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Let Them See It and They Will Come: Area Development Forum in Hampton Roads

Written on June 27, 2024

“If you build it, he will come.”

Aficionados of vintage 1980s movies recognize that line from “Field of Dreams.”

The “it” being a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa corn field. The “he” being someone special (no spoiler here if you haven’t seen it).

What’s that have to do with economic development?

Here at the Hampton Roads Alliance, we take a bit of inspiration from that movie, frequently saying “if they see it, they will come.”

The “it” in our case being our Hampton Roads region, and the “they” being businesses looking for a site to locate their company.

In June 2024, Area Development brought the prestigious site selector conference – Consultants Forum 35 – to the region, holding it at the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront Resort.

“This is the first time that this site selection conference has been held in Hampton Roads,” said Steve Harrison, Chief Operating Officer for the Hampton Roads Alliance. “It’s a big deal because it brings site selectors directly to us to see what we are all about. We often say that if we bring site selectors here the region sells itself. The opportunity to bring all those people here is priceless.”

Area Development has produced over 80 conferences and workshop events in North America geared towards economic development professionals. Programs provide the opportunity to hear from and network with leading site consultants and industry experts while featuring presentations, panels and roundtable discussions focused on the trends influencing corporate location and economic development strategy.

In addition to the Hampton Roads Alliance, host sponsors for the June 2024 event included the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, The Port of Virginia and the City of Virginia Beach.

“I heard a lot of very interesting comments when I talked to people that people had no awareness that the Hampton Roads region is as big as it is,” said Amy Parkhurst, Senior Vice President of Business Development for the Hampton Roads Alliance. “Coming into the airport next to a botanical garden, seeing the beauty of the area, experiencing the caliber of the resort during a time of perfect Virginia weather, it all really showed off our region and the quality of life available here for businesses and their teams.”

Site selectors in attendance commented, Harrison said, that while they haven’t done a lot of business expansion projects in Virginia, seeing the region made them think about the Commonwealth in a new way.

“The event created a lot of opportunities for follow up and to build relationships,” Parkhurst said. “One of the consultants told me their business relied on relationships. For us, that means if we spend the time to build relationships, we may get that call. We now have the opportunity to spend more time building those relationships.”

For Toi Hunter, Vice President of Business Retention and Expansion for the Hampton Roads Alliance, the learning opportunity made possible by the programming of the event was also key. Among the top themes of the conference were energy and data centers.

“If we can’t get the energy we need for a project it doesn’t matter where the workforce is or the site,” Parkhurst said.

Plus, Harrison said, Virginia is a world leader in data centers and a study just concluded highlighted potential sites in Hampton Roads for data centers. Additional sessions focused on supply chains, global trends, the role of local economic developers, hybrid work environments, labor competition, industrial land development and leveraging federal incentives.

“In every business and in particular in economic development it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” Parkhurst said. “Now we know these people in a different way.”

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