“We’re doing good now and we’re going to get better,” said Professor Rob McNab. Dr. Robert McNab, Director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy in the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University, presented the 2018 National and Commonwealth forecast at the Chamber Strome Business series on January 31st. He presented alongside Dr. Vinod Agarwal, the Director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy and Director of the Economic Forecasting Project at Old Dominion University.
Hampton Roads Chamber President & CEO, Bryan K. Stephens welcomed the audience and moderated a question and answer session at the end of the presentation. The Chamber means business and as a powerful economic partner, the event’s forecast resonated as a call to action within the Hampton Roads business community.
Dean Jeff Tanner of Old Dominion University’s Strome College of Business recognized the event sponsors and Helen Dragas, civic contributor and supporter of the Strome College of Business. Tanner also publicly announced the event as the first in the newly named Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy. Chartway Federal Credit Union was the Presenting Sponsor and Chartway President and CEO, Brian Schools introduced the keynote speakers who were met with an attentive audience.
The tremendously insightful economic forecast shed light on the national, state and regional economy for 2018. McNab recognized that the U.S. economy has grown ahead of the Commonwealth’s but explained Virginia’s dependence on the federal government is the predominant factor. McNab also cited Virginia’s lower than national average unemployment rate of 3.7% compared with the nation’s 4.1%. “The Virginia economy slowed in the fourth quarter of 2017, but as a whole the labor force grew.” McNab had good news for private sector profitability, indicating “private sector is leading the way. The business tax changes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will likely result in increases in corporate profitability.” In McNab’s forecast, “2018 bodes well for the U.S. and Virginia baring political shocks or economic shakeups.”
Dr. Agarwal brought additional insight as he focused on the forecast and analysis specifically for the Hampton Roads region. While he indicated the “regional growth in 2018 will be slower than our historical annual average,” he was optimistic that growth would continue. “We expect the Hampton Roads economy to grow at a slightly higher rate in 2018 than in 2017.”
Agarwal highlighted achievements in 2017 by Hampton Roads Chamber members, The Port of Virginia and The Main, (Gold Key|PHR). “The Port of Virginia has done a phenomenal job. It is growing rapidly, operating with profits and at capacity,” Agarwal said. In a visual representation of Hotel Room Revenue, the Norfolk/Portsmouth sub-market had a staggering lead on neighboring cities. “The primary reason for its growth was the opening of The Main hotel in Norfolk,” he said. Agarwal also presented a positive outlook for residential housing, citing new construction activity on single family homes in the region as improving as well as the sales of new construction and existing homes.
While McNab and Agarwal discussed the challenges that the area may face in the coming year, Stephens emphasized leveraging the strengths in our community. He tasked the audience with a challenge. “Have leadership courage! Make decisions to come together as a community, as a region. Demonstrate courage in leadership. We have all the requisite assets here in Hampton Roads. It’s time to roll our sleeves up and do some work.”
Agarwal responded in kind to the call for regionalism. “I’ve been here since 1981 and we were talking about regional cooperation then. We still don’t work as a region and we need to get bigger and faster. This is a regional story, not a story for one individual community. We must think about this area as a region.”
Audience questions to the experts included concerns about relocation of a Navy ship to Florida, future BRAC speculation, Broadband deployment, off shore drilling, and workforce demographics. McNab surprised the audience by saying, “The highest growing labor force in the U.S. is age 65 and higher.” He went on to elaborate, “The model we have in place today is 100 years old, and based on agrarian societies. We are working in a highly-competitive, globalized world, and need to work towards long-term solutions to sustain that workforce.”
Stephens urged the audience to leave with a “renewed sense of energy that we can do the work ahead; that we have the outstanding leaders here in Hampton Roads to change the trend lines presented.”
The Chamber Strome Series continues throughout the spring. On March 21, 2018, “Emergence of Today’s Machines” will be presented by Joshua Sullivan and Angela Zutavern, authors of The Mathematical Corporation: Where Machine Intelligence and Human Ingenuity Achieve the Impossible. On April, 11, 2018 Isabel Rullan will present “Finding Opportunity for Economic Development in the Puerto Rican Diaspora.” Closing out the series on May 2, 2018 is “Start Ups”, with Chris Heivly, the co-founder of Mapquest and author of Build the Fort.
Register for events here.