Springtime, tea leaves, less barking

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier
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Photo by Mark Rhodes

Springtime meetings for Virginia Business always involve a heavy dose of crisscrossing the commonwealth.  Despite the lingering cool days in the earlier part of the season, followed by the onslaught of heavy pollen showers, this year has been pretty typical.

During April and May, we traveled extensively on Virginia’s interstates and byways to attend meetings in Portsmouth, Norfolk, Williamsburg, Chantilly, Blacksburg, Lexington, Norfolk (again), Suffolk, Norfolk (again!), Harrisonburg, Wise, St. Paul, Amherst and Roanoke.

It seems like every organization in the state is trying to get in a few final meetings before the heat of summer and the vacation season kick in.  The State of the City series sponsored by the Hampton Roads Chamber figures prominently in this schedule with five luncheons featuring the mayors of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Suffolk.

Ranging from hotel ballrooms to convention centers, most if not all of these events are sold out.  Taken together, the series is an annual tour de force of economic development happenings and milestones for Hampton Roads. They bring together business and local government leaders in a collective display of civic pride.  Other regions should take note of this example.

Other spring meetings and events involved an alphabet soup of tech councils and colleges, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Society of Association Executives (VSAE), Lead Virginia, University-Based Economic Developers (UBED), the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC), the Virginia Maritime Association (VMA), as well as client and customer events for the magazine itself.  Sometimes it seems hard to stop and catch your breath, but that’s springtime for Virginia Business.

It’s worth noting that our state is a wonderful place for this kind of travel.  Some familiar venues such as the Westfields Marriott hotel in Chantilly or the Hotel Roanoke remain reliably on point with food and service.   Recent additions like The Main in Norfolk and Hotel Madison in Harrisonburg provide excellent new settings for large meetings.  Heck, even tiny St. Paul now boasts a boutique hotel, the Western Front (go there!).

Business dining offers excellent “old reliables” in all parts of the state; try Todd Jurich’s Bistro in Norfolk or the Blue Apron in Salem.  On the new end of the spectrum, there’s Milton’s at the Western Front (go there!).

Some years it’s more of a challenge than others to read the tea leaves of our business environment in Virginia.  This year there is a sense of quiet optimism as the economy seems to be gaining momentum.  The new hotel projects just mentioned are one sign. Others include higher container traffic at the Port of Virginia and a bigger federal defense budget. It is good to be out from under the shadow of sequestration, at least for now.

State politics also seem to be quietly changing.  The combination of upsets in last November’s legislative elections and a change of temperament (if not policy) in the Executive Mansion seem to have at least slightly reduced partisanship.  One might describe it as a change from hyper-partisan to just plain old partisan.  In any event, it does seem like the old dogs aren’t barking quite as loudly.

Maybe we’ve gone from cautious optimism to quiet optimism.  If that’s the change we have for 2018, let’s go with it.  See you on the road!

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