Norfolk Technology Zone

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. 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 the  Spring of 2019 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. 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. 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. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Norfolk and the Greater Norfolk Corporation was executed in 2019.  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. Status:  The Norfolk Innovation Corridor (NIC), an independent non-profit body was created in November, 2019.  The NIC has officially launched their website ( on November 19, 2020.

Ultra-high speed internet (broadband)

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.  

Sea Level Rise

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.  

LIveNFK Summer Intern/Associate Program

LiveNFK Summer Intern/Associate program, a collaboration between the Downtown Norfolk Council (DNC) and the Greater Norfolk Corporation, has been recognized by the International Downtown Association with an Award of Excellence for Leadership Development. 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 for their interns and/or summer associates what makes Norfolk and the region a great place to live, work and launch their careers, while helping them establish relationships that will make these interns feel “plugged in” to Norfolk.  Since its inception, more than 480 interns have participated in the LiveNFK program. Status: While LiveNFK was paused this past (2020) summer due to the pandemic, planning is underway for next summer (2021).  

Pilot Mentorship/Internship Initiative with Norfolk State University

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

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:  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. Governor Ralph Northam at GNC’s Annual Meeting in July, 2019,  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.

Entrepreneurial Minute

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    

St. Paul’s Quadrant Redevelopment – Partner with the City

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.
  Status GNC supported the City’s successful application for a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Implementation Grant.  The grant, which was awarded in May 2019, 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. At a GNC joint Board meeting with the Downtown Norfolk Council in December 2018 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.