Economic evidence created a sense of urgency for study | Expert column

So why is the Hampton Roads Community Foundation involved in workforce development?

Shortly after my arrival as president and CEO in 2012, the foundation launched a community leadership initiative focused on regional economic competitiveness. The impetus was our growing concern about the region’s struggling economy and its impact on our most vulnerable citizens.

For the next several years, with business leaders, industry experts and academic researchers, the community foundation took a deep dive into the challenges and opportunities inherent in our regional economy. Among other things, we commissioned a study on industry clusters and partnered with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. We tapped into the research capabilities and expertise of such university powerhouses as Harvard, Virginia, William & Mary, George Mason and Old Dominion. We formed targeted work groups on entrepreneurship, leadership and workforce development.

Along the journey, the community foundation came to understand how regions have become the organizing units of the economy and why the Hampton Roads region had become the caboose in regional economic competitiveness on so many fronts.

Indeed, the evidence created a sense of urgency: Hampton Roads needs to diversify its private-sector economic base. Hampton Roads needs to more strategically leverage its historical economic drivers, particularly the port and defense-related assets. Hampton Roads needs to be more innovative and grow more higher-paying jobs.

We characterized this work as a winding and complex journey that was more marathon than sprint.

In 2016, realizing this initiative had become bigger than the community foundation, we established a separately incorporated 501(c)(3) under the moniker Reinvent Hampton Roads and hired Jim Spore to oversee it.

A community frame for strategic, game-changing activity focused on improving the region’s economic profile and performance over time, Reinvent Hampton Roads has evolved into a critically important player in positioning the region for expanded economic growth. In it for the long haul, the foundation remains a strong partner.

Which brings us to the foundation’s next Understanding Hampton Roads breakfast forum June 25 at the Chesapeake Conference Center.

It’s no secret: A critical predicate to diversifying and expanding the region’s economic growth is a well-trained, highly competitive, readily available workforce that reflects the shifting demands in job skill sets across industry clusters and types.

Last year, the foundation awarded a grant to the Hampton Roads Workforce Council to commission a study on the competitiveness of the region’s workforce. The results of this study will be released at the upcoming forum.

Entitled the 2019 Hampton Roads Talent Alignment Strategy, this unprecedented study includes a workforce analysis, supply-demand gap analysis and alignment strategy for moving forward.

The study was conducted jointly by Avalanche Consulting and the Center for Adult & Experiential Learning, with participation from the region’s business community, two workforce boards and Reinvent Hampton Roads.

The study’s overarching take-away: Hampton Roads has promising opportunities but a lot of work to do.

The full study will “go live” on both the foundation’s and the Workforce Council’s websites on the day of the forum. In addition to a formal presentation on the study, the forum features a follow-up panel discussion with representatives from education and business. Dubby Wynne, board chairman for GO Virginia and Reinvent Hampton Roads, will provide closing comments

Please join us.

Deborah M. DiCroce is president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. Learn more at HamptonRoadsCF.org.