2014 President's Report:
June 17, 2014
Bob Stanton once described GNC's role as one of planting seeds; seeds that with watering and fertilization have the potential to meaningfully enhance Norfolk's competitiveness and quality of life.
The garden we are trying to till is an enterprising, innovative, risk-taking, STEM-savvy, and locally grown economy, shooting up from the fertile soil of
• entrepreneurial, highly educated talent
• a well-prepared work force with skills relevant to 21st century employers
• cultural, technical and practical support for risk-takers and their start-up companies
• universities, medical centers and other anchor institutions driving innovation into our local economy
• sources of early stage and growth capital to energize young, expanding businesses
• a physical environment and so-called "networking assets" cultivating our budding economic assets and
• local government and private sector leadership providing the right business climate in which future and current employers will flower, whether through smart public policies or through mentorships, internships, incubators, accelerators, spun-off commercialized intellectual property or other economic nutrients from key sources in the public and private sectors.
Over the past year, GNC has guided a conversation, indeed a debate, about the future of economic development in Norfolk and the surrounding region. We have brought an impressive array of experts and advisors into the conversation, including Jim Ukrop, Ted Chandler and Dr. Gene Trani from Richmond; Debbie DiCroce from the Hampton Roads Community Foundation; Dave Harnage and Gil Yochum from Old Dominion University; Ray Gindroz, the legendary urban planner; and, of course, our Mayor, City Manager and Economic Development Director.
We need to be in the mix and to compete for opportunities such as Stone Brewery and other out-of-town companies potentially interested in coming to our City and region. But when a majority of new jobs are created by local start-up companies, followed next by expanding local businesses and with businesses relocations a distant and statistically insignificant third, we can no longer rely on an economic development strategy consisting entirely of whale hunting, i.e., harpooning businesses from out of town.
Our region just lost out to Chesterfield County in the competition for what Secretary of Commerce Maurice Jones calls the largest manufacturing project in Virginia over the last 20 years. And that is one of the preciously few large projects heading to Virginia. Typically Virginia is out-bid by South Carolina, Alabama and other states willing to lavish extraordinary incentives upon manufacturers and other capital-intensive companies considering a relocation or expansion into their state. Just last year, Virginia and Virginia Beach lost the competition for a major U.S.-based multinational that ultimately chose South Carolina based, in some significant part, on a far bigger incentive check than Virginia was willing or able to write. This type of economic development -- whether it is Virginia vs. South Carolina, Hampton Roads vs. Greater Richmond, or even Norfolk vs. Virginia Beach -- is a zero sum game. The regions that are prospering in this country are playing a different game.
To point us in a different direction, we have convened group of thought leaders led by Shurl Montgomery and Thom Crabtree (Booz Allen) in a task force focusing on our entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Norfolk, what Ted Chandler referred to as the "coral reef" on which young, growing businesses must feed. After inventorying our assets and liabilities, this task force will develop an action-oriented game plan over the next six months to cultivate the creation and development of innovative businesses and jobs; to groom entrepreneurs and bolster their start-up companies; and to support existing companies seeking to grow and be even more innovative. The Task Force is being assisted this summer by four interns from the City of Norfolk's Executive Interns Program.
A remarkable shift is occurring in the geography of innovation. A new urban model is now emerging, the "innovation district," a compact geographic area where leading-edge anchor institutions and growing companies cluster and connect with each other.
These innovation districts are emerging in dozens of cities and metropolitan areas in the U.S. near anchor institutions in the downtowns, midtowns and historic industrial areas of cities like Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. They are wired for digital technology. They feature public and private spaces in which smart, creative people collide. They feature companies that share labs and other capital-intensive infrastructure. They draw millennials who share the infrastructure of late-marrying, tech-oriented, urban lifestyles -- coffeehouses, music joints, parks and other hang-outs.
Bruce Katz from the Brooking Institution has described innovation districts as the "ultimate mash-up of entrepreneurs and educational institutions, start-ups and schools." They are walkable, bikeable and connected by transit. They are urban, mixed-use and authentic.
Here's the good news - we've got much of what makes an innovation district successful - Anchor educational & healthcare institutions like ODU, Sentara, EVMS, TCC &NSU; a compact, authentic downtown; light rail; mixed- use housing, office & retail; HATCH and Start Norfolk; a Mayor, a City manager and Economic Development Director who get it -- I could go on. We intend to build on those strengths while fostering a more supportive, risk-taking culture to create an innovation ecosystem that generates new products and accelerates commercialization of good ideas.
But make no mistake about it -- talent -- highly educated company founders and a skilled workforce -- must be grown and attracted here for our economic garden to blossom. That's why establishment of both the Academic Career/Technical High School and Governor's School for Innovation & Entrepreneurship remain so vitally important.
I'm pleased to report that there are green shoots with respect to both initiatives. In the case of our joint Career/Technical High School Task Force, led by Tommy Johnson, we are working with industry leaders like Sentara Health Care to develop the curriculum for the Governors Health & Sciences Academy. We're working with the Bill Crow's team at the Va. Ship Repair Association to craft the curriculum for the Maritime Academy. And I am pleased to report that the Mayor's Commission on Poverty Reduction on which I serve has included the Career/Technical High School in its draft short list of recommendations.
As you probably know, we have modeled the proposed Academic Career/Technical High School after Worcester Technical High School in Worcester, Mass. Just last week, President Obama spoke at Worcester Technical's graduation, at which he praised Worcester as a "model for maintaining American competitiveness in a global economy and touted Worcester Tech's combination of rigorous academics and hands-on learning as an ideal model for high school education." We in Norfolk have the opportunity to be a model for the entire Commonwealth.
As for the Governor's School for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the list of private sector and community leaders from across the region who have endorsed this initiative continues to grow. Even more important, a feasibility study is currently underway led by Dr. David Sawyer, who shepherded the successful effort to establish the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology in Northern Virginia. Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and we hope Virginia Beach and Suffolk will participate in this planning study, the results from which we should learn in the next 6 months. One of the deliverables from Dr. Sawyer's study will be a draft application to the Virginia Department of Education to establish the Governor's School for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The School Boards of Norfolk and our neighboring cities will then need to decide whether to go forward, when to go forward and where to go forward.
Friends, both of these initiatives share a common denominator: ensuring that we have the educated, skilled entrepreneurs and workforce that are the key drivers of innovation and economic growth. Both are potential game changers for Norfolk and the region. Yes, funding remains a challenge, but both are simply too important to the future of our City and the region not to find a way to make them a reality.
Thank you for all your encouragement and support in advancing these projects to this point. And thank you in advance for your leadership and collaboration in making them come ever closer to reality by this time near year.