Hampton Roads group making difference

Published 9:59 am Saturday, July 17, 2010

Noted American anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”

We, the members of the Hampton Roads Partnership, stand up as that group who want to help change the region.

Hampton Roads has fared well during the recession. The Brookings Institution ranks the region as a top 20 metro for economic performance during the recession and cites the military as the benefactor.

In sharp contrast, a recent Brookings report warns that an aging population, low education levels and lack of economic diversity could hamper the region’s growth. This newest data suggests Hampton Roads needs to address “brain drain” and economic diversification — the very issues tackled in Vision Hampton Roads, the first regionwide comprehensive economic development strategy.

Vision is the result of a collaborative process started in early 2009 by community leaders and organizations throughout Hampton Roads. What started as a requirement to make localities eligible for federal economic development grants developed into a blueprint to highlight Hampton Roads on the global economic map. Without a map, any road will do.

Developed with significant public input, the five-year plan’s goal is to expand and diversify the local economy and position Hampton Roads as a strong, competitive and internationally recognized presence fueled by innovation, intellectual and human capital, viable infrastructure and a strong sense of place.

Vision is a transformational way of thinking — and doing — to help Hampton Roads resolve issues and solve problems in a more interdependent way. A different way that we sorely need in today’s new economy, where commerce is indifferent to municipal boundaries.

Albert Einstein said,  “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”

And, thus, Vision is about imagining our future and engineering actions to make it happen. What Walt Disney called “imagineering.”

Hampton Roads has a proud heritage as America’s First Region, a region of “firsts.” From the nation’s military defense and public education, our system of justice and legislative assembly to space travel, historically, we have been America’s first innovators

We’ve done well. Hampton Roads per capita income is growing faster than any other region in Virginia and faster than competitor regions like Charlotte and Raleigh. Another indicator is the gross regional product, which has grown dramatically, nearly doubling over the last 12 years.

Our competition now is global, and we need to change our thinking to compete.

Brookings’ Robert Puentes spoke here recently and said, “Hampton Roads needs to continue to think about the kind of investments and develop the kinds of policies necessary to compete globally, maintain an innovative edge, grow an educated and skilled workforce, build and maintain state of the art infrastructure so they can move people, goods, ideas, energy efficiently and effectively.  Vision Hampton Roads is the blueprint to do just that! The task will be to align Hampton Roads around a cohesive regional strategy. Since no one jurisdiction, corporation, nonprofit or university can tackle the range of challenges on its own, such a vision is essential.”

Our economy, heavily vested in federal spending, has served the region well in this economic downturn but also leaves us vulnerable.  Vision is working on that balancing act.

This is not just a Hampton Roads Partnership plan. The alignment of many other regional organizations and local governments is the lubricant needed to keep this engine, this Vision, running smoothly and moving our community of communities forward.

Performance matters, too, and Vision has performance measures that can be monitored in real time on the region’s website:  http://HamptonRoadsPerforms.org and by the Vision Dashboard at http://VisionHamptonRoads.com.

We can place Vision on the shelf and do nothing. Or, we can take action by encouraging every organization to which we belong or for who we work to inject collaboration into every decision, looking at the broader, bigger picture.

Collaboration is transformational. It reinforces the understanding that strong global forces affect us all, and we must build on our local assets accordingly. Action is the key to regional collaboration. Actions beget actions.

If you’re interested in making a good living and living a good life in Hampton Roads, then embrace the Vision and get involved. Join a task force. Volunteer your time. Share the message. Let’s all continue on our path forward as we think, live and act regionally.