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Study says regional groups need to be meaner and leaner

Updated: August 16, 2013 - 1:55 pm

Posted: August 9, 2013

By Lydia Wheeler

Though not yet made public, the results of the Regional Organization Study are in and one organization is out.

Citing overlap, the executive committee of the Hampton Roads Partnership, a think tank for the region, voted in June to dissolve the 17-year-old organization, which will occur Sept. 30, and depending on what the study suggests, additional dissolutions and consolidations could occur.

The Hampton Roads Community Foundation paid Greyhill Advisors, a Texas-based consulting firm, $65,000 to assess the effectiveness of the area's business-minded organizations - the partnership, Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, CIVIC Leadership Institute, Future of Hampton Roads, Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance and Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance. Though the foundation is the funding source, the organization is not steering the study.

The study's goal: to find a way for the region to be meaner in terms of economic competitiveness and possibly leaner. Greyhill was expected to draft a model with its findings and map out how each organization should function in relation to the others.

Key CEOs who were involved in the partnership were also members of the newly formed Hampton Roads Business Roundtable.

That 25-member group loosely formed last year. Made up of top policy makers, it has acted as a lobbying group for the region's top priorities, most recently focusing its attention on privatization of the Port of Virginia and transportation funding in the General Assembly.

Though the community foundation says it's not ready to release the study's findings, groups are being briefed and word is the roundtable will lead the charge.

Roundtable member Vincent Mastracco Jr. said the new group plans to take on a limited number of efforts.

"Transportation, growth of the port, workforce development and tourism," he said. "It's not to go beyond those four unless the business community really says we need support for another effort."

A business attorney at Kaufman & Canoles, Mastracco served as legal counsel for the Hampton Roads Partnership. He is also a member of the community foundation's board of directors.

"There will be task forces and they have been identified," he said. "And there have been folks asked to head these clusters, and we will work on these types of initiatives, really, with a regional view."

The partnership came closer to a regional effort for a strategic agenda for the region, said Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, than any other group, but business leaders lost interest and the staff grew, which meant the organization needed more money. To compensate it started accepting memberships.

"It became a chowder society," he said. "There was a certain amount of talk without a lot of action."

The structure of the partnership, with both political and business entities involved, is what, Mastracco said, contributed to its failure. Having government representatives from each of the 17 jurisdictions sitting on the board was a flaw.

"As we came together and regional issues arose, they were not always in sync," he said. "It was identified by Greyhill that perhaps it's better for an organization that supports the business community to not have the political folks who are put in a position to make decisions based on jurisdiction rather than what's best for the region."

While some hope the roundtable will be the one to set the agenda like the partnership set out to do, others say collaboration among area groups is what is needed to produce results.

There are a number of organizations, Fraim said, that overlap one another.

"Most of these organizations have specific missions and most go by the name Hampton Roads, and a number of them have the same members and, to some degree, the issues they talk about are the same," Fraim said. "Do we really need all these organizations? Is there a better way to do it?"

As mayor of Virginia Beach, Will Sessoms is expected to be part of almost every organization, but he doesn't have the time to attend every meeting.

"I think we have too many organizations that all serve great purposes," he said. "But it made it difficult because I was supposed to be on every one."

Of the six organizations being studied, three have leadership programs - CIVIC, LEAD Hampton Roads through the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, and the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Institute. Each group introduces a new class of leaders to the community each year and all have expanded their efforts to reach younger generations.

CIVIC rolls out its first student class of CIVIC Scholars this fall at Old Dominion University. The Peninsula Chamber is working on its new initiative, the CEO Academy for small business leaders at Christopher Newport University, and LEAD Hampton Roads sponsors a summer leadership program for rising high school juniors and seniors known as eXcel.

"I think there need to be efforts for these organizations to work together," said CIVIC President Ann Crenshaw. "Part of what is becoming apparent through this process is a lot of these organizations need to work collaboratively, more than they have in the past."

Dana Dickens, past president and CEO of the partnership who retired last year, said the partnership was first to talk about doing a study in 2011. The group was thinking of having a consultant come in to help it reorganize.

"The conversation expanded," he said. "If we were going to have a consultant look at one organization, we thought maybe we should have it look at the other organizations and how they were operating."

The community foundation stepped in and offered the necessary funding. John O. "Dubby" Wynne, a retired executive from Landmark Communications - now Landmark Media Enterprises LLC, which owns The Virginian-Pilot and Inside Business, is the community foundation's chair. He was also involved in the founding of the partnership, which had representatives from business and other community and military leaders on its board.

Dickens said the staff of the partnership worked to implement the agenda set by the board and could have been the agency to carry out work set by the roundtable, which has no staff.

Efforts to replace Dickens when he retired were put on hold because results of the study were anticipated. Likewise the search for a new CEO for the Hampton Roads Chamber was delayed. Jack Hornbeck has retired. But the chamber is moving forward with a search now that the foundation has received the study.

Deborah DiCroce, the community foundation president and CEO, said the study was not a result of one organization not doing good work.

"It's less about altering what a single organization is doing and more about trying to come up with a shared sense of direction on the most pressing priorities for the region and its economic competitiveness at any given time," she said.

And some organizations have already started collaborating.

The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Peninsula Chamber have held two joint meetings in the last 10 months. There have been talks of merging the two groups entirely.

Though there are other similarly charged organizations throughout Hampton Roads, DiCroce said the study is only focused on the chambers, CIVIC, Future of Hampton Roads and Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance because they are regional, privately funded, business-minded organizations.

Plus there is only room for so many people at the table, said Crenshaw, when asked about the exclusivity of the study. But groups like Virginia Beach Vision, the Portsmouth Partnership and Greater Norfolk Corp. haven't been forgotten, she said.

"There are phenomenal organizations that will be part of the economic vitality component," she said, referencing a part of the study's suggested model that's being kept top-secret.

"There have been discussions with these organizations," she said. "This is meant to be totally inclusive, not exclusive."

Read about the organizations here