NEWPORT NEWS-While the Hampton Roads region has seen some improvement following the economic fallout of the covid-19 pandemic, the area still has not fully recovered.
That was the crux of a State of The Region report for Hampton Roads in 2021 that was presented by Dr. Robert McNab, director of the Dragas Center For Economic Analysis And Policy at Old Dominion University’s Strome College of Business. The Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce hosted the event, which was held on Friday, October 8 at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport and attended by more than 300 business and political leaders from both the Peninsula and the Southside.
McNab focused on strengths and challenges of the Hampton Roads economy over the course of 2021, noting that in order to fully recover, more people will need to become vaccinated.
“We need as a region to promote vaccination, which will in turn help our economic growth,” McNab said. “Public health and economic health are two sides of the same coin.”
The region will also need to rely on three of its strongest pillars: defense, ports, and hospitality and tourism.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic has had a huge impact on the local tourism industry.
“The hotel industry was significantly hit,” said McNab, adding that Williamsburg was one of the jurisdictions in Hampton Roads that has struggled the most. In April 2020, when businesses were forced to shut down, hotel occupancy in the Williamsburg area was down 95 percent compared to April 2019. Tourism began to bounce back in the early half of 2021 until the Delta variant of the coronavirus emerged.
Finding and keeping employees has also been difficult for most businesses throughout 2021. Increased unemployment benefits were a major factor, but McNab pointed to other reasons for the worker shortage, such as those who have had to leave their jobs in order to take care of their families and others who remain too scared to return to the workforce.
“The challenge is going to be how do we get those people who left the labor force entirely to come back?” McNab said.
The State of The Region presentation concluded with a briefing on The Apprentice School at Newport News Shipyard by Dr. Tim Komarek, a Fellow in the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy. Komarek provided an overview of The Apprentice School and its benefits to workers as well as to the local economy.
To read the full The State of The Region report, click here.