Virginia Beach. Portsmouth. Norfolk. Suffolk. Chesapeake. Five cities, with personalities and economic opportunities as distinct as their five separate but equally passionate leaders.
On Thursday, March 5, Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series posed one question to the leaders of each of these cities at the annual South Hampton Roads mayors forum: “Is Hampton Roads Still in a Recession?”
The answer? A unanimous, yet sober, “no.”
The forum yielded no spirit of competition, comparison or finger-pointing, but that of genuine respect and a call for teamwork as the damage from the economic struggles of the 2008 recession fade, and new opportunities for strengthening the area come into play.
For Alan Krasnoff, mayor of Chesapeake, the newest struggle lies in the area of transportation. Ubiquitous tolls and tunnel traffic play a part in tourism and the shipping of goods from the area’s geographical asset, its natural harbor.
“Transportation is the key to America’s prosperity,” said Krasnoff. “We need to keep Hampton Roads a ‘made place.’ We believe that it is in our capacity to do great things; and that our glass is not half-full, but instead it’s overflowing.”
Kenneth Wright, mayor of Portsmouth, believes the Hampton Roads area has turned a corner since the recession. However, the current economic climate for women and minorities in the area may bring about Hampton Roads’ newest struggle: the emigration of its citizens.
“The outward migration of people from our area is a huge barometer,” said Wright. “We need to ensure that when our children leave for college that they want to come back here because jobs are equitable.”
Wright believes the area’s greatest strength — diversity — also plays into the area’s greatest weakness.
“We can’t work alone on these challenges, they’re far too great,” said Wright. “It’s going to take all of us working together for us to find strength and resolve for the common goal of achieving greatness and harmony.”
It’s the food and beverage industry that Linda Johnson, mayor of Suffolk, believes has made the Hampton Roads region come out on top. By seeking locally owned and operated food-related startups, Johnson believes her constituents can play their part in the growing economy.
“Our greatest threat is negativity,” said Johnson. “We spend too much time moaning about what we don’t have when we need to be a positive force. We need to get up every morning and thank God for what we do have.”
Will Sessoms, mayor of Virginia Beach, sees opportunity in investing time and resources in the biomedical field to attract young people to the area.
“Twenty-five percent of the economy is going to be medical-based in the coming years. We see that through our medical bills, insurance bills and hospital bills,” said Sessoms. “We better get on that train and find a way to benefit from it.”
Sessoms noted the region’s successful investment in the tourism market worked well in the past, and that same amount of trust and investment need to be made to guarantee a vibrant economic future.
Like Sessoms, Paul Fraim, mayor of Norfolk, has a hopeful attitude toward the future, particularly regarding the expansion of the Panama Canal, and the economic opportunity that lies therein for the Port of Virginia, which has several facilities in Hampton Roads.
“I think we all agree that we’re coming out of this recession; and we will continue to have a voice of optimism,” said Fraim. “We all have a lot in common, I enjoy working with my fellow-mayors and my esteem for them continues to grow.”
Learn more about Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series.