Is Regionalism Right for Hampton Roads? – HRW Interview with Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer
The idea of regionalism is one that has been discussed for years. Now it will receive more attention as we explore the best way to move ahead together post-COVID. The strength of Hampton Roads is our diverse economic drivers and geographic composite. That is also one of our greatest challenges. Since Hampton Roads is essentially a “cul-de-sac” and we do not have a single voice to speak for all of our cities and counties, we must continuously work harder to attract new business than the average locality in the United States. Our region is the 39th largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in the Country. We as a region must do more to work together to attract good paying jobs into Hampton Roads.
We sat down with the Mayor of Virginia Beach, Bobby Dyer, to discuss this important issue and get his thoughts and possible solutions.
Is Regionalism Right for Hampton Roads?
It’s called economic survival, right now we are the third worst under-performing region in the country. For too long we have had protective barracks around the cities and we have not been working together. If one city is bringing in an industry or jobs, their employees will most likely live in another city. All of our cities require good schools, public safety, quality of life, it all depends on regional economics and we cannot keep going to the trough of the taxpayer, we have to create new wealth.
When you think about Regionalism, think about the military. We have military all throughout this region that know how to communicate and work effectively with one another, so why aren’t the surrounding cities doing that?
One of the things I have tried to do is be proactive because of my great relationships with the mayors of Norfolk, Chesapeake and Portsmouth and even on the Peninsula. When you think about it, we need to work collectively because we do share many similar problems. We have storm water problems and traffic problems like the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. We have to evaluate whether adding more lanes is going to affect everybody in a positive way when they are coming from Northern Virginia and even Richmond. There are so many things we can do positively because if we help one another, then we help our individual cities.
Since the Hampton Roads region is continuously competing with other regions for businesses and opportunities, what do you think it will take to change the mindset of our neighboring cities?
It is never about ‘me’; it is about ‘we’. You have to work collaboratively in order to do things since no mayor is working alone. By working together, we need to buy-in and work together based on the resources we all have in our own back yards since we all border one another.
Tom Frantz is discussing linking the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with the Hampton Roads MSA. Between Richmond’s larger Corporations and our world class Port facilities we would then have the geographic reach that would propel us approximately 20 places in national rankings so as to place us in the running for much larger companies to relocate in our region. What do you think of Tom Frantz’s proposal?
I want all of our children that have graduated from colleges that could not find jobs in this area who are now living in Northern Virginia, to come back home. I don’t begrudge NOVA over anything but when you take a look at factors like cost of living, traffic and quality of life it is not the same as here in Virginia Beach. We want our kids to come home and in order to do so we need to provide those high-paying jobs and opportunities for them that we currently don’t have at the moment.
Think about our quality of life here, especially in Virginia Beach. We have great schools in the area, we are still the safest city for one our size, we have an ocean and a bay and we have recreational centers which all make for a quality of life that is second to none. Virginia Beach is also considered one of the best managed cities in the country and also one of the best cities in which to live. We are also the number one city in the country for military retirees to come back and live, which also proves just how amazing our quality of life is here. Not only in Virginia Beach, but there are many wonderful places to go in Norfolk and Chesapeake as well, so our coming together as a region only makes sense.
Let’s talk about survival – we have to think collaboratively. Just think about how many industries have had to come together in order to collaborate and survive and we can do the same here. One good example is the tobacco industry back in the day using Joe Camel as their advertising brand icon. When smoking was deemed unhealthy the industry had to learn how to survive and thrive in their new normal. Like they did, we need to think out of the box and adapt as a region.
Do you feel that our Hampton Roads Mayors will finally allow us to achieve the goal of working together to attract these large businesses? Has the time finally arrived?
Well, this is already a work in progress and was as soon as I was sworn in. We will not survive much longer without working together. With the changes in the economy and the changes in the military in terms of operations, we don’t have the luxury of being self-isolated anymore. A regionalist mode will bring our quality of life up and keep our children here in Hampton Roads. We have two options, either do nothing or move forward. We have an obligation to our taxpayers to promote business and find new wealth and revenue sources for our area. Working together as a region, we excel on all fronts.