Wednesday, August 10, 2022

On The Horizon: Economic Development Directors In Hampton and Newport News Discuss Plans For 2022

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How well Hampton and Newport News cultivate business relationships will determine their success in 2022. For Chuck Rigney, Hampton’s Economic Development Director, it’s a matter of taking advantage of what the city has to offer regarding its air, land, and water resources. For Florence Kingston, Director of Newport News Department of Development, it’s taking care of businesses in “all ends of the city.”

As with the York County and Gloucester County representatives, which were featured first in this series, Rigney and Kingston know covid and supply-chain demands aren’t going away overnight. Those challenges will continue into the new year.

However, they also know how their cities fare in the next 12 months has a lot to do with their plans, ideas, foresight, and execution. Both cities are coming off good years, despite the pandemic, and Rigney and Kingston expressed excitement about the prospects for 2022. Here’s a closer look at their thoughts.

HAMPTON

Rigney is hoping to make the most of the opportunities that come with Huntington Ingalls’ Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence, the first phase of which opened a little more than a year ago.

“The really good news is that they have such a high backlog of work and contracts that could extend out for more than a couple of decades,” said Rigney, who has been in his current position since October 2018. “There are going to be real opportunities.”

Unmanned systems, or drones, aren’t a part of the future, they are a part of everyday life.

“Given the assets that we’ve got in this area, we really should own unmanned systems, whether it’s in the air, whether it’s on the water, or whether it’s underneath the water,” he said. “And so we’re focusing in on how do we expand those opportunities here in Hampton.”

What’s neat about this is how much it ties into Hampton’s history with flight.

“Part of Hampton’s DNA, we are the cradle of aviation and aerospace,” Rigney said. “We trained the seven original Mercury astronauts there at Langley Research Center.”

Rigney also sees opportunities with the expected growth of offshore wind power.

“There are so many components that go into these massive towers,” he said, noting Hampton may be able to help with industrial manufacturing space, which is one of the city’s strengths.

He couldn’t go into details but said a few locations have been identified for use.

“We’re very confident that in 2022, we will have a significant increase in the amount of warehouse distribution opportunities available,” he said.

One of the hottest areas in Hampton is Phoebus, said Rigney. Part of the reason is a concerted effort that has been in the works for years, which resulted in new bars, restaurants, breweries, and other businesses.

“It’s become what we’ve long wanted it to be, which is a very eclectic, cool section of our city,” he said, adding he expects that growth to continue, in both the commercial and residential arena. “Phoebus is looking great.”

Right nearby is Fort Monroe, and there’s a lot happening there, too. Pack Brothers, a company out of Smithfield, is developing the marina area. Plans include a 90-room boutique hotel over the water and a restaurant along with meeting space and the renovation of all the piers. The latter is attractive to boaters traveling from the Northeast to Florida, and vice versa. A stop in Hampton would be convenient.

“But we don’t have the modern enough pier space and docks to support that business,” he said, adding the area once supported a Navy destroyer. “When refurbished, it will allow for a 700-passenger cruise ship to tie up there.”

That could lead to endless potential for hotels, restaurants, and conference centers.

Development on Fort Monroe itself also is targeted, with a nationwide request for proposals on repurposing numerous buildings due February 1.

Rigney also is excited about the development of downtown Hampton, which includes a partnership with Virginia Tech on a new research center, Hampton University’s expanded severe weather lab, and improvements in hotels and apartments.

“We’re going to be able to really point to a completely new and different looking downtown Hampton,” he said. “I think in 2022, you’ll also be hearing about other interested developers that want to come into downtown Hampton with significant investments.”

As with many places, the housing market is booming in Hampton. Rigney attributes that to people looking for a different way of life.

“I think multifamily (living) is here to stay,” he said. “The question will be what kind of amenity packages, what’s the top market for rents and those kinds of things. But we couldn’t be hotter when it comes to interest in residential.

“We’re going have a great year.”

NEWPORT NEWS

Kingston, who has worked for the city for more than 40 years, is especially proud no one area of the city is overshadowing the others. Upgrades and improvements are slated from the Southeast End to marinas to Endview Plantation.

“We’ve got so many things on the horizon,” she said, adding many interactions involve the city’s business partners.

Among its strengths are a solid foundation with Newport News Shipbuilding, Liebherr, Cannon, and Ferguson Enterprises. To keep that going, Kingston said the focus and emphasis should be on workforce development, training, and retraining programs with those companies in addition to developing relationships with other companies.

“So trying to ensure that talent pipeline,” she said.

As companies adjust to more employees working from home, either on a full-time or part-time basis, it’s a learning process for them, too.

“Companies are realizing that a new paradigm of how to keep their valuable employees engaged,” she said.

Another plus for Newport News is its location, which leads to another strength: the variety of businesses it attracts.

“A really good mix, some of everything,” Kingston said. “What we try to do is get companies to understand if you’re drawing talent from outside the region, having a number of employer options for somebody looking to come to the area is actually beneficial for all the companies, not just an individual company looking for their workforce needs.”

She said many people today decide where to live first, then look for a job. That means the role of economic development has evolved into making sure there are good restaurants and a good night life.

“That’s really important to the business sector because it really helps draw their talent,” she said.

Last year, the city was able to use CARES Act money to give grants to small businesses. Those were mostly for restaurants and personal service firms.

“We’re rolling out a micro-loan program that we’re broadening to help foster the entrepreneurship side,” she said.

One area Kingston sees possibilities is, as with Rigney and the City of Hampton, offshore wind.

“Offshore wind can kind of dovetail in with shipbuilding, repair and construction and some of the other skill areas,” she said.

With a strong fishing industry in Newport News, it’s also important to have strong infrastructure. Kingston sees that in the Menchville Marina, and the Seaford Industrial Park-Small Boat Harbor.

“We’ve been fortunate to get some grants that were able to improve some of the assets to support the oyster industry and our fishing industry,” she said. “That’s important.”

They are trying to create a seafood market at the head of the Seafood Industrial Park.

“The seafood industry is an important tradition for our region,” she said.

As for more traditional businesses, Ferguson is settling into its new headquarters in City Center.

“People are starting to work in the building,” she said. “That’s really going to give energy to the restaurants and to the businesses there because they’ll double the daytime working population that is at City Center.”

 There’s also development and redevelopment taking place in the city. Making sites ready for quick development is key, Kingston said.

“Redevelopment’s hard,” she said.

In general, she noted, it’s more expensive and takes more time to redevelop or renovate a site than it is to build from the ground up.

“We’ve got to do as good a job as we can getting sites ready for quality development quickly,” she said.

There’s a lot of work going on in the northern part of the Denbigh area, and the Endview project is expected to be going through rezoning in the next few months.

“We’re excited because we’ve got stuff happening in all ends of the city,” she said. “The activities are not concentrated in one area.”

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of Peninsula Chronicle stories regarding local economic development forecasts for 2022. To read our first story, click here.

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