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COVID-19 recovery, offshore wind highlight mid-year economic development update

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Posted at 7:48 AM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 11:26:21-04

NORFOLK, Va. - How is the Hampton Roads regional economy bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic, and what's the outlook for the future?

Both topics are tackled in the 2021 Mid-Year Report released this week by the Hampton Roads Alliance, an organization dedicated to growing the economy with support from local cities, counties and investors.

The first headline in the nine-page report centers around 757 Recovery & Resilience Action Framework, a strategy developed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to recover economic losses and create a more resilient economy in the future.

It features five pillars that include building regional unity and job growth and advancing infrastructure.

Alliance President and CEO Doug Smith, a former Norfolk city manager, says the organization has 30 initiatives in the works for the next 18 months.

Two big focuses include getting federal infrastructure dollars currently under debate in Washington, D.C. to Hampton Roads and recovering job losses in the hospitality industry.

"It's certainly the most immediate challenge because tourism and hospitality are such a big part of our economy but what's been good for us has been the Port (of Virginia)," Smith said. "The Port of Virginia is actually really excelling right now and in part because of investments that have been made over the last several years."

Smith says investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars have helped the Port recover from the pandemic quicker than most other industries, with record-setting production.

Another key part of the report is a focus on the offshore wind industry, which has investors in companies like Dominion Energy.

Smith says it's an industry that's done well in Europe over 30 years and looks to make an impact in the United States. His belief is Hampton Roads' location along the coast and history in the shipbuilding industry sets the region up perfectly to take advantage of the new industry.

"We have a workforce that is uniquely prepared to get into the space. We have the terminals. Because a lot of this equipment is so big, it needs to be manufactured as close to the water as possible," Smith said. "We think it really gives us a unique advantage."

According to Smith, the Hampton Roads Alliance conducted an analysis that found the offshore wind industry could create 5 to 6 thousand long-term jobs in the region.

To help foster growth, the Alliance recently opened the Virginia Offshore Wind Landing, a co-working space inside Norfolk's World Trade Center building for offshore wind industries that could set up shop locally.

"The concern, if you will, is can you provide enough employees for ship repair, shipbuilding and offshore wind and $5 billion in transportation projects that are underway," said Smith. "I'm confident we can provide the workforce but there's going to be some heavy lifting that needs to happen."

Read the full report HERE.