Do We Need a New Culture?
Bridges and tunnels are meant to connect people not divide them. The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel is just 3.5 miles long. Can a distance of only 3.5 miles separate and define the populations on either side of it? I certainly hope not. The issues, challenges and concerns of the people who live on either side of the water are the issues, challenges and concerns of one region, geographically and culturally linked, and we need to harness the collective power of our region with one voice to address them. Likewise, the successes in one part of the region have positive direct and residual impacts on all others.
This is especially true of our business community. The rhetoric that the demographics of the business community in one area are so drastically different from another that it precludes substantive coordination and collaboration toward the greater good for all is simply legacy thinking. Similarly, the attitude of placing precedence on the need to protect a particular subset of the region against the rest of the region is anachronistically shortsighted and suppressing to significant economic progress. The reality is all economically successful regions clearly understand the exponential power of collective impact and have purposefully inculcated it into their culture.
Fresh on the heels of the recent 2018 Economic Forecast and Economic Blueprint on Tourism, our shared concern should be clear; our region is behind other regions of our state and the nation in recovering from the recession.
At the Hampton Roads Chamber we understand and believe in the axiom “success leaves clues”. That’s why last fall we began to explore other regions that successfully weathered the recessional storms and have come out unified, prospering and armed with a culture and infrastructure to support future generations.
Our inter-regional visit to Nashville is a prototypical example. Their economy is thriving because local leaders, both public and private, made tough, sometimes unpopular, decisions with the future of the greater region in mind. They took professional risks by acknowledging that following the status quo may be easy but usually the enemy of progress. They collectively agreed not to prioritize their own parochial self-interest ahead of the greater good and prosperity of the entire region. Their courageous, selfless leadership paid off. They have one of the fastest growing economies in the nation.
Now we look ahead to our next inter-regional visit this June to another commonwealth, and the booming city of Pittsburgh. As a region Pittsburgh has shown tremendous resilience and perseverance with an astounding revitalized downtown area and an incredibly new level of prosperity in the wake of closing steel mills and significant job loss. Pittsburgh’s leaders made the hard and bold decisions to envision a united and burgeoning region, not just for downtown Pittsburgh, but one where the economic ripple effects would be felt throughout the greater region and commonwealth. Pennsylvania’s Governor, Tom Wolfe, recently said, “Pittsburgh's recovery has captured the attention of the nation, and, frankly, the world. We've transformed a rust belt city that was a symbol of economic decline into one of the most dynamic examples of innovation for the new economy in the world.”
Our cities in Hampton Roads are proudly unique and each has so much to contribute, but we live regionally. We reside in one city, shop in another, dine, entertain and explore in yet another. We cross many waterways and tributaries to do so. Whether we realize it or not, we all reap the benefits of regionalism. It is easy to identify how counter-productive it is when we don’t operate this way; we all lose. In regards to infrastructure, workforce and economic development as catalysts for economic prosperity, we must be united as one region.
Yes, there is comfort in the familiar and it is easy to maintain a parochial mindset. However, the culture of competition between different areas of the region and resistance to growth in certain areas must be let go. If we get locked in selfish battles of blame and ego, we fail to identify the bountiful vision and future possibilities that lay ahead. We have the power to interrupt that pattern and it needs to begin now, with us.
We can no longer rest on our laurels of decades past as we continue to slip behind our peers. We must instead think about new regional progress and innovation and look deeply at what we need to change in our attitudes and culture to adapt to the changing times and economy. Our zip code does not define us, the bridges we build with each other and to the larger world, can.
The tide needs to shift now. We do not want to be having this same conversation a decade from now. If we do, our children and grandchildren will be living in an even more divisive region, if they even choose to stay here.
As other regions have shown us, change does not happen overnight but it can happen if it’s intended and deliberate. It happens one story, one partnership, one leader, one deal, one voice at a time, over-and-over again. This is the only way to change a culture and make a positive difference for the future of our region.
There are 1,691 bridges in Hampton Roads. Let’s build our own bridges amongst our communities and municipalities for the future of this region. Let’s bridge our differences with a new mindset; a new culture. A vibrant spirit of regionalism born from courageous leadership is the only way to economic prosperity.
The Chamber’s staff continues to be focused on helping you and your business find greater success. Remember, this is YOUR Chamber – we work for you! Let’s keep the conversation going.