Va. Beach uses SITW festival to woo business
City invites VIP economic prospects to festival
It’s not every week that international fashion brand Louis Vuitton creates a pyramid on the sand at Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront.
And that kind of buzz that music superstar Pharrell Williams is bringing to his hometown with his Something in the Water this weekend is something the city’s economic development officials are hoping to capitalize on with prospective businesses.
From a festival sponsorship standpoint, sponsors bring attention to the community that it wouldn’t normally get. Something in the Water’s sponsors include the NBA, Walmart and Louis Vuitton, for which Williams now serves as men’s fashion creative director.
With that kind of spotlight on Virginia Beach and a crowd of 50,000 expected over the long weekend, city officials are using the high-profile Something in the Water festival as a economic development tool for wooing new business to Virginia Beach.
The city government was able to purchase as many as 50 VIP passes from festival organizers at a pre-negotiated rate to give to economic development prospects, Taylor Adams, deputy city manager and director of economic development, told Virginia Business. The economic deals represented by those prospects add up to a potential of $1.6 billion in new investment and 6,500 jobs, if all of it comes through, he added.
“The parameter that we set for the office is everyone that we invited was either a project that we’re actively working [on] right now and we’re trying to complete, or a project that we felt like we would be working [on] in the next 60 days, in the sense that we knew that there was a deal out there,” said Adams, adding that the city has distributed about 30 or 35 of the VIP passes, which retail for between $525 and $600. He declined to identify specific businesses but described the prospects as a mix of local, regional, out-of-state and international companies.
“We thought that this might be an opportunity to advance our standing in those business attraction and retention opportunities,” Adams said. “We’re really excited about the opportunity to showcase the very best of our city to people that are looking to do business here.”
Another example of how the festival is being leveraged for economic opportunities was SITW’s A Seat at the Table event, held Thursday evening at The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art in Virginia Beach. The community cultural event benefited the Urban League of Hampton Roads, which creates business opportunities for local minority-owned companies.
“Our event was sold out, with over 500 attendees — a diverse gathering of ages, ethnicities and professional interests,” said Gilbert Bland, president and CEO of the Urban League. “Our evening was complete with networking, enjoying the MOCA exhibits and being entertained by various artists.”
It’s not uncommon for festivals like Something in the Water to be used for networking purposes, Adams noted.
“When you look at economic development today, particularly on the business attraction side … if you’re in the game, you’ve got a site and you’ve got community parameters that work. There is a reason that Austin is hot. There’s a reason that Nashville is hot. It’s the communities that get lifestyle right that are going to win for these next five years, because every company is facing the challenge of ‘Are there enough people for me to hire in the market that I’m going to?'” Adams said. “Festivals like Something in the Water tell that story for Virginia Beach more authentically than we ever could [by] using traditional means.”