Defining the Richmond Region

Jack Berry, Venture Richmond, Inc.

What is the definition of the Richmond Region? Is it the Big Three? The ones that put their money together to fund the Diamond many years ago? Or is it the Big Four, the ones that came together to fund the $165 million convention center? The Big Four (Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Richmond) capture about 927,000 people, the lion’s share of the 1.25 million MSA. They are the ones who get together regularly at the CEO and CAO level. They are the ones who fund the Greater Richmond Partnership, in conjunction with the corporate community, and treat economic development as a truly regional endeavor.

Or is the region the nine jurisdictions that make up the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission (RRPDC). They meet to undertake planning initiatives and they divvy up federal transportation dollars for regional projects. They have a staff that they share, which means that there is follow up from one month to the next. This group rarely puts big money together for the regional good, but they occasionally take a stand on regional projects like High Speed Rail. This group of Central Virginia localities, in addition to the Big Four, picks up Goochland, Powhatan, New Kent, Charles City and the Town of Ashland, and constitutes a population of 1,002,696.

Then there is the Crater Region PDC to our south, which overlaps with the Richmond Region PDC to the extent that Chesterfield and Charles City are members of both. Adding this group of localities to the RVA region would add Colonial Heights, Emporia, Hopewell, Petersburg, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Prince George, Surry and Sussex. Which then begs the question, should there be one planning district instead of two for our region?

Put all of these together, then throw in a few more counties on the edges and you have the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which is the unit of measure that the Census Bureau uses to define our region. The MSA includes 1,258,251 people.

The MSA constitutes a pretty powerful region. Not only does it include VCU, U of R, and Virginia Union, it picks up Virginia State University. Not only does it include the Richmond financial district and the suburban office parks, it picks up the manufacturing base in the Hopewell area, and some big ticket, high- tech employers like Rolls Royce, and the fast growing employment and knowledge base at Ft. Lee.

If we began to think and act like a really big region, to include the entire MSA, what would that mean for regional institutions? Would we need one economic development agency (a bigger GRP) rather than many? What if we had one Chamber of Commerce instead of several? Would we have one job readiness strategy instead of multiple approaches?

What would we look like if we acted like one region? What would our future look like if we planned like one region? What if our state legislators occasionally voted like one region? What functions are truly local and which ones are regional? And how do we define regional?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made more trips down I-95 in the last 12 months to see what’s going on than I have in the last 12 years. Which makes me wonder whether RVA should encompass more than just Richmond, and more than the Big Four. What do you think?