Push Together: The Richmond/Hampton Roads Mega Region

I attended the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce tHRive Business Leaders Roundtable to discuss the concept of a “Mega Region” with a hopeful, yet skeptical, brow raised. I am a big cheerleader for the success of all of our Hampton Roads cities and although I love the idea of increased collaboration with my hometown of Richmond, I know the plan faces a lot of criticism.

The plan is still in its infancy, originating in board rooms and among business men and women and local politicians throughout Hampton Roads and Richmond. The concept is too compelling to dismiss, though, and that’s why tHRive members were brought in on the ground level, as emerging professionals in Hampton Roads.

What is a “mega region?”

Increased connectivity, collaboration, and commerce combines Hampton Roads and Richmond to form a “Mega Region.” Idea champion Thomas R. Frantz described the concept as “picking up steam for many years.” He emphasized to the room of Hampton Roads young professionals that “your generation is all about connectivity. It’s natural for this to emerge again as a hot topic.”

Tom Frantz speaks to tHRive about a "Mega Region"
Tom Frantz speaks to tHRive about a “Mega Region”
What does it mean?

Basically, the resources in Hampton Roads, such as our deep water port and thriving businesses, join with Richmond to allow pretty much everything south of DC and the Northern Virginia area and the eastern two-thirds of the Commonwealth to be considered together. What it means for us is that the population considerations, infrastructure plans, and overall appeal of our business and growth here in Hampton Roads is enhanced with that of Richmond’s. Hopefully, this would attract more business and residents, jobs, things like sports teams and entertainment venues, political attention, federal grants and funding… you get the idea.

What do we need?

Flexible boundaries are a big one. There will still be legal lines drawn around towns and municipalities (we won’t suddenly all be living in one giant Norfolk) but local and state governments will consider the interests of the whole area from Richmond to the coast rather than “Tidewater” versus “Central Virginia.”

Transportation plays big as well; we can all probably agree that direct flights from ORF (or PHF or RIC for that matter…) to anywhere would be great. I’m sure we’re all tired of connecting through Atlanta, Chicago, and Dulles. 64 would need to become a bigger channel, and of course there’s the long-embattled public transportation debate, which would have to move from a long-term dream to a hard-and-fast reality.

The biggest thing that needs to happen, and is already happening, is cohesion between the regions. Local business leaders and some politicians are meeting and agreeing on this concept already with very few dissenting voices on that level so far. It’s important to note, however, that this idea still has a lot of conversations yet to be had, but those talks and debate will continue to happen.

What’s the benefit?

Investment. More business, more jobs. More people paying taxes. More government interest in having healthy infrastructure and maintaining and deepening our Port. Increased collaboration with the resources in Richmond. Increased legitimacy on a global scale as a hub for trade.

What does the opposition say?

Dissenters will likely have questions about the initial cost to residents, time period of progress, and the eternal question of “If we can’t work together now as seven cities, how will we work together adding in Richmond?” There is, of course, a concern that local issues won’t be addressed if the area turns into a “Mega Region.” Why not start smaller, address the problems we have now as we have been until they’re all sorted out, then take on the bigger picture?

I posed that question to Frantz and he said simply, “The status quo isn’t working. We have to adopt a bigger vision that will get us moving further, faster.”

What are the next steps?

The movement is a little ways off from an umbrella organization and a website, but activity has been sparked. For now, Hampton Roads residents are encouraged to reach out to Tom Frantz (TFRANTZ@williamsmullen.com) or Ross Grogg (rgrogg@kemperconsult.com.) Richmond residents are asked to reach out to Tayloe Negus (tayloe.negus@aonhewitt.com) or Nicole Pugar (npugar@williamsmullen.com.)

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For more ways to get involved with this and many other projects as a young professional in Hampton Roads, check out the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals group, tHRive. Visit their website at www.ypthrive.org, follow them on Twitter, or connect on Facebook.