Maritime Association turns 100, eyes expansion
In the Virginia Maritime Association’s 100th year, Ashley McLeod has a wish for inland businesses to recognize the impact of the Port of Virginia on the entire state.
“One in 10 jobs in Virginia is related to maritime supply chains,” says McLeod, the association’s vice president for communications and marketing. “We want to be there for anyone who counts on water for importing and exporting products and listen to what’s going on in their region regarding the supply chain.”
The Norfolk-based association, which promotes port commerce, began as the Norfolk Maritime Exchange, then became the Hampton Roads Maritime Association and adopted its current name in 2006 to recognize its statewide network, which extends to Front Royal’s Virginia Inland Port.
Today, the VMA represents more than 500 companies employing more than 70,000 Virginians. This month, the organization celebrates the 1920 signing of its charter with a ceremony marking the anniversary in Richmond.
“We do business all over the state,” McLeod says, noting that transportation, economic development, technology and the emerging wind energy industry affect companies throughout Virginia. “We want to make sure we’re reaching everyone in the industry and can share their concerns.”
The VMA has established four chapters outside Hampton Roads since 2016: the Richmond-based Central Chapter and others in the Shenandoah Valley, Southern Virginia and Southwest Virginia. A Northern Virginia Chapter is slated to launch early this year.
“Coming to a region and hearing what’s happening really makes a difference for how we advocate for the maritime supply industry as a whole and make sure every voice is heard,” McLeod notes. “It’s relationship building to build a good business environment for the commonwealth as a whole.”
Among other goals, the VMA has lobbied for state and federal support to widen Hampton Roads shipping channels and funding to improve highway infrastructure. Future goals include diversifying imported and exported cargo, increasing broadband connectivity and getting construction sites shovel-ready for companies moving to Virginia.
Martinsville-based Hooker Furniture Corp., which annually imports more than 6,000 40-foot-equivalent containers of furniture through the port’s marine terminals in Norfolk and Portsmouth, joined the VMA in 2011. “It has given us a better understanding of the whole operation process within the Port of Virginia,” says Kimberly Clark, Hooker Furniture’s logistics manager, who also chairs the Southern Chapter. “We are able to stay abreast of legislative issues and legal aspects that may affect our company.”
The VMA’s statewide growth enhances its legislative impact, Clark adds. “The more our chapters grow, the more formidable our influence becomes when collaborating on capital funding for infrastructures like highways.”