With goal of full economic revival, Hampton Roads business organizations unveil ambitious recovery plan

Leaders in the Hampton Roads business community have debuted a plan to not only lift the region out of the coronavirus pandemic but accomplish an even loftier goal — make it one of the most sought-after and fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country.

The plan, called the 757 Recovery and Resilience Action Framework, seeks to improve key economic indicators — job growth, wage growth and gross domestic product — through a barrage of programs and initiatives that span new industry development, diversity and inclusion, resiliency and a regional marketing campaign.

“We think it takes a reimagined approach to economic development and economic recovery in this new world,” said Doug Smith, Hampton Roads Alliance president and CEO, in a meeting with area media leaders March 11.

After the Great Recession, it took Hampton Roads more than eight years to recover all the lost jobs — almost three years longer than the national average, according to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.

Population growth has been equally tepid, growing just 3.7% over the past decade, far less than similarly sized metropolitan areas like Denver (18.2%), Charlotte, North Carolina (18.6%), and Orlando, Florida (23.5%).

Income per capital grew 31.2% during the last decade in Hampton Roads, far less than Denver (56.3%) or San Diego (47.9%).

Not wanting to suffer a fatal lag in economic recovery from COVID-19, Smith said project leaders knew this plan needed to be different from past efforts to unite the region. Those leaders came from the Hampton Roads Chamber, the Peninsula Chamber, the Hampton Roads Workforce Council, Reinvent Hampton Roads, The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, the Civic Leadership Institute, the Hampton Roads Alliance, the Greater Peninsula Workforce Board, the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Alliance, 757 Collab, Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University.

In forming the plan, input was gathered from hundreds of business leaders, plus staffers from the coalition groups, academics and consultants, and surveys of more than 1,000 business people were considered.

The Action Framework group reached out to both young people and the Black community, Smith said. Each of the 13 committees that works on the project includes a “next gen vice chair” — a professional under the age of 40 who can bring a diverse millennial perspective to the work.

Smith said it was worth noting that most of the project goals had already been regional priorities. Goals like regionalism, diversity and job creation have been talked about by community leaders for years. In late 2019, project leaders began to work on a pride-building and marketing campaign around the region’s “757” moniker.

This time, Smith said the project will place a large focus on accountability and measuring the success of each of the 30 base-level programs.

The programs were developed by identifying six factors at the heart of the region’s values and identity: inclusion and equity, military presence, welcoming community spirit, innovation and creativity, coastal lifestyle and acting as one region. Each of those factors has a program focused on five strategic goals: building regional unity; grow new jobs; grow, retain and attract talent; build resiliency; and advance regional infrastructure.

Each program will be tracked and reported to a public-facing online dashboard, and the project leaders will hold progress meetings throughout the process. As part of ODU’s State of the Region address in October, the project will evaluate the success of each program.

“We’re going to be really bold in October and say ‘These are the ones that we’re really hitting over the fence (and) these are the ones that are a little weaker, and we have to put more reinforcements there,’” said John Martin, project organizer and the CEO and managing partner at the SIR research consulting agency.

The 757 campaign has been revived as 757Proud, a new nonprofit designed to bring awareness of the plan to regional young professional organizations. The group will also be launching an educational and pride-building campaign called “757 Did You Know,” which aims to increase awareness of the region and its strengths.

The Action Framework group also is building a network of 1,000 “757 Champions” who will build awareness of the plan, and the resources it is making available to local businesses, and advance the goals of the plan.

For more information about the plan, including learning how to become a 757 Champion, visit www.framework.hamptonroadsalliance.com.

Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345, trevor.metcalfe@insidebiz.com