Shared from the 2016-01-03 The Virginian-Pilot eEdition

The next step to operate as a region

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THERE IS GROWING agreement that if Hampton Roads wants to remain economically competitive, it must develop the capacity to act as a region rather than as a patchwork of 17 independent governments.

Hampton Roads was once thought to have greater potential than Charlotte, Nashville and Jacksonville. Yet the evidence is clear now that each has far surpassed Hampton Roads. Our region’s failure to keep up with these peers is not a recent phenomenon; the decline has been occurring over some 50 years.

A key to the other regions’ successes was their ability to put aside historic rivalries among cities and counties and begin to think and behave as one.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe will soon submit legislation to the General Assembly creating Go Virginia, a program that will provide state money to regions whose cities and counties agree to work together to pursue economic development.

To be ready for this, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation is creating a nonprofit organization, ReInvent Hampton Roads, to help local governments collaborate in developing new jobs.

As the business community and governor start to think regionally, local leaders should consider establishing the beginnings of a Hampton Roads regional political structure. Can the chair of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission be chair of Hampton Roads?

It would be essentially a name change with some small duties, but it would likely require enabling legislation from the General Assembly. The person serving as chair would primarily advocate for the region, convene an annual meeting of all local governments to participate in a shared “state of the region” analysis and report, and visit each of our 17 local jurisdictions at least once a year to present the “state of the region” message.

This action would also strengthen the startup efforts of Go Virginia and ReInvent.

The position would cost nothing and require no additional staff. Its value could be immense in terms of adding political weight and recognition to regional conversations.

Until Hampton Roads starts to build a unique regional political structure to accompany the emerging efforts of the business and civic regional initiatives, we are not likely to knit together a network that is powerful and successful on the regional scale.

In time, the position of chair of Hampton Roads could become quite popular. The chair could become the face of the region’s national identity, inspire unity and pride, provide a sense of stability and continuity and draw attention to our successes.

Hampton Roads, a region unaccustomed to thinking as one, could systematically become more unified and a stronger player in the rapidly changing world economy as we unite behind shared values and a common destiny.

We might also regain ground with our peer regions, which would be very good for our kids and their children.

Jim Oliver was a city manager in Norfolk, Portsmouth and Hampton and is a member of the board of the Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement.

As the business community and governor start to think regionally, local leaders should consider establishing the beginnings of a Hampton Roads regional political structure.

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