Published by The Virginian-Pilot by guest columnist David White
January 13, 2024
Thanks to Maritime, Hampton Roads is an "Ocean of Opportunity"
NORFOLK, VA |How many times have you heard this or said it yourself: “I wish my kids lived closer.” You’re not the only one.
Recent studies have shown our youth are leaving Hampton Roads and not returning at a higher rate than other regions. For too many, they leave not with direction or to pursue a passion, but because they don’t know about the many choices right here where they already live. The remedy begins in our homes and classrooms.
Look around you. We are on the edge of the continent, bordered by the world’s second largest ocean, accessible by highly navigable waterways. These are the shores where our nation was born. Hampton Roads is uniquely abundant with opportunities to earn a good living with your hands and your head, all while making impacts that benefit our community and country.
Thanks to both public and private sector expenditures, we have become the East Coast’s second largest commercial port by tonnage and America’s most substantial ship building and ship repair industrial base. Our port is a vital hub in the supply chains feeding the appetites of people and production lines here and across the globe, as well as the defense of our national interests.
The evolving and increasingly technological nature of these activities drive innovation and make our region global in scope. The jobs that enable our world-class infrastructure — from longshoremen to bankers, brokers to welders, and from truckers, warehouse workers, mechanics, electricians, manufacturers and shipfitters to contractors, engineers, data analysts and marketers — embody Hampton Roads. Our best-kept secret is that we are a maritime economy and frankly the envy of other regions, few of which can match our natural geographic assets.
Don’t take our word for it. A new study by the Mason School of Business at William & Mary reveals that 1 in 5 jobs in Virginia, nearly 730,000 in all, are linked to maritime. They generate nearly $57 billion in labor income and $8.1 billion in state and local taxes. And it’s only getting better.
Since 2013, the number of skilled workers handling cargo was up 54% with average annual paychecks of more than $121,000. Overall income per position grew 51%. We are the most modern gateway in the U.S. for exports our citizens grow and fashion, and the point of entry for overseas imports that stock our stores, homes and factories. Additionally, our nation depends on Hampton Roads in war and peace, thus the reason the taxpayers have invested heavily in our harbor, from state-of-the-art equipment and technology to wider, deeper, safer channels.
Hampton Roads is actually an “ocean of opportunity” for our citizens and those who come here. Check the want ads. There are a multitude of openings for skilled tradesmen and women, and educational institutions are scaling up certification and degree granting programs.
And not just to train the blue-, white- and new-collar employees who keep our piers humming and our combatant ships ready to defend our homeland and sea lanes. This spring, the largest domestic offshore wind farm will begin to rise off Virginia Beach, with massive components regularly arriving at the again vibrant Portsmouth Marine Terminal.
The member businesses of the Virginia Maritime Association are collaborating with workforce development organizations, training providers and educational institutions beginning at K-12 to grow our talent pool. We recognize those efforts must begin by showing our youth their prospects for a bright future.
So do not despair or feel like your sons and daughters must move elsewhere to work, be successful and raise your grandchildren. The Atlantic, which has given us so much, still delivers prosperity to our shores — whether it’s big vessels and logistics, building and repairing ships, harnessing renewable energy, or a yet-unknown innovation tied to our industry.
From kitchen conversations to classroom teachings, let’s embrace and promote our unique and growing maritime economy, encourage our home-grown talent to stay (or return), and invite newcomers to move here to take advantage of our many oceans of opportunity.
David White is executive director of the Virginia Maritime Association.