NORFOLK, Va. — Pharrell Williams will take the stage at Norfolk State University on Thursday. Not to make music, but to sit with local thought leaders and business owners to discuss how to help Norfolk and Virginia Beach reach their full potential.
The Elephant in the Room forum will be a huge discussion on how to move this region forward. But what’s already going right here and what can city leaders join together on?
“What’s really going to want to make people come here and make this their home,” asked Hampton Roads Planning District Commission Executive Director Robert Crum.
The Hampton Roads Planning District Commission is tasked with setting up economic growth across the region. According to Crum, the organization is responsible for working with local governments in the Hampton Roads region.
Crum said city leaders are working together to put the 757 on the map by expanding broadband and paying for more than $5 billion in transportation projects in the area.
“They are invested in these projects because it means reducing congestion for their residents,” Crum said. “It means increasing mobility so we can do a better job of attracting businesses that want to come here.”
But there is always room for improvement.
“Right now, I feel like there are a lot of politics over profit and I think it should be the other way around,” said Pharrell Williams.
Pharrell appeared on Good Morning America on Thursday morning. He is bringing corporate leaders in real estate, consulting, investment, and marketing to inspire the Virginia Beach and Norfolk communities when it comes to business and diversity.
“I think we should be a market that is about green, that is about the economy and the environment,” Pharrell said. “It shouldn’t be about red or blue, Republican or Democrat, it shouldn’t be about Black or white.”
Over the years, regional attractions fell through the cracks. An 18,000-seat arena deal flopped in Virginia Beach in 2017. A push to move the NBA team Sacramento Kings to the area didn’t last in 2013. Plans to expand the Norfolk Scope Arena for bigger acts weren’t in the cards.
Both cities also have recent wins. Casino plans are underway in Norfolk. City leaders have three potential entertainment plans for Military Circle Mall’s redevelopment. The City of Virginia Beach just opened a $68 million sports center.
Pharrell hopes to do more collective ventures and Crum agrees Hampton Roads could do a better job telling its story.
“I think our messaging and our marketing at a regional is something we can look at other metropolitan regions and say can we learn from them,” Crum said. “Can we do that better?”