What can Hampton Roads learn from Pittsburgh? Leaders travel to Steel City to find out


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — In May, 10 On Your Side reported a series of economic stories called, “What’s Wrong With Us,” an honest look at why, in Hampton Roads with 17 communities, we haven’t created one net new job in 10 years. 

To that end, a group of over 30 local leaders went to Pittsburgh to learn how they created new jobs after a devastating economic Armageddon in the late 70s and early 80s.

10 On Your Side has reported how Hampton Roads fails at regional cooperation. The trip to Pittsburgh drove home the point that local cities not only need to work together for the common good, but they should have done it yesterday.

“What can Hampton Roads learn from Pittsburgh?” 

The question is asked in a video produced by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. The answer seems to be that apparently a lot from what was the Steel City, which in 1979 died when steel mills shut down, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers without jobs. 

PART 1: Hampton Roads: Bad For Business?

PART 2: Hampton Roads: Bad For Business?

PART 3: Hampton Roads: What’s Right With Our Community

Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto is seen speaking to the local leaders who went on the trip.

“In 1979, Pittsburgh died,” Peduto said. “The economic heart was ripped out of this region.”

This Hampton Roads Chamber video highlights the June Inter-Regional Visit to Pittsburgh. “We spent three days emerging ourselves in work force development, economic development, infrastructure, their tourism, and how they came  back from devastation,” said Chamber President and CEO Bryan Stephens.

Pittsburgh, with 134 localities, works together for economic development.  Hampton Roads, with just 17 localities, seems to have not figured that out yet. 

“They adopted a philosophy if it is not for all of us then it is for none of us,” Stephens said.

Stephens says Hampton Roads needs a culture change.

“I think we in Hampton Roads shouldn’t wait for a crisis to happen.  We need to start inculcating (to teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions) that culture now,” Stephens said.

Here’s a crisis in Hampton Roads: the area hasn’t created one net new job in 10 years. 

Stephens says the group heard repeatedly the importance of leadership.

“We need leaders who are going to stand up. I’m talking about public sector, private sector our education leaders … let’s stop the parochialism here in Hampton Roads … and start looking how we can come together in a bipartisan fashion to solve some of these solutions.”

This can work if Hampton Roads came together to fund billions of dollars in new road projects

“Let’s talk about sea-level rise. What if we can come together to solve that problem?  How about a sense of place? Why don’t we come together on how we want to promote Hampton Roads?”

Stephens learned from Pittsburgh that rowing in the same direction works, and so did Norfolk City Councilwoman Andria McClellan.

“So what can Hampton Roads learn from Pittsburgh? We can learn about the importance of our waterways, activating our rivers, enjoying it, and bringing business and residents and tourists down to enjoy our waterfront,” McClellan said in the Chamber video.

Stephens adds, “How do you go about eating an elephant? You do it one bite at a time. That’s how you change the culture and the economy. We here at the Chamber call it a ‘drumbeat.'”

The drum beat: Everyday consistent and positive change, working together. Train the workforce to bring in new business. Create jobs. 

Hampton Roads has the ports, it has defense, and tourism, but the last 10 years of no net new jobs have proved it needs more than just the big three.

Stephens, who is Army Retired, says, “one of the things they teach you is to attack. Be on the offense.  Sometimes we get on the defense.  That in Hampton Roads we are a cul-de-sac that we can’t compete against other regions, and I say baloney. We need to take charge of our future. We need to create jobs and a better lifestyle here in Hampton Roads.”  

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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