Samples had a couple of revelations.

The first was that corporate life had run its course.

“I just said, ‘You know what? I’m not really that happy doing this anymore,’” he said. “I want to be closer to my family. I’ve always wanted to do this, so I set my mind that I was not going back to the mortgage industry.

“It would have been much easier to go back to that. But I’d been smart with saving my money, and I decided to start investing in myself.”

Samples knew he wanted to run his own business, but he wasn’t sure what kind of business it would be.

“A franchise made sense to me,” he said. “They are a proven concept and help streamline things for a first-time business owner.”

After some research, he saw opportunity in the fast-casual restaurant trend.

“I could see the industry moving away from traditional restaurants,” Samples said. “I liked the simplicity. I liked that you’re not dealing with waitstaff and the complexities that come with the back kitchen.”

Recipe for success

It’s hard to find people who don’t like pizza.

That “sure bet” aspect appealed to Samples for sure, but he was also drawn to the quality and history of the 1000 Degrees menu. While the business model of the franchise is focused on speed of delivery, personal customization and a palatable price point (10-inch pizzas start at $7.95), the core product is based on Italian tradition.

The city of Naples holds claim as the birthplace of pizza. The Neapolitans consider the crafting of dough, cheese and sauce as supremely serious business.

If you need proof, look no further than the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association), an Italian nonprofit established in 1984 to maintain the integrity of the city’s signature pie.

Check out its official website and you’ll find an 11-page PDF that outlines strict guidelines for the kinds of tomatoes, cheeses and crusts that must be used.

While 1000 Degrees follows those guidelines with products designed to satisfy pizza purists, the chain also offers plenty of variations on the Calabrian classic.

For example, in addition to the regulation San Marzano and cherry tomato sauces, diners can opt for spicy sriracha marinara, bleu-cheese buffalo, pesto or smokey bourbon barbecue.

Toppings will run the gamut from traditional (tomatoes, peppers and onions) to trendy (falafel, banana peppers and balsamic onions).

But while anybody with the right ingredients can make a pizza, it’s more complicated building a business.

Samples said that a big part of his process was signing up for Opportunity Inc.’s Launch Hampton Roads Business Start-Up Program.

“It was the best thing I could have done,” Samples said. “It’s amazing how quickly you realize that you don’t know what you don’t know. It really opened my eyes.”

The entrepreneurial training program gave him guidance on everything from accounting and sales to marketing and networking. It taught him three important lessons.

First, starting a business takes a team.

“Having the right attorney, accountant, real estate agent, contractors is key,” he said. “As my team started to fall into place, I got more and more confident.”

Second, patience isn’t optional.

“The biggest hurdle in getting started was finding the right location,” Samples said. “The process took way longer than I thought it would.”

He spent months alone on site selection and landlord negotiations. Samples said he passed up plenty of available space because he wanted to hold out for something with enough activity.

“I knew I needed to get into a high traffic area in order to make this work,” he said.

And third? Make sure you have a passion for your product.

Trading your suit and tie for an apron and a sauce ladle may seem romantic at first, but the true test comes after a few weeks of hectic lunch rushes. Samples seemed ready to commit to a long-term relationship with Naples’ most famous export.

“I can’t wait,” Samples said. “I had a lot of starts and stops. There were times I could have easily gotten frustrated and quit, but I stuck with it. I’m ready to get rolling.”