Innovation in Southeast Virginia

Along with our partners at the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness, we’ve been developing an Innovation Index for the Southeast Virginia Partnership for Regional Transformation (www.seva-port.org).  SEVA-PORT is a regional partnership, funded by the Department of Labor’s WIRED initiative, focused on supporting innovative economic development efforts in the region surrounding Hampton Roads, Virginia.   The latest SEVA-PORT newsletter summarizes our project, and is excertped below.   The final report should be published soon.

As the SEVA-PORT WIRED project winds down, the project team is looking to how its various partners can continue to push the innovation agenda in Southeast Virginia. One important take-away from WIRED is that the region’s future prosperity and success will depend heavily on how well we do in terms of encouraging local residents to develop science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related skills and talents.

Local demand for skilled STEM workers is expected to grow rapidly in coming years. If we want innovative companies to move here, stay here or get started here, we’ll need to ensure they can attract and retain talent.

The WIRED project focused many of its investments on helping local educators and training providers develop new programs that introduce STEM careers and skills to residents from kindergarten all the way to adulthood. Some strong foundational programs are in place, but they are not enough.

To get a better sense of how to move ahead, SEVA-PORT has contracted with EntreWorks Consulting, a national leader in innovation-based economic development efforts, to create a regional innovation index that assesses how the region is performing and what it needs to do to become a national and global center of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The index contains a lot of good news. Student performance in science and math (from K-12 and higher education) is steadily improving, key business clusters in modeling and simulation and logistics continue to show rapid growth, and regional high-technology employment also is expanding.

However, the region still lags statewide and national benchmarks in many of these areas, so continuous improvement is still required. In addition, the region can and should do a better job of nurturing entrepreneurial start-ups and other technology-based businesses. The concentration and importance of these firms in our regional economy still lags state and national benchmarks.

The index is not designed to be a report card. Instead, it seeks to point to future directions for regional economic and workforce development. It suggests several new directions for any follow-up work related to SEVA-PORT. These include:

  • Expand STEM education programs, especially those that target women and minority students who are still underrepresented in STEM careers.
  • Improve programs that support entrepreneurs. It’s still too hard for local residents to find and access support programs for new businesses. Better coordination and marketing is needed.
  • Build new programs for business clusters. The region is home to several clusters that are national leaders in terms of innovation. The region should invest in efforts, such as the proposed Virginia Logistics Research Center, that capitalize on these strengths.
  • Maintain regional momentum. Perhaps the most important recommendation concerns regional partnerships. SEVA-PORT showed that regionalism works. These partnerships must continue even after the federal grant dollars disappear.
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