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, 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.”

Economic development roundup: $1 million for workforce development, and Norfolk budgets for business

By: Pete Humes
Inside Business, April 22, 2016

workforce initiative article image

From left: Gov. Terry McAuliffe; Shawn Avery, president and CEO, Opportunity Inc.; Edna Baehre-Kolovani, president, TCC; William Nusbaum, board chair, Opportunity Inc.; and Corey McCray, VP of Workforce Solutions, TCC.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe visited Tidewater Community College in Norfolk recently to announce a new $1 million program to help small businesses educate their workforce.

The Virginia Community College System Incumbent Workforce Credentialing Program will help existing employees earn certifications and licenses. The new program is the latest in a series of statewide initiatives introduced to drive workforce credential attainment.

“This is great progress in our work to ensure that Virginia’s businesses have the number of highly skilled workers they need to get the job done today and grow the jobs of tomorrow so we can build a new Virginia economy,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

The $1 million will be made available in grants to the 15 workforce development regions throughout the state. Local organizations will compete for the five grants in May. Awards will be announced in June.

“We’re a little bit limited in what we can do with our business partners,” said Shawn Avery, president and chief executive officer of Opportunity Inc., the workforce development board for Hampton Roads. “This is a new funding stream that will allow us to work more closely with them.”

Avery said that if Opportunity Inc. wins the grant, it’s likely the funds will be available in July.

What does the money do? Basically it will help small businesses (250 or fewer employees) advance their existing workforce with industry-recognized certifications and occupational licenses. Opportunity Inc. will work with companies and connect them with educational programs in local community colleges.

The program is focused primarily on high-demand industries, and all training funded by the new program must be targeted to a national, portable workforce credential in a field for which employers are demanding skills development and certifications, including manufacturing, energy, information technology, cybersecurity, health care, transportation and logistics.

“We’re excited about the potential opportunities for this funding,” Avery said, acknowledging that the estimated $200,000 per grant is more a good start than a game-changer. “Every dollar counts, and hopefully this will lead to some other funding opportunities.”

The initiative supports the governor’s goal of having Virginians attain 50,000 STEM-H workforce credentials per year by the end of the administration. It also supports the long-term state goal of making the commonwealth the best educated state in the U.S by 2030 as measured by the percentage of Virginians holding an industry-recognized credential, occupational license, apprenticeship credential, or college certificate or degree.

According to a release, funding for the new program will come out of the governor’s set-aside funds in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act. To expand the pool of resources available for training and credentialing, participating businesses and industries will contribute from 10 percent to 50 percent of the cost of the training, based on the business’s number of employees.

“We heard from a lot of small business owners who have a tough time helping their employees stay up-to-date with their skills, finding qualified people to hire, and actually doing what their business does,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “We need more credentialed talent across the board, and this approach focuses resources in a smart way, providing an economic development resource for small companies already invested in their local communities.”

Norfolk budget adds dollars for entrepreneurs

Norfolk’s proposed city budget for 2017 includes a focus on “economic resilience.” During his presentation to Norfolk City Council, city manager Marcus Jones spoke about how initiatives such as 757 Angels, Vibrant Spaces, ODU’s Innovation Center, Business Cafes and SWaM help boost the city’s economy.

“We’re energizing and connecting our neighborhoods, providing innovative programs that put our residents to work and developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Jones said in a statement. “We’re going to capitalize on Norfolk’s reputation that this is the place to come to live, work and play.”

Highlights of the proposed 2017 budget include $30 million for neighborhood improvements, a $4.1 million broadband initiative to establish fiber networks and increase bandwidth in commercial and residential areas (with free public Wi-Fi for MacArthur Square and Town Point Park).

Also proposed? A new innovation zone that will give technology businesses a break on taxes. The proposed area would be located along a corridor that stretches from Old Dominion University to Norfolk State University

The entire proposed 2017 budget is available for review at, and the public will have the opportunity to weigh in during public hearings at Granby High School on May 4 (general comments) and May 5 (property assessment comments). Both hearings begin at 6 p.m.

Norfolk’s council is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget May 24.

24-hour fitness business bulks up

Natural Bodyz Fitness purchased and renovated the former Bayside Wellness and Fitness facility at 1608 Pleasure House Road in Virginia Beach.

According to a release, Natural Bodyz Fitness invested more than $250,000 to remodel and update the existing 5,800-square-foot facility. This is the second location for the Virginia Beach-based fitness company.

Just like its Kempsville location, Natural Bodyz Fitness Bayside will be open 24 hours a day, every day. Full- and part-time personal trainers will be on staff to accommodate all fitness levels. Natural Bodyz Fitness uses the USA Elite Trainers digital training app systems.

“Our company is very proud to offer Natural Bodyz Fitness members an additional location in Virginia Beach,” CEO Chad Havunen said. “Bayside is a modern, state-of-the-art facility that was constructed to provide a first-class experience for every member.”


Email economic development and new business tips to Inside Business writer Pete Humes at or call him at (757) 222-5356.

State program to aid small businesses with advanced job training

By: Elisha Sauers
Inside Business, April 12, 2016

A new $1 million statewide program starting June 1 will help small businesses offer job training to advance their employees’ careers.

The initiative, called the Incumbent Workforce Credentialing Program, will pay a portion of employers’ costs to allow their workers to earn certifications and occupational licenses.

The initiative is part of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s goal to get 50,000 Virginia workers credentialed in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or health care fields each year. He hopes to make the state the most “educated,” measuring that through licenses, degrees and other certifications, by 2030.

“This is not rocket science,” said McAuliffe, who announced the rollout of the program at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk on Tuesday. “The more we invest in education, the stronger our workforce development. (It) gives me a better ability to recruit companies from around the globe to come here. They hire people, they pay taxes and guess what – I get to invest more in education, workforce development.”

Depending on the size of a business’ staff, the state would chip in between 50 and 90 percent of the cost. Companies with up to 250 employees are eligible to access the program.

The money for the program will come from federal funds for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act.

Virginia’s Community College System will oversee the program. Starting this week, the schools will seek proposals from regional workforce development boards, which are responsible for helping interested companies craft a training plan and apply for the money.

Elizabeth Creamer, the governor’s adviser for workforce development, said the program is mutually beneficial for workers, who may be able to advance in their careers with additional credentials.

“No matter what happens with that company, those individual workers will have something to make them more marketable,” she said.

If the latest program is successful, Creamer said, the state would like to add more money to the pot.

Shawn Avery, president and CEO of Hampton Roads’ workforce board Opportunity Inc., said the organization expects to receive more details this week on how to prioritize funding requests from interested employers.

With only $1 million to spread throughout the state, it could be very competitive.

“We’ll be aggressively applying for this money,” Avery said. “I’m sure a lot of people will be going for it.”


Elisha Sauers, 757-222-3864, Follow @elishasauers on Twitter.

Governor Highlights OppInc.’s Role In New Workforce Initiative – April 12, 2016


Opportunity Inc. of Hampton Roads was recognized April 12, 2016 as an important player alongside Tidewater Community College as part of Governor McAuliffe’s (Governor of Virginia) announcement — highlighting a $1 million Incumbent Workforce Credentialing Program to assist small business in their efforts to improve the occupational and technical skills of their workers. We look forward to a continued partnership with Tidewater Community College, as we work collaboratively to develop a strong and vibrant workforce in Hampton Roads!

Veterans get valuable advice at Norfolk job workshop

By: Linda Lamm English
The Virginian Pilot, February 5, 2016

veteran workshop article image
A panel of employers answers questions at an After TAP workshop at the Opportunity Inc. One-Stop Workforce Center on Glenrock Road.
(Linda Lamm English)

Are you leaving the military? Or maybe you’re already a veteran, but do you need a job?

“It’s not the end of the world. You just need the right information,” Michael Hunter said.

He should know. Hunter is ex-Navy and a career services coordinator at the Opportunity Inc. One-Stop Workforce Center on Glenrock Road, one of 2,500 nonprofits across the country funded by the Department of Labor.

Mark Buehlman, an Army veteran and career developer for Opportunity Inc., told visitors to a Jan. 29 workshop about an array of free services for job-seeking veterans. They range from learning how to write a resume to applying for grants that pay for training or education.

Hunter and Buehlman specialize in assisting veterans. Among other things, they help translate military experience into marketable skills and connect veterans with companies particularly interested in employing them. They organize a workshop called “After TAP,” at the workforce center on the last Friday of every month.

The Transition Assistance Program was once provided by the military. When it was discontinued, Opportunity Inc. began offering an enhanced version of the service for active duty personnel getting ready to retire, activated members of the National Guard and Reserve, military spouses and veterans.

According to Latonya English, deputy director for the organization, what holds most job applicants back is “not being well-informed. It’s the most helpful thing,” she said.

“I’ve been writing my resume the wrong way,” Jason Linscott learned. He appreciated honest answers to his questions and said the experience was very educational.

Linscott left the Navy as a sonar technician in 1998 to get a college education, then re-enlisted as an officer in 2003. Now a Navy pilot, he will retire next month and wants a job as a project manager or operations and maintenance manager.

A panel at the workshop represented companies such as Sentara Healthcare, Newport News Shipbuilding, Sorrentino Mariani and Top Guard Security. They explained why they believe veterans have a lot to offer.

Veterans understand teamwork, they said, and show up every day, on time, focused on the job. They are respectful, good with customers and don’t cause problems.

“Almost anybody E6 and above has done planning and scheduling,” one of the panelists pointed out.

The panel answered questions about security clearances and background checks, resumes versus applications, how criminal records affect hiring, and what getting turned down for being “overqualified” can really mean: Someone else just as qualified can be hired for less.

“Sometimes a veteran will say, ‘I’ve done this, this and this, and I know I’m worth this,’” English said. “Culture shock” sets in when they find out that wages are sometimes lower than expected. Then there is the cost of benefits that were once free.

Advice from the panel: The market should be researched and understood before applying for a job, and “don’t apply for something you can’t live on. The starting salary will not be jumped 10, 15, or 20 thousand dollars when you come in the door.”

Other gems from the panel: “We need to get over ourselves – we can be our biggest obstacle. All that really matters is what the employer wants.”

Here’s an important one: Apply only if you meet the requirements, as in college degrees – though experience can sometimes take the place of a degree if it is preferred rather than required.

“When people enter the military, they go to boot camp. It takes time to learn to be in the military. It also takes time for them to learn to be civilians,” said Nancy Stephens, director of Opportunity Inc.

“We teach them how to sell their value to an employer,” she said.


Linda Lamm English,

Job search workshop for veterans to be held in Norfolk

By: Jennifer Mason
The Virginian Pilot, December 21, 2015

A free job search workshop for veterans will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 29 at 861 Glenrock Road, Suite 100 in Norfolk.

Opportunity Inc. Veterans Services and its partners will discuss veterans’ employment initiatives and military-friendly employers. Other workshop topics include the federal application process, entrepreneurial grants and veteran benefits.

Opportunity Inc., also known as the Hampton Roads Workforce Development Board, oversees federally funded workforce-development programs.

In order to attend, you must be an armed forces veteran, serving in the National Guard or reserves or an active-duty member with less than three months of service left. Participants are encouraged to bring a copy of their resume.

Seats are limited, according to a news release. To register, email or