Rebuilding a Region After COVID
- The Strome College of Business offers intellectual capital and provides input from students and faculty to assist businesses after the pandemic.
- Strome co-sponsors resiliency plans designed to build regional unity, grow jobs, attract talent, and improve the infrastructure.
- The business school relies on some of the lessons learned from the collaboration as it designs its own strategic plan.
As soon as COVID-19 hit, it was clear that many businesses were going to be severely and negatively affected. That was certainly evident in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, a coastal region between Virginia and North Carolina that is home to about 1.4 million people. To lessen the impact of the pandemic, local institutions quickly came together to create the 757 Recovery team, named for the area code that serves eastern Virginia.
The 757 Recovery team was led by the Hampton Roads (HR) Alliance, an economic development umbrella organization. The team included the HR Chamber of Commerce; ReInvent HR, a community leadership initiative dedicated to attracting new business; the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce; the HR Workforce Council; and the Planning District Commission.
Another key player was our school, the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Our objective was to offer intellectual capital and provide students and faculty as resources to help businesses, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations overcome the difficulties resulting from the pandemic.
Connecting the Community
One of the first steps the group took was to create the 757 Recovery Forum, a platform that would allow the collaborators and members of the business community to communicate. We wanted the Forum to serve as a one-stop shop for business owners looking for help and information. This platform quickly became a popular vehicle for members of the business community to connect with industry experts and thought leaders.
Since its creation, the Forum has offered blogs, videos, white papers, webinars, and Q&As with local experts. The Forum also provides information and links to other resources, such as information about the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan program for small-business owners.
On the Forum, Strome faculty provide their expertise on a wide range of topics, including economic impact and growth, supply chains and logistics, innovation, local government dynamics, and the maritime industrial base that is a key part of the region’s economy. Among the faculty offering their knowledge and time are Robert McNab, director of the Dragas Center for Economic Policy and Analysis; Ricardo Ungo, clinical assistant professor in maritime and supply chain management and director of the Maritime Institute at the university; and Ron Carlee, an assistant professor in the School of Public Service who has vast experience as a former government executive.
Other faculty have provided blog posts and videos for the Forum or served as experts who could answer questions. Among them are Martin Goossen, an assistant professor in the department of management, whose areas of expertise are technology and innovation; and Erika Marsillac, an associate professor of supply chain management. Additionally, Marsillac and Ungo have written and shared a white paper titled “Navigating Supply Chain Challenges Under COVID-19: The Road to Recovery for Hampton Roads.”
Building a Resilience Framework
But we soon realized that the Forum was not enough, and that the region would need an economic development plan if it was to grow after the pandemic. At that point, Strome and the HR Alliance joined forces to secure a grant from GO Virginia, an initiative that fosters private sector growth and job creation. This grant enabled the development of the 757 Action Framework, a strategic game plan collaboratively created to ensure that the HR region emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than ever.
To develop the 757 Action Framework, we sent needs assessment and perception surveys to area business and community leaders, and we received more than 5,000 responses. The recovery team then created 10 committees, each one charged with developing a sector-specific action plan. The committees address topics such as wellness and healthcare; infrastructure and connectivity; small business and retail; travel, tourism, and hospitality; innovation; and science and technology.
The Framework views resiliency as any action that can mitigate shocks that will disrupt the economy and have a negative impact on organizations and citizens.
Committees are chaired by some of the region’s most experienced leaders—three are headed by Old Dominion faculty and administrators. Committees are co-chaired by members of tHRive, a group of young professionals within the HR chamber. The participation of these younger professionals ensures that the recovery plan will speak to everyone in Hampton Roads—and it also ensures that the next generation of local economic development leaders will be deeply engaged with the community.
The 757 Action Framework is made up of five strategic pillars: building regional unity; growing new jobs; growing, retaining, and attracting talent; growing resiliency; and advancing regional infrastructure. Each pillar is co-owned by organizations that are responsible for leading activity in a particular area. While this means delivering programs, it also means promoting other organizations’ programs as well. Strome is a co-owner of the pillars dedicated to building regional unity and growing resiliency. Among its responsibilities is building the resilient capacity of businesses that are owned by veterans, women, and individuals from underrepresented populations.
The Framework also identifies results-oriented programs for implementing each pillar and assigns responsibility to various organizations. For instance, one action for building regional unity establishes a network of Regional 757 Champions who will serve as ambassadors. Several ODU faculty and administrators serve as Champions.
Resiliency is often viewed as a quality that businesses and nations must possess to deal with environmental threats and devise mitigation strategies. But the Framework views resiliency as any action that can mitigate shocks that will disrupt the economy and have a negative impact on organizations and citizens. Actions to improve business resiliency include providing education and training to area businesses, as well as offering support for entrepreneurs and startups. For its contributions to these efforts, Strome is co-leading education in two areas: business models, and diversity and inclusion.
Getting Students Involved
Strome has also made sure that its business students are deeply involved in the HR recovery efforts. They have made contributions in three primary ways.
First, undergraduates and graduate students serve as paid interns for each of the action plan committees. In addition to playing administrative roles, they conduct secondary research on behalf of the committees. While some receive academic credit for the work, they all gain experience that will aid them if they aspire to work in economic development or municipal government.
Second, the college invites students to write cases focusing on effective COVID responses made by local businesses. Three students have produced three cases each, writing about restaurants, museums, and yoga studios, as well as companies that specialize in technology, digital process automation, and digital marketing. Cases are disseminated on the Forum and through other channels.
Third, in the fall of 2020, Strome created a program called Open4Business, which enables local businesses to ask students to complete class projects under the supervision of faculty members. Each project addresses business challenges important to the requesting organization and contributes to the achievement of course learning objectives, a win-win for the business and for ODU students. For instance, Michelle Carpenter, a senior lecturer in the department of marketing, asked her public relations class to develop a crisis plan for a children’s hospital, which it could use to provide mental health services more effectively.
Our students and faculty have benefited from the exposure to regional leaders and the region’s economic challenges. At the same time, the Framework is stronger because of the expertise they provided.
According to Carpenter, “Open4Business allows our students an opportunity to give back to the community and gain real-world experience. The business community appreciates our students’ innovative ideas that have helped it meet the ongoing challenges tied to COVID.” This program continues to garner interest from local organizations.
We believe our students and faculty have benefited from the exposure to these regional leaders and the region’s economic challenges. At the same time, the Framework is much stronger because of the expertise they provided.
Creating Strome’s Strategic Plan
At Strome, we learned many lessons from our involvement with the development and implementation of the 757 Action Framework. We leveraged those lessons during our latest strategic planning cycle, and we engaged our many stakeholders by using a ground-up approach.
For instance, we replicated the Framework’s structure of creating various committees that would be responsible for specific areas, and we put them all under the oversight of a steering committee. Among the committees are those devoted to research, community engagement, diversity and inclusion, and the school’s mission and vision. The community engagement committee was briefed by representatives of the HR Alliance and used the Framework as a guiding document.
Strome’s steering committee also built its plan around strategic pillars. Three are closely affiliated with pillars in the 757 Action Framework: economic resilience, inclusive well-being, and maritime and supply chain management. Three others represent business issues the school believes are critical: transitional entrepreneurship, multisectoral partnerships, and digital transformation. For each pillar, we have identified faculty champions and are developing action items that will be deployed in the near future.
As a living document, Strome’s strategic plan will continue to evolve to reflect the new lessons we learn and the feedback we receive from key stakeholders. Because Strome is inextricably linked to the broader community, the connections between Strome’s strategic plan and the 757 Action Framework are expected to grow even stronger over time.
Looking to the Future
Many regions of the world are entering an era of greater collaboration as governments, businesses, and other institutions recognize that they are stronger when they work together. They also understand that they share many common interests and challenges.
This is certainly true in Hampton Roads. The many collaborators who developed the 757 Action Framework plan to draw on their experience to shape future cooperative efforts. For instance, Hampton Roads will have to address current challenges such as the need for regional energy and broadband infrastructures, and it will have to tackle future shocks such as recurrent flooding and rising sea levels. We also will have to address topics that could seriously affect our local economy, such as military sequestration, which imposes a hard cap on government spending on defense.
Strome’s place as a trusted partner in addressing regional challenges has been strengthened through its involvement with the Framework. We know Strome is well-positioned to be an actively engaged collaborator in future regional efforts.