Once again the region is looking to brand itself with a new name.
Its economy is growing, its diverse municipalities are making inroads on that elusive thing called collaboration, and it could soon be home to the nation’s first urban surf park.
Now, to deal with that pesky problem of how best to identify the Southeastern Virginia metropolitan region.
When I was growing up here the entire region was called Tidewater Virginia. Personally I am fine with that moniker.
Hampton Roads, the moniker applied to the sprawling region more than three decades ago, just doesn’t cut it, business and community leaders say. People outside the 2,500-square-mile region don’t know what or where Hampton Roads is, while few of its 1.7 million residents call it by its official name or have an affinity to the identifier. And, that hampers the local economy, especially tourism, one of Hampton Roads’ top economic drivers.
“The brand of any region is either an enabler or an inhibitor,” says Bryan Stephens, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a sense of place. It’s who you are as well as where you are. It has to resonate with everyone. Hampton Roads doesn’t do that. It’s old, stale and stagnant.”
One of Stephens’ goals for this year is to create a new brand identity for the region, one that evokes a sense of place for both locals and people outside the area. The chamber has organized a committee to lead a collaborative effort to rebrand the region. The process will include focus groups, roundtable discussions and surveys. “We hope to unveil and start socializing the new name by the end of the year,” Stephens says.
While names such as Coastal Virginia and Norfolk-Virginia Beach have been bandied about for several years, Stephens says his group is starting fresh. “We’re being very careful not to presume any name or start with a laundry list of possible names. We’re starting with a clean slate and want this to be collaborative and the process to work.”
Whatever the rebranding committee comes up with, Stephens stresses that the new identity will celebrate Hampton Roads’ assets. “Its history, water, beaches, family activities, the food scene — things that make it attractive to all people who want to live and work here as well as visit on vacation.”
Shedding its cumbersome moniker is the first step in getting Hampton Roads’ story front and center and ensuring the region is on par with similar areas, Stephens says. “If you think about other regions, there’s the ‘it’ factor that’s representative of a great place to live and work and to raise a family,” he adds. “But they really don’t have anything we don’t have. Hampton Roads has history, waterways, beaches, urban areas, farmland and diversity of cultures. We’re just not telling our story well enough.”
Stephens and other regional leaders believe collaboration will help with that. They say signs point to the region’s 14 cities and counties at long last banding together as rivalries slowly are relinquished. With four of the five South Hampton Roads cities coming under new mayoral leadership in the past three years, a renewed emphasis on working together appears to be crossing municipal lines.
“There’s a lot more collaboration going on now than we’ve seen in the past,” Stephens says. “Elected officials understand the power of collective impact and realize that what’s good for one municipality is good for all municipalities.”