Patchwork Nation visits Patchwork Hampton Roads

Printer-friendly versionSend to friend

Dante Chinni, Director for the Christian Science Monitor’s Patchwork Nation project, and his PBS NewsHour project counterpart, Anna Shoup, toured “Military Bastion” Hampton Roads recently.

Patchwork Nation is a collaborative project which classifies each of America’s 3,142 counties into 12 community types using demographic, political and socioeconomic data. The project tracks 24 representative communities to see how economic trends play out at the local level and analyzes national data by community type to give the big picture more context. Hampton Roads, as a whole, represents one of those community type:  “Military Bastion.”

The communities of Hampton, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg represent “Military Bastions” on their own.

James City County and Newport News represent fast-growing Boom Towns. The city of Chesapeake has been identified as a religious Evangelical Epicenter.

Minority Central is home to large pockets of African Americans and represented in the region by the city of Franklin and Southampton, Surry and York Counties. While wealthier Monied Burbs are found in Suffolk, Gloucester and Isle of Wight Counties.

Chinni and Shoup’s Patchwork Nation tour, facilitated by the Hampton Roads Partnership and local public broadcaster WHRO, consisted of:

  • A birds’ eye view of Hampton Roads from the Norfolk International Terminals’ tower, the tallest point on the harbor. The tour of the Port of Virginia continued dockside to see the full scope of the massive Suez-class cranes. NIT is home to fourteen of these, the biggest, most efficient cranes in the world. An interview was conducted with Jeff Keever, Senior Deputy Executive Director of the Virginia Port Authority, including a discussion of the port’s Craney Island expansion.

  • A visit to at the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk and the destroyer USS Bainbridge, most famous for its recent involvement in the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips of the commercial vessel Maersk Alabama who was kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Interviews were conducted with the boat’s sailor of the year and several of his shipmates, highlighting the wide diversity among military personnel. Access for videotaping of the docked Nimitz-class Nuclear Aircraft Carriers (CVN) was also made available.

  • Travel to Virginia Beach, the most populated city in Virginia boasting the longest pleasure beach in the world. The Hilton at 31st and Ocean was gracious enough to provide access to the upper club room floor to get a view from the tallest hotel at the oceanfront, thwarted only by one of the beach’s famous fast-moving fog banks.
  • Greg Grootendorst, Chief Economist for the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, provided an interview on economic data points about the region from the balcony of the World Trade Center overlooking a cruise ship in dry dock for ship repair, Town Point Park, the Half Moone Cruise Terminal and the Nauticus in downtown Norfolk.

  • Frank Roberts, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads Military & Federal Facilities Alliance, provided an interview on the positive effects of the military presence in the region and the possible outcomes of any loss of significant assets, such as the move of an aircraft carrier to another homeport.

  • Betty Grey Waring, Chief of Operations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District, shared information on the Corps’ work maintaining the natural harbor as one of the world’s deepest.

Chinni and Shoup were also honored guests at WHRO’s Hunter B. Andrews Dinner with featured Guest Susan Stamberg of National Public Radio (NPR) who was in Norfolk for an event at the Chrysler Museum.

On the last stop of their trip, Sue Wyatt, Director of Military Affairs for the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, talked about veteran’s employment, the tight-knit connection between community and military and the impact the bases have on the local economy and supports afforded service members who transition out of the military.

When asked why many exiting military members, who have traveled the world, remain in Hampton Roads after their service, Wyatt said she is told:  weather and family connections but, more importantly, the quality of life or “feel” of the region as family-oriented and knowing one’s neighbor. Chinni also noted that as the Department of Defense subcontracts out more work, the civilian sector grows with more job opportunities for the transitioning service member.

During the trip, Chinni appeared on the April 27th Hearsay with Cathy Lewis public affairs radio show and was joined by Dana Dickens, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Partnership, and former Virginian-Pilot reporter Alex Marshall, now with the Regional Plan Association , an independent organization established in 1922 to improve the quality of life in the 31-county New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area.

The show’s discussion centered around Hampton Roads’ dominant designation of “Military Bastion” and consideration of the question of Hampton Roads’ regional identity.

Chinni pointed to military spending in the region, direct and indirect, which provides a very important buffer in economic downturns that other regions do not have.

Hopkinsville, KY, home to the Army’s Fort Campbell, is the other “Military Bastion” specifically tracked by Patchwork Nation. In comparison to Hopkinsville, Chinni said Hampton Roads has a much different feel with more military brass, and the military is not the sole focus of the regional economy. Hampton Roads has diverse community types within the greater region and such diversity makes a single regional identity difficult. For regionalism to work, a region’s differences must be acknowledged, and, according to Chinni, Hampton Roads is a “perfect region” due to its wealth of diversity.

Marshall, a Hampton Roads native, said, that although the region may not be as hip as New York City, “I appreciate it [Hampton Roads] more, as often happens when you leave somewhere…it’s a great area. People should take pride and happiness in it.” Regional planning requires a holistic approach when appropriate, for instance, planning airports and highways, said Marshall. The key to U.S. innovation is true regional strategies, even mega regions; however, the nation isn’t oriented politically to do this. Perhaps the region could connect itself as a super region with the Raleigh-Durham area, although transportation is a barrier, added Marshall.

Callers’ comments offered their definitions of the region’s identity and included: “conglomerated separateness,” “blend of north and south,” “crossroads of sweet and unsweetened tea drinkers.”

Dickens, responding to a caller comment about the perception of the region as a lot of different places vying for control, never getting anything done and the need for regional governance, explained there were many opportunities for efficiencies within the region, such as for transportation solutions. Officials are elected for a specific jurisdiction and citizens want to keep their government close to home. The region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, Vision Hampton Roads, is all about economic vitality and interdependence of our many communities, said Dickens.

“Aligning the region under common goals and objectives to move the economic ‘needle’ – better than disjointed activities – is something everyone can agree on,” added Dickens.

Dickens also shared that regional cooperation is happening, and we don’t take enough credit for it as a region. He reinforced the idea that Hampton Roads is a “Military Bastion” as well as a significant harbor community – why the Port of Virginia is located here and tourists are drawn to the area. These three sectors make up the region’s economy, and Vision Hampton Roads is focused on building on these great assets and diversifying in areas such as energy and innovation (technology, bioscience, modeling and simulation, sensors and healthcare), said Dickens.

Dickens invited listeners to Vision Hampton Roads Regional Day on May 6th for the official roll-out of the plan. The event includes a keynote by Gov. McDonnell and the signing of a regional Declaration of Interdependence, reinforcing the axiom that what happens in one community ripples across the entire region and the many opportunities there are for working together.

When asked who speaks (or should speak) for Hampton Roads, Chinni pointed out that in most regions, including those that cross state borders, are usually led by a non-political economic development person who focuses on maximizing the economy and marketing the region.

The final interview of the trip took place on a dock in Hampton’s downtown marina in the shadow of the Virginia Air and Space Museum. Shoup served as interviewer, and Chinni, the interviewee, assessed his impression of Hampton Roads. These video interviews will be made available at a later date and may appear on the nightly PBS NewsHour.

Missy Schmidt, Communication Manager for the Hampton Roads Partnership and Patchwork Nation blogger with, acted as guide for the Patchwork Nation project for three days at the end of April 2010. For more photos of the tour, visit Flickr.