Initiatives Status Report

Activate the Norfolk Technology Zone that connects our existing clusters of innovation – ODU, EVMS, CHKD, Sentara, downtown, TCC & NSU


At GNC’s request, Norfolk City Council designated the area along the Elizabeth River stretching from ODU to NSU, including the EVMS/CHKD/Sentara Medical Center, Fort Norfolk, Downtown Norfolk, the Neon Arts District and the Harbor Park area as a “technology zone” under State law, thereby qualifying start-up tech firms locating there to receive a BPOL tax abatement.  The goal of the technology zone incentives is to foster the development and location of new technology businesses in the city, which will increase capital investment and create jobs.

Designating the innovation corridor that connects our most prominent academic, medical and business anchors as a “technology zone” was an important first step, but only the first step in fully activating this zone, which is why we assembled a select group of thought leaders in the fall of 2018 to conduct a strategic discussion and to shepherd this critical initiative.

The Task Force identified several early action items:

  • Reach consensus on a name

Status:  A meeting of representative from the marketing departments of the anchor institutions along the corridor:  i.e. ODU, CHKD, EVMS, Sentara, TCC, DNC and NSU, was convened in March to brainstorm how we might create a kind of marketing collaborative to help get the word out about the zone.  The marketing charrette produced a number of marketing/messaging ideas, including potential brands for the new technology zone that have been subsequently market tested by marketing-research firm Cranium Tap, with an eye towards identifying the most effective brand that aligns with our objectives.  Based on the assessment/survey conducted by Cranium Tap, the “official” name of the area going forward is Norfolk Innovation Corridor.

  • Draft language for expanding the list of eligible businesses for BPOL tax abatement to include existing businesses that are growing, including spinoffs

Status:  As originally adopted, the technology zone provided BPOL tax abatement only for new Norfolk technology companies that located in the zone.  Norfolk City Council, with GNC’s support, updated the ordinance this Spring to include existing technology companies that expand in the zone, including spinoffs from existing Norfolk firms, to qualify as new businesses.  In addition, the Zone borders were expanded and two additional technology industries were added to the list of qualifying industries.

  • Determine how we get entrance ramps to the Southside Fiber Ring for growing businesses and startups along the corridor, as well as the governance piece

Background:  The City of Norfolk is nearing completion of a broadband fiber ring that parallels the Norfolk Innovation Corridor.  Norfolk’s fiber ring (I-Net) connect to the Southside Fiber Ring, which at its buildout will be a 103-mile long dark fiber ring connecting government, business and education centers in the five southside cities with each other as well as one or more transatlantic cables that have landed (or are expected to land) in VA. Beach.  The regional fiber ring will leverage the transatlantic fiber capabilities, whose speed vastly exceeds anything now available in the region, while creating opportunities for regional government and higher-ed collaboration in addition to boosting regional economic development.

Status: Given our overlapping interests in enhanced broadband, GNC and Virginia Beach Vision have established a joint Task Force that is focusing on how we can best leverage the budding Southside Fiber Ring.

  • Get clarity on location of proposed Innovation Center

Background:  Metropolitan areas with innovation districts are growing faster than our region.  A critical component of innovation districts is the presence of a proper Innovation Headquarters or “front door” that includes one or more business accelerators and a place where early-stage companies cluster to exploit the well-documented benefits of the “knowledge spillover effect” and the power of “network connections” that multiply exponentially when entrepreneurs are densely located in innovation centers such as the Edney Innovation Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Status:  The recently announced Assembly project, which will be the new home of GROW Interactive, as well as other leading creative and technology driven companies, aspiring startups and talented freelancers in what is now the Granby Municipal Building, will serve as the “front door” or headquarters of the Norfolk Innovation Corridor.  Assembly will include 757 Startup Studios, an accelerator for high growth companies with scale up potential.

Adding to the growing critical mass downtown is ODU’s Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which will open on August 29 and be home to the Open Seas Technology Hub/Accelerator. ODU on Bank Street comes on the heels of the opening of NSU’s Innovation Center on Main earlier this spring.

  • Draft and consummate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Norfolk and the Greater Norfolk Corporation establishing an independent non-profit affiliate to carry forward the initiative to develop and enhance the Norfolk Innovation Corridor as a key strategy for improving the competitiveness of Norfolk.

 Background:  In order to maximize the potential of this technology zone, there needs to be a governing body whose sole purpose is to support the development of the Norfolk Innovation Corridor through strategic planning, fundraising, programming and promotional efforts in coordination with the City.  Examples of similar governing bodies include The Enterprise Center, which serves as the governing body of the Chattanooga Innovation District and Cortex, which serves as the governing body/master developer of the Cortex Innovation Community, a 200 acre urban innovation hub in St. Louis, MO.  Getting the right people and organizations, including in particular the anchors, at the table is critical to the success of the Norfolk Innovation Corridor.

Status:  A memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been drafted and vetted by the Dept. of Economic Development and is awaiting the City Manager’s signature.  The MOU calls for GNC to establish an independent, non-profit affiliate to carry forward the initiative launched by GNC to develop and enhance the Norfolk Innovation Corridor as a key strategy for improving the competitiveness of Norfolk.


Support expansion of ultra-high speed internet (broadband) capacity in Norfolk & the region


Given our overlapping interest in enhanced broadband, GNC and our counterpart at Virginia Beach, Virginia Beach Vision, established a joint Broadband Task Force that is focusing on how we can best leverage the budding Southside Fiber Ring which, at “build out”, will constitute a 103-mile-long fiber ring connecting government, business and education centers in the five Southside cities with each other as well as to one or more of the transatlantic cables that have either landed or are expected to land in Virginia Beach.

The goal of this dark fiber open access ring is not to compete with the private sector.  The public sector (i.e., the 5 southside cities), will build the fiber highway and then allow private-sector companies to provide businesses with ultra-high-speed broadband at an affordable price.  Achieving this broadband connectivity will facilitate economic development/job creation, particularly in the area of big data.

The second phase of the Southside Fiber Ring will complete the design to 100% (currently 30% designed) and HRPDC’s Regional Broadband Steering Committee has approved issuing an RFP for this work, which is estimated to cost $800,000.  All 5 southside cities have agreed to share the cost.  The third and last phase will be funding actual construction, with completion anticipated for June/July of 2021.

A key question is the governance:  i.e., the oversight authority.  The City Managers and their legal teams have been working on this key issue and have tentatively agreed to establish a Broadband Authority.  The Authority will be responsible for setting the rates for access to the Regional Connectivity Ring.  It’s expected that the proposal will be formally considered in July.

The public sector (i.e., the Broadband Authority), will provide services to governmental and educational facilities, but the plan is to lease the “middle-mile” fiber to private firms in order to serve business customers.  If experience elsewhere is any indication, the regional fiber ring will lower the barrier to entry and stimulate more competition, resulting in more options.

Status:  A proposal to form a Regional Broadband Authority to manage the Southside Fiber Ring has been vetted by the HRPDC Regional Broadband Committee and has been forwarded to the five Southside cities for their review and approval.  Because both Norfolk and Virginia Beach are close to completing their portion of the regional fiber ring, it’s critical that decisions regarding the Authority’s business model, staffing and marketing happen as soon as possible so that the private sector in both cities can leverage this asset.


Make Norfolk the most resilient city in the world and ODU the global brand in that space


Bruce Katz, founder of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and their inaugural Centennial Scholar, delivered the keynote address at GNC’s December 7, 2018 joint Board of Directors meeting with the Downtown Norfolk Council.  Katz challenged Norfolk and the region to become the leading coastal resilient city in the world.  His parting admonition was to invest in Old Dominion University in order to make that vision a reality.

With Katz’s admonition in mind, in Feb. of 2019 we invited John Broderick, President of Old Dominion University, and members of his team to brief the GNC Board and invited guests, including members of the Virginia Beach Vision Sea Level Rise Task Force, on ODU’s efforts to create a coastal resilience center of international stature and regional relevance.  Key takeaways regarding ODU’s vision for the future include:

  • The time is NOW to start up an Institute for Coastal Adaptation & Resilience.
  • There are business and medical spinoffs that orbit around coastal adaptation & resilience.
  • With ODU as an incubator for new water-based technologies, Norfolk could become the place where companies come to beta-test their products.
  • Educating the workforce on this nascent but growing industry represents a unique opportunity – we can create a nationally distinctive brand, making Norfolk and the region a destination for anyone looking for credentials in this field.

What does it take to scale up our efforts and ODU the global brand in this space?

  • Recruit a nationally known director for the newly created Institute ($5m endowment)
  • Establish an annual international conference drawing the world’s foremost leaders in coastal resilience – together in our natural test-bed ($500k biannually & sponsorships)
  • Support ODU faculty fellows and visiting scholars in residence ($500k endowment each)
  • Professional & workforce credentialing & training ($500k start-up)
  • Develop a “Resilience Campus” unique to our community with ODU’s partners

Status: At the top of ODU’s list is recruiting a nationally known Director for the newly created Institute for Coastal Adaptation Resilience (ICAR).  President Broderick, at his State of the University address on August 29, will be announcing a significant gift toward the founding of ICAR that will allow the University to immediately begin the search for a nationally known academic practitioner to lead the Institute and put Hampton Roads on the map for resilience research and practice.  ODU is also close to finalizing a strategic partnership with the City of Norfolk that would allow the city and ICAR to find innovative solutions to flooding and sea level rise.


Joint Virginia Beach Vision/GNC Sea Level Rise Task Force


At a joint GNC/Virginia Beach Vision Officers meeting in the fall of 2018, two areas of common interest were identified – Broadband and Sea Level Rise/Coastal Resilience.  Rather than duplicate efforts, we agreed to collaborate in both areas.  GNC members joined Vision’s Sea Level Rise Task Force (already in existence) and Vision members joined our Broadband Task Force chaired by Dave Iwans.

Status: The Task Force has identified 4 primary focus areas:

  • Support ODU’s efforts to become the global brand in this space
  • Weigh in on city specific projects to mitigate sea level rise (each organization)
  • Jointly advocate for state and federal funding
  • Focus on marketing piece; i.e. communicate that we are open for business

Action taken to date:  Joint letter of support to the Economic Development Administration for ODU’s, The College of William & Mary and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s application for funding to support the Open Seas Technology Innovation Hub.  The grant application was recently approved by the Economic Development Administration and ODU and its’ partners have been awarded nearly $1.1 million to establish the Hub, which will serve as a catalyst and convener for innovative concepts related to all aspects of living and working on and near the water.  The Open Seas Technology Innovation Hub will focus on three industry clusters:  maritime, shipping and logistics; aquaculture and fisheries; and flood mitigation and resilience.


Develop, Attract and Retain Talent

Market/Promote Norfolk as a University Town


Norfolk is home to a EVMS, NSU, TCC Norfolk Campus, ODU and Virginia Wesleyan University.  It’s a strength that we have not fully capitalized on and with that in mind, Scott Miller, President of Virginia Wesleyan University, has been the catalyst for an effort to promote the City of Norfolk as a University Town, with a goal of attracting the brightest students, retaining them after graduation and thereby growing the number of well-educated young adults in Norfolk and the region.  A committee composed of representatives from the above institutions of higher learning, the City Manager’s office, GNC and led by Kurt Krause at Visit Norfolk, has begun its due diligence work.

Status:  As part of its due diligence, the Committee will meet late this summer/early fall with Deborah Diamond, President of Campus Philly, a non-profit organization that fuels economic growth by encouraging college students to study, explore, live and work in the greater Philadelphia region.  Campus Philly is a potential template for our effort to market/promote Norfolk as a University Town.


2019 LIveNFK Summer Intern/Associate Program

Background:  GNC has been collaborating with the DNC since 2015 in producing the LiveNFK Summer Intern Program.  The goal of the program is to help companies recruit and retain the best new talent by showcasing what makes Norfolk and the region a great place to live, work and stay and start their careers, while helping them establish relationships that will make these interns feel “plugged in” to Norfolk

Status:  The 2019 LiveNFK program ran from early June to late July and included social, recreational and networking/professional development events/activities.  A total of  97 summer interns/associates from 21 participating employers registered for the program.


Pilot Mentorship/Internship Initiative with Norfolk State University

Background:  GNC continues to focus on developing, attracting and retaining talent for the benefit of Norfolk and the region.  Our region would have a competitive advantage if we simply retained the best and brightest graduates from our local colleges and universities.  Unfortunately, far too many of these talented graduates are choosing to pursue careers elsewhere.  That’s particularly true of minorities, many of whom are choosing D.C., Charlotte and Atlanta over Hampton Roads.  With that in mind, under the leadership of Ulysses Turner GNC has partnered with Norfolk State University on a pilot mentorship/internship.

Status:  The pilot mentorship/internship initiative with NSU kicked off with the 2019 spring semester at NSU.  Eight GNC members have been matched with eight NSU mentees.  The current cohort will continue through the fall 2019 semester.  It’s anticipated that the Mentorship/Internship initiative will continue with a new cohort of mentees for the spring 2020 semester that begins in January, 2020.


Advocate for establishment of a full-time, comprehensive Career/Technical High School

Background:  GNC continues to advocate for the establishment of a full-time, comprehensive Career/Technical High School in Norfolk modeled after the hugely successful Worcester Technical High School in Worcester, Mass., where academic instruction is integrated with technical education, with academic classes in many cases directly across the hall from the technical classes and where applied/work-based learning is the norm.  The need for the CTE High School is more urgent than ever given the regional and national shortage of qualified workers to fill skilled positions in shipbuilding/ship repair, health care and information technology in particular.

Status:  Last fall, GNC hosted William Symonds, the primary author of the landmark Pathways to Prosperity Report – Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century.  Symonds, who is a prominent leader of a national movement to provide multiple high-quality pathways to economic independence for all young people, met with a group of business leaders and made the case for a state-of-the art CTE High School here in Norfolk.

More recently, Governor Ralph Northam at GNC’s Annual Meeting in July emphasized the importance of CTE in developing a pipeline of talent, including both persons about to enter the workforce and those adults in need of retraining for 21st century jobs.  The Governor described the proposed CTE High School and Adult Workforce Training Center as both “visionary” and “important” for Norfolk and the region and said that it will require city, private and state Support to make it a reality.

The Governor’s comments constitutes a major breakthrough in our work on the CTE High School.  Given the fiscal restraints faced by the City, the State’s participation is essential in order to develop a first-class program and facility in Norfolk that can serve as a model for CTE programs statewide.  The City, under Mayor Alexander’s leadership, is poised to make a significant commitment to get the CTE School built but cannot afford this significant construction project on its own.  Some corporate and private philanthropy will be needed and with the State as a partner we would finally have a realistic opportunity to complete the funding for the project.


Partner with the City of Norfolk in support of the redevelopment of the St. Paul’s Quadrant


The City of Norfolk has embarked upon a long-term effort, the St. Paul’s Transformation Initiative, to transform the 200 acres east of downtown Norfolk from run-down public housing communities into vibrant mixed-income, mixed-use areas.  Specifically, the goals of the Initiative are to:

  • Increase self-sufficiency, financial independence and successful outcomes for families in the St. Paul’s area through the provision of suitable housing choices and the supportive services of People First.
  • Deconcentrate poverty and develop high quality mixed-income, mixed use communities of choice.
  • Provide access to excellent educational opportunities in partnership with Norfolk Public Schools, local college and universities and early childhood education institutions.


GNC supported the City’s successful application for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Implementation Grant.  The grant, which was awarded in May, will support new housing, a community hub and expand People First services.  The vision is to transform Tidewater Gardens into a mixed-income, mixed-use, resilient neighborhood that will provide affordable, quality housing for ALL income levels.

Following our December, 2018 joint Board meeting with the Downtown Norfolk Council that featured Bruce Katz as the keynote speaker, Katz assisted the City in the development of a Prospectus that lays out the opportunity to invest in Norfolk’s Opportunity Zones, particularly the St. Paul’s Opportunity Zone. Katz also assisted the City in holding a financing charrette, focused on strategies for attracting the one billion dollars needed to make Norfolk’s vision a reality.


Entrepreneurial Minute

Background:  GNC continues to focus on enhancing our entrepreneurial ecosystem in order to diversify and grow our local economy.  The importance of shining a light on entrepreneurs and celebrating their success can’t be overstated.  Thus, we showcase a successful entrepreneur and his/her company at most of our Board and Executive Committee meetings:  i.e. the Entrepreneurial Minute.

Status:  During the FY 2018-2019 year, we showcased the following entrepreneurs as part of our Entrepreneurial Minute:


Chris Uiterwyk                       Tim Lee                     Paul Robinson                 Kim Mahon

President & CEO                    CTO & Founder         RISE                                    Founder & CEO

IpConfigure                             Amplified IT                                                           MAXX Potential


Hamilton Perkins                              Jeff Conroy               Monique Adams & Evans McMillion

President & Founder                          CEO                                757 Angels / 757 Accelerate

Hamilton Perkins Collection              Embody