Our History


Future of Hampton Roads, Inc., grew out of a 1982 initiative of several local private citizens who recognized the increasing importance of regional cooperation for enhancing the economy and quality of life in Southeastern Virginia. Henry Clay Hofheimer, long recognized as an outstanding business and community leader in Norfolk, together with Dr. William Mayer, president of the Eastern Virginia Medical School; Thomas Chisman, Chairman of WVEC-TV; and retired Admiral Harry D. Train II, formerly the senior U.S. Atlantic fleet and Nato naval commander, recruited other business and civic leaders from the area’s sixteen cities and counties to engage in the region’s first strategic visioning process.

The Sea Symposia, 1982

The decision to create a permanent organization to promote regionalism was the product of three successive Symposia conducted in the last quarter of 1982. Landmark Communications provided a grant of $15,000 to underwrite the effort. A consulting firm, Harrison H. Owens, Inc. was engaged to plan and conduct the symposia. Forty-three community leaders from the Peninsula and the Southside took part in these symposia. The objective of the symposia was to identify ways and means which might enable the cities and counties of Hampton Roads to work together as a region to pursue regional solutions to regional problems. In the course of the final symposium in December of 1982 the participants identified problems, established goals and recommended an organizational structure by means of which these goals could be pursued.

In January 1983 the Symposia participants, now known as the Sea Symposium, met and identified a founding Board of Directors. They drafted Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation. From this emerged Tidewater's Future, Inc. An office was provided by Eastern Virginia Medical School in Smith Rogers Hall on Mowbray Arch. The founding Board embarked upon a vigorous and successful fund raising effort. The community was ready to support such an initiative. The Board soon changed the name of the organization to The Future of Hampton Roads, Inc. when it became apparent that many on the Peninsula did not believe they lived in Tidewater. Furthermore, the code of Virginia identifies Tidewater as the fifty-four cities and counties that are washed by the Chesapeake Bay and the four major rivers up to the fall line.

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Opportunity Group Visioning, 1983 – 2002

The Board then created a Committee of 101 to carry out the region’s first strategic visioning process. This body consisted of community leaders and opinion leaders from all the cities and counties of Hampton Roads. They served not only as an intellectual source but also a sounding board to test initiatives and ideas. The Committee of 101 met as a body once a year over lunch as guests of the organization.

The Board created ten Opportunity Groups as suggested by the Sea Symposium participants. The Opportunity Group structure modeled the business activities which drive the economy of Hampton Roads. The Maritime Industries and Tourism Opportunity Groups explored the two principle revenue generators of Hampton Roads. Each Opportunity Group was asked to inventory the strengths and weaknesses of their business areas and to identify opportunities for regional action to stimulate growth and economic progress. The basic tenet of the Future of Hampton Roads, Inc. game plan was the recognition that if you cannot be a region you have to act like a region in order to be competitive. The remaining eight Opportunity Groups were: Transportation; Health Services; Education, Finance; Agribusiness; Marine Research, Development, Production and Aquaculture; Technology and Cultural. An eleventh Opportunity Group, Sports, was added later in the first year. These original Opportunity formed the basis for all of our activity Groups during the first four years of Future of Hampton Roads, Inc.

The membership and reports of the visioning project’s Opportunity Groups are available in the Publications section under Opportunity Group Reports.

The Sea Symposium's original concept called for the work of Future of Hampton Roads, Inc. to be accomplished in three years. A public symposium would be held every year at which the chairmen of the Opportunity Groups would brief the community on their progress. Keynote speakers for these symposia included then Senator Paul Trible, Governor Charles Robb and Senator John Warner. At successive three year points over the next twenty-one years, the governing Boards addressed the subject of standing down. In each case they decided our mission was not accomplished and much remained to be done. The Committee of 101 was disbanded in 2003 when the current Planning Group for the Regional Structure Project supplanted its role.

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Plan 2007, 1993-94

In the midst of a recession in the early 1990s, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce initiated the region’s second visioning project, with a primary focus on job creation. Future of Hampton Roads was among the other regional organizations invited to collaborate in this activity, which involved facilitated discussions among over 430 business and community leaders, a process that succeeded in setting fresh goals and strategies for improving the region’s main economic clusters. The results were documented in Plan 2007; For a Global Hampton Roads, which is available in the Publications section.

As much of the brainstorming reported in Plan 2007 reflected projects already conceived by the business community, many of the Plan’s strategies were implemented in the following years. Recommendations involving local governments were presented to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission in December 1994, which then undertook successive retreats of the Chief Administrative Officers and the Mayors and Chairs during 1995. Out of these meetings came the decision in November 1995 to create the Hampton Roads Partnership. Further details of this significant event are given in the History section of the Partnership’s own Web site.

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The Hampton Roads Regional Structure Project, 2003-2009

In late 2003, concerned about an economy weakened by recession, the Future of Hampton Roads sponsored three regional forums on the theme of improving the competitiveness of Hampton Roads. Somewhat surprisingly, all of the speakers, including former Governor Baliles, Professor Larry Sabato, and civic expert Robert O’Neill, stressed the same point, that the biggest hindrance to improved economic performance of Virginia’s regions is the structure of local government, by which they meant the lack of an effective governance structure for dealing with regional issues. The emphasis they gave to this assertion motivated the board of the Future of Hampton Roads to organize a “Hampton Roads Regional Structure Project” to develop a solution. A Planning Group was established to organize a highly participative planning effort.

During 2004, in order to provide the conceptual basis for the project, the FHR board approved a Case Statement. The tasks of the Structure Project would be to take note of the agenda of regional issues, to examine how our existing regional institutions deal with that agenda, and to develop practical proposals for improving regional governance without either merging cities and counties or creating a full-blown regional government. The Case Statement identified three project goals: (1) accelerate economic development, (2) improve regional efficiency, and, above all, (3) create a stronger regional voice to advance the regions’ interests.

Thereafter, the Case Statement was used to recruit a Steering Committee of 35 regional organizations, which agreed on a three stage planning process: (1) Where we are now: How the region works currently; (2) Where we want to go: Desirable structural reforms; an (3) How we get there: Implementation through persuasion. The Steering Committee then organized a sustained creative process that involved some 150 volunteers in conferences to brainstorm ideas and, in a dozen small study groups, to sharpen the raw conference proposals into practical recommendations. By 2007, this intense process produced a number of recommendations that were subsequently presented to the Hampton Roads Partnership, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Chief Administrative Officers, and Mayors and Chairs Caucus. Thereafter, over more than a year and a half, study group leaders scheduled scores of individual interviews with elected officials and leaders of regional organizations to explain, clarify, and advocate the recommendations. The thorough work of the study groups paid off in the seriousness with which these proposals were entertained.

In summary, the Structure Project recommended the following measures:

I. Create a Stronger Regional Voice

Establish a Hampton Roads Metropolitan Council
Composed of the mayors and chairs, the Council would speak for the region and provide stronger political leadership for fostering regional visioning, economic development, and a regional legislative agenda.

Improve Public Participation in Decision Making
A Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement should be created to assist citizens and government in the use of modern methods of democratic dialog.

Organize a Regional Services Review
The proposed Metro Council should evaluate the performance of the various independent regional agencies by having the Planning District staff conduct periodic reviews of agency reports.

II. Accelerate Economic Development

Reform the Metropolitan Planning Organization
The failure to achieve funding of transportation plans underscores the need to untangle the MPO from the PDC, involve legislators in the planning, and upgrade staffing and procedures to national best practices.

Strengthen the Hampton Roads Partnership
To realize its potential for being the most representative regional leadership body, the Partnership should add non-profits to the present government-business board, communicate more openly with the public, implement regional visioning and organize the process of producing a regional legislative agenda.

Prepare a Regional Tourism Development Strategy
Like other regions, Hampton Roads’ local governments should coordinate tourism development through a regional plan and regional marketing initiatives implemented by a regional agency, as they do for economic development.

III. Improve Regional Efficiency

Create an Efficiency Commission
The sixteen local governments already share services in a number of ways, but a mixed commission of officials, accountants, and management consultants could use modern telecommunications, information technology, transportation and management systems to create savings through more shared regional services.

Merge the Workforce Investment Boards
The region is a single labor market, hence the two workforce investment boards are duplicative, and although consolidation would not generate much savings, it would give the region a stronger policy voice for this critical aspect of economic development.

Simplify the Charter Amendment Process
Examination of thirteen years of local government charter amendments suggests a number of types of amendments that are so routinely approved by the legislature that time and expense could be saved both at state and local level if local governments were allowed to make these changes, subject to later objection.

Report No. 3: Recommendations of the Hampton Roads Regional Structure Project provides a succinct overview of the purposes, process, participants, and proposals of the entire project. The Case Statement, Conference Proceedings, Milestone Reports and individual Study Group Reports are available under Structure Project Documents in the Publications section

As of 2009, a major reform effort is underway at the Metropolitan Planning Organization; the Hampton Roads Partnership has much enhanced its communications, outreach, and board participation; and the study group on public participation has created a Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement. The Future of Hampton Roads will continue to encourage attention to the other proposals of the Regional Structure Project.

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The Regionalist Papers, 2006-2009

As the Regional Structure Project explored numerous issues related to regional governance, Chairman Vince Thomas proposed that our eventual efforts of persuasion in the implementation process might require preparing supporting essays, which he appropriately dubbed The Regionalist Papers. A team of writers from the study groups, led by Ray Taylor, outlined topics of interest and undertook the research and drafting that resulted in the documents listed in the Publications section. These essays have also been invaluable as a source of information for the work of the study groups.

While all of the topics deal with matters of substantial interest, research into the perennial topic of the Dillon Rule resulted in a particularly unexpected outcome: Virginia is indeed a strict Dillon state in that, for example, all local government charter amendments require prior approval of the legislature. However, so many exceptions have been granted by the General Assembly over the years that Virginia localities actually enjoy more latitude, in general, than localities in many so-called Home Rule states. These facts are covered in Regionalist Paper No. 14 listed among the Readings.

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Redistricting in Virginia, 2007-09

In recent years interest has grown throughout the state in redistricting reform in order to reduce gerrymandering by the predominant political party incumbents by placing the decennial process in the hands of a commission that would include not only representatives of the political parties but also more neutral officials. While Future of Hampton Roads normally avoids lobbying or expressing support for specific legislation, the board considers the issue of redistricting to be of such basic importance for future sound governance of our region that we have joined with other interested organizations in the state to issue resolutions in favor of a suitable bill, SB38, that actually passed the Senate in 2008 and 2009 but was killed in committee in the House. The Redistricting Documents are available in the Publications section. Future of Hampton Roads will continue to pursue this activity in following sessions of the legislature until the reform is passed.

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A New Strategic Plan and Updated By-Laws, 2014 - 2015  In late 2014 the Strategic Planning Committee convened to create a more specifically focused and actionable strategic plan for Future of Hampton Roads. The resulting plan, approved by the membership in the fall of 2015, will guide the organization's activities. The plan also restructured the organization's working groups into three specific areas--Moving Minds, Moving People and Moving Goods--and an additional group, Moving FHR, which is short-term and intended to to address structural changes needed in the organization to most effectively and efficiently support the achievement of the strategic plan goals. 

Concurrently, and in recognition of changing external conditions, changing organization focus and the need to both update outdated provisions and also provide Future of Hampton Roads with additional strutucal, legal and financial guidelines, the organization's By-Laws were reviewed, revised and approved by the membership in September of 2015.