Defense, Tourism and The Port of Virginia are thriving and putting Virginia center stage on a national and global scale. With billions of dollars in economic development, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and a year over year increase in annual payroll, our region is just beginning to tap into its vast potential.
In a first of its kind event, the Hampton Roads Chamber presented the Pillars of the Economy. The Chamber means business and sets the conditions for businesses to succeed and always asks how the business community can support the economic drivers of this region. Chamber President and CEO, Bryan K. Stephens discussed the Chamber’s role in job creation and economic development, but emphasized a focus on not losing sight of the importance of sustaining and growing our three economic pillars. “We must do all we can in the business community to strengthen and sustain our major economic drivers. In 2017 the total direct economic impact to our area by Navy Region Mid-Atlantic was nearly $13.4 billion. The 2017 tourism statistics cited $5.2 billion in direct travel related expenditures and the Port of Virginia data shows 9.4% of the state’s workforce is port related. The three pillars in aggregate inject over $20 billion into our regional economy,” Stephens said.
The event featured our region’s subject matter experts on the driving engines of our economy. Mark Honecker, Executive Director and Chief of Staff, U.S. Fleet Forces Command represented the Defense industry, Bruce Thompson, President and CEO, Gold Key | PHR represented the tourism industry and the Port of Virginia and the maritime industry was represented by John Reinhart, CEO and Executive Director of the Port of Virginia.
Mark Honecker was first to take the stage and he nodded towards the strong academic community in Hampton Roads as the essential foundation for the three pillars to grow from. “The military has been part of this community for over 100 years and the Navy is supported by this community. We need to focus now on the Navy this nation will have in the future.” Honecker discussed the growth of the U.S. Navy’s fleet to 355 ships but stressed the need for skilled laborers to support that growth. In order to meet the needs of the Navy’s future Honecker laid out five steps. Set a stable demand signal, remove entry barriers for private companies, make shipyards an employer of choice, and work with local leaders to increase the number of skilled laborers available.
There was a common thread amongst all the panelists in keeping our youth in this area and creating the workforce that we will need for the future. “Skilled laborers are artisans, they are a national treasure and national assets that protect our national security. We must encourage this as a noble profession here in the center of shipbuilding and ship repair,” Honecker said.
Bruce Thompson took the stage encouraging the region to think big. “I don’t believe we’ve even scratched the surface of what tourism could mean to Coastal Virginia when it really gets going,” he said. The tourism industry does not just mean making the area enticing for visitors, it’s building upon what we already have and includes food service and retail. “This is what helps build the culture and identity of a region. It makes for greater diversity and a better quality of life for residents.”
Thompson has long been an advocate of regionalism and a promoter of building the entire area as a destination, not just focusing on what each city can bring. “A rising tide can float all boats and collectively the region is a major tourism destination,” Thompson said. He presented steps on how to grow the tourism industry; create a regional tourism destination, stop competing in intra-regionality, leverage regional assets to create a tourism destination appealing to millennials and international travelers, and market the area in that manner. This realized vision would not only impact tourism, but the business economy as a whole.
Finally, John Reinhart discussed the success and growth of the Port while crediting his fellow panelists for their work in setting the bar high in their respective industries. “Virginia is getting its profile lifted around the world because of tourism, the military, the maritime industry and the Port. We are a community, we don’t do any of this on our own,” Reinhart said. The Port of Virginia is set to accomplish its mission of deepening the harbor to 55 feet in record time, making it the port of choice for the east coast. “We were able to do this so fast because we had the support of the state and because businesses and the Chamber said there is an economic return to this investment,” Reinhart said. Port related jobs have grown in Virginia by over 100 businesses and attracted both jobs and job security. “We are stable and moving in the right direction to create opportunities for Virginia. We have the best natural harbor anywhere in the world, the future here is very, very bright.”
The inspiring presentations left no doubt that the three pillars of the Hampton Roads economy are firm and strong. It is incumbent upon the business community to continue to invest in and support them for the future of the region and the Commonwealth.
Thank you to our sponsors:
Presenting Sponsor, Norfolk State University; Host Sponsor, Hilton Norfolk | The Main; Gold Sponsors, The Port of Virginia and Virginia Maritime Association; Bronze Sponsor, Coastal Virginia Tourism Alliance
Photo caption: Bruce Thompson, (Gold Key | PHR), Mark Honecker, (U.S. Fleet Forces Command), Dr. Deborah Fontaine, (Norfolk State University), Bryan K. Stephens, (Hampton Roads Chamber), John Reinhart, (Port of Virginia).