When the pandemic started, representatives from Hampton Roads Alliance and other local business organizations began talking by phone every other afternoon about how to reopen the region’s economy.
Six weeks in, they realized that reopening would not be quick, said Douglas Smith, president and CEO of the alliance, a nonprofit, public-private economic development partnership representing 11 localities and more than 70 private-sector investors.
“Somebody needed to be thinking about 14, 24, 36 months out — how do we get the economy going again?” Smith said.
Eleven committees featuring a couple hundred business leaders worked over the summer to put together an ambitious plan revealed this spring: the 757 Recovery and Resilience Action Framework. “We created the first vision statement for the regional economy, what we want the economy to look like in 2030,” Smith said.
Based on surveys, the group created five strategic focus areas: building regional unity; growing jobs; growing, retaining and attracting talent; building resiliency to prepare for the next disruption, such as another pandemic or a hurricane; and improving regional infrastructure.
The framework seeks to create economic empowerment and growth for all. It aims to improve key economic indicators, such as job and wage growth, through 30 programs and initiatives that include attracting offshore wind and other new industries, creating a national marketing campaign to brand the region and working to encourage more graduates of area colleges and universities to stay in Hampton Roads.
“The reality is, our economy was not humming before the pandemic in relation to our peer regions,” Smith said. “It was really important that we come out of this situation with some momentum.”
The framework, Smith said, is a playbook, a collaborative road map for the region’s economy to recover and thrive.
“We’ve had lots of regional strategies in the past, and they’ve been good,” Smith said. “Where I think they have fallen short is on metrics and accountability.”
Officials plan to announce progress on the framework at a state of the region event in October. Accomplishments also are being tracked on a dashboard on the framework’s website, framework.hamptonroadsalliance.com.
Smith said the idea that Hampton Roads localities don’t collaborate is “an old narrative” that no longer is true. Local governments, as well as nonprofits, businesses and higher education institutions, are working together to achieve one regional agenda, he said.
While Smith often is the one talking publicly about the framework, he is quick to point out that many people are involved. In addition to Smith’s group, organizations that have joined together to create and implement the framework include the Hampton Roads Chamber, Hampton Roads Workforce Council, CIVIC Leadership Institute, Greater Peninsula Workforce Board, Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, Reinvent Hampton Roads, Old Dominion University’s Strome College of Business, Norfolk State University, Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, 757 Collab and 757 Proud.
Smith said he is “extremely optimistic” about the future of Hampton Roads.
“Collaboration is at an all-time high, we have a vision for what we want the economy to become, and we have some elements playing to our strengths,” he said. For example, he believes that with its maritime industrial base, Hampton Roads can become a major supply chain hub for offshore wind on the East Coast.
Smith, a Portsmouth native, joined the Alliance in September 2019 after nearly three years as Norfolk city manager. He has extensive experience in the public and private sectors. He was deputy city manager in Virginia Beach and Portsmouth and also was a member of Portsmouth City Council and a commissioner for the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.
He began his career as a banker and later, as president and CEO of Kaufman & Canoles Consulting, he counseled developers, municipalities, higher education institutions and businesses.
Asked about his future, Smith said he loves where he is now.
“To have an opportunity to sit in a seat like this and really help drive the region forward is really satisfying,” Smith said. “My goal is to make this the premier economic development organization in the Commonwealth, and make sure that Hampton Roads is perceived as the tremendous place to live and do business that it is.”