Hampton Roads organizations merge to form new roundtable
Sentara, Colonial Williamsburg CEOs to co-chair executive roundtable
Two Hampton Roads regional economic development organizations are merging to establish the Hampton Roads Executive Roundtable, with the goal of unifying their efforts.
The new organization will combine Hampton Roads Business Roundtable, established in 2012, and Reinvent Hampton Roads, established in 2016, with the primary mission of coordinating the alignment of the region’s economic development organizations, strategy and associated initiatives and improving the trajectory of the region’s economic growth and competitiveness.
Nancy Grden, who has been president and CEO of Reinvent Hampton Roads since June 2022, will lead the new organization. She was previously director of the Hampton Roads Maritime Collaborative for Growth & Innovation and associate president of Old Dominion University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Dennis Matheis, president and CEO of Sentara Healthcare Inc., and Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, will co-chair the new roundtable. The new group will include CEOs and presidents representing major regional corporations and organizations, higher education institutions and foundations, as well as younger companies.
Matheis became Sentara’s president and CEO in September 2022 after serving as president of Sentara Health Plans. Fleet became president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in early 2020, after serving as president and CEO of Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA subsidiary and holding other executive roles at Altria.
In a meeting with reporters Wednesday, Grden, Matheis and Fleet said one of the main goals is to promote regionalism versus competition among Hampton Roads localities. Matheis and Fleet each represent different areas of Hampton Roads, with Sentara based in Norfolk and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation located on the Peninsula.
“We have to start to really think and act as a region,” Matheis said. “When you look to compete for dollars and talent, it’s being done on a regional basis and a regional level now.”
Another reason for combining the groups is to bolster funding and better use resources while pursuing federal funding. There was overlap between the boards and funding, so the groups’ leaders felt it would be more efficient to consolidate.
Part of the strategy, Grden said, is to identify key industry clusters within which to support job and company growth. The roundtable would also like to see more people moving into Hampton Roads than leaving, given that it’s the region seeing the second biggest population losses to out-migration in Virginia. Finally, the group is looking at transformational changes that can change the trajectory of the region.
The new roundtable will take on Reinvent Hampton Roads’ role as support organization for GO Virginia Region 5, the regional arm of the state economic development initiatives that has awarded millions of dollars in economic development grants to projects in Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore and the Northern Neck.
“The establishment of the roundtable is an important step in aligning economic development leadership in the region, advocating for our communities and setting a clear path for economic growth in Hampton Roads,” Matheis said in a statement.
Fleet commented on the opportunities created by joining forces. “In coming together, we have a real opportunity to strengthen the business community’s impact on the region’s economic development policy and initiatives,” he said. “Additionally, there is great potential to strengthen the relationship between business and higher education for talent and innovation.”
John O. “Dubby” Wynne, immediate past chair of Reinvent Hampton Roads, and Harry Lester, immediate past chair of the Hampton Roads Business Roundtable, both stepped aside to allow the new co-chairs, Matheis and Fleet, to lead. Wynne is the former president and CEO of Landmark Communications Inc., and Lester is a former president of Eastern Virginia Medical School, a role he stepped down from in 2013. The two organization’s boards also combined and there are four staff members in the new organization.
The Hampton Roads Business Roundtable was initially formed to push for transportation funding in the region, and at one time had a political action committee. More recently, it was comprised of CEOs from the region’s largest employers and focused on initiatives “critical to economic development and competitiveness of Hampton Roads,” according to a news release. Reinvent Hampton Roads was originally funded through the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and focused on creating higher paying jobs for the region, thought leadership and regional collaboration.
A second group — the Regional Organizations Presidents Council — has also formed to align key regional organizations, including the Hampton Roads Alliance, Hampton Roads Workforce Council, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and others. Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bryan Stephens and Bob McKenna, president and CEO of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, are part of the new presidents’ council, which will also be represented on the new roundtable.
In forming this group, regional leaders realized that unlike other major metro areas, Hampton Roads was lacking a regional council of CEOs closely aligned with economic development goals. Many of these organizations already were collaborating with one another, organizer say, so this effort will create better coordination and alignment.