Martin: Leveraging seven transcendent trends to map Richmond’s future

Richmond Times-Dispatch Published: November 29, 2015

Yogi Berra, the larger-than-life baseball legend, was good at distilling bits of wisdom, often without trying. This skill was evident when he reportedly said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

That Yogi-ism is certainly true in our business, where we use marketing research to help people see what is and what will be.

“Predict the future” is exactly what Dr. Eugene P. Trani asked of scores of corporate, academic, and nonprofit leaders in the Richmond region (RVA) five years ago. Dr. Trani, president emeritus and university distinguished professor of Virginia Commonwealth University, formed an independent think tank in 2011 called Richmond’s Future, and challenged the region’s best and brightest to plot out a course forward for RVA.

The purpose of the think tank was to study and report on the key trends and topics that will drive Richmond’s future. The idea was that knowing what’s ahead would allow leaders across all elements of RVA to determine actions to take now to navigate toward that future. From its inception, the Richmond’s Future agenda was bold and ambitious. A dozen topics were identified, ranging from better understanding how the region could become a major East Coast logistics center to exploring how the region could effectively attract and retain highly qualified young people.

A guiding tenet during the think tank’s intentionally short lifespan was to align the topics to be studied with the major trends shaping the future of America’s cities in general, and the future of RVA in particular. The goal was to ensure that the research efforts were focused on finding ways to harness coming changes to RVA’s advantage. To this end, our firm was asked to share our perspective on what’s coming — the major national demographic and societal shifts — and what these trends mean for our region.


Over a five-year period, under Dr. Trani’s leadership, Richmond’s Future produced a variety of compelling studies and reports, all of which are available online at

Here’s a quick look at the major trends we identified, and the corresponding work by Richmond’s Future in each area.

1) Population Grows

The U.S. population is projected to increase from 322 million today to 358 million by 2030. Much of this growth will continue to occur along our country’s two coasts. Our central location on the Eastern Seaboard will ensure Virginia’s and RVA’s populations will continue to grow. The commonwealth is expected to grow from approximately 8 million people today to 9.7 million by 2030. The RVA region is projected to grow from 1.2 million people today to over 1.5 million by 2030 (source: Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Demographics & Workforce Group).

Richmond’s Future-Related Work

How will 300,000 more people impact and shape the RVA region? A big part of the answer centers on who’s coming. Twenty years of research have established a clear link between human capital, economic growth, and urban development, so the number of new residents matters. But does resident type matter?

Richmond’s Future addressed this question in the report entitled “A Currency of Creativity: How Investing in RVA’s Creativity Will Drive Economic Development,” published in October of 2013. This research quantified the “creative dividend” that young RVA innovators and makers bring to our region. Creative professionals tend to earn higher incomes, plan to remain in the community longer, invest more, start more nonprofits and businesses, and promote RVA more than do those on the other end of the creative spectrum.

Richmond’s Future also addressed the opportunity that population growth outside of the region presents in the report “The Future of Logistics in the Richmond Region: Getting to the Tipping Point,” published in October of 2012.


2) Community Footprint Evolves

For over 100 years, urban areas have been growing faster than rural areas are. Today, 87 percent of Virginia’s population lives in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), and this percentage is likely to grow. Eighty percent of Virginia’s future population growth will occur in the “Golden Crescent” — the heavily populated and increasingly congested geographic corridor that runs from metropolitan D.C. through Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Williamsburg, and Hampton Roads.

Within the Golden Crescent and even within RVA, a growing number of activity centers will emerge and develop into micro-cities where residents can live, work, play, and access services. According to the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, the RVA region already has 14 activity centers, including downtown, Manchester, the Fan and VCU, Short Pump, Brandermill, and Glenside — with more on the way, like Libbie Mill at Midtown. RVA’s downtown is arguably the best example of the growth of activity centers. Over a thousand apartments have come online from late 2012 to late 2014 (source: Integra Realty Resources), with nearly 20,000 people now living downtown, up from about 10,000 in 2010 (source: Venture Richmond).

As micro-cities grow and connect, they will transform the Golden Crescent into a super-region, similar to what’s happening in North Texas, Southern California, Michigan’s Research Corridor, Boston’s Route 28, South Florida, and North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

Richmond’s Future-Related Work

Richmond’s Future investigated the potential value of RVA having a closer alignment with other regions in “Richmond’s Future, Inter-regional Strategies,” published in October of 2014. The think tank also explored how to cultivate regionwide perspectives, priorities, and initiatives, such as regional transit systems that connect activity centers to help us avoid traffic congestion as our population grows.

Two reports focused on this area: “Regional Cooperation: What’s Worked” helped us understand the lessons learned from past successful regional efforts, and the “Richmond/Crater Region Transportation Overview” report outlined important transportation needs and opportunities against the backdrop of our growing population and activity centers.

Looking down the road, three related initiatives to watch are the evolution of Main Street Station into RVA’s multimodal high-speed rail station, the regional transit visioning initiative that’s getting underway, and the ongoing work of the Capital Regional Collaborative in advancing regional perspectives.


3) Diversity Rules

By 2032, the combined minority will be the majority of children. Even now, combined minority births are greater than majority births. By 2043, the combined minority populations will become the majority, casting America into a truly pluralistic society. The RVA region will mirror the country.

Between now and then, expectations will increase for all organizations — public and private — to reflect the diversity of the community and the people they serve in their leadership, board composition, and workforce.

Richmond’s Future-Related Work

Recognizing that the region must do a better job in supporting diversity and inclusion, Richmond’s Future documented RVA’s diversity in “Socio-Demographic Trends of Richmond and Its Peer Metropolitan Areas.” This overview includes statistics on population growth, immigration, race and ethnicity, age, household makeup, education, income, poverty, housing, and transportation.

Moving forward, we must continue to learn from and support people, organizations, and initiatives that advance inclusion and diversity, such as the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, the new Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, and the National Slavery Museum.


4) Age Shifts

Thanks to advances in medicine and health care, we are experiencing a longevity revolution, resulting in a greater number of older people than ever before. By 2030, America will have 74 million adults over the age of 65, compared to 46 million today. That’s a 60 percent increase in fewer than 15 years. At the same time, the number of younger people will not change, due to the decline in birthrates in the U.S. starting in the mid-1960s. Today, and well into the future, we will have about equal numbers of youth, young adults, middle-age adults, and older adults. The ratios are changing, permanently. By 2030, we will have one child under 18 for every adult over 65, down from about a two to one ratio today.

This age shift will wash over Virginia and RVA, too. By 2030, the senior population will comprise 20 percent of the state’s and RVA’s populations.

Here’s the rub: tomorrow’s seniors, the Boomer generation, will act differently than today’s seniors. They will transform what it’s like to grow older. Their need to work and a quest for vitality will mean a new wave of senior employees, entrepreneurs, and community volunteers. Older Boomers will result in exploding demand for health-care and well-care services and facilities everywhere. This will create tremendous opportunities for health-care systems, including Bon Secours, HCA, and VCU Health.

Richmond’s Future-Related Work

RVA’s companies, organizations, and entire health-care community must become age ready — making RVA one of the most desirable places for people to grow older in their community. This strategy, along with many others, is detailed in “The Future of Health Care in the Richmond Region: Report of the Health Care Task Force of Richmond’s Future,” released in December of 2013.


5) Poverty Remains

Since the mid-1970s, the U.S. poverty rate has been relatively constant (between 12 and 15 percent), but this statistic hides the real story. The number of U.S. residents living in poverty has grown from 25 million to now almost 50 million. The figure quickly approaches over half of all Americans when you add in the 50-plus million who live near poverty (100–150 percent of the poverty line), plus those who have experienced a year or more of periodic joblessness or reliance on government aid, or who have had some unexpected event or expense that depleted their savings. Poverty is getting worse, not remaining stable.

In the city of Richmond, one in four live in poverty. In Chesterfield and Henrico counties, about one in ten now live in poverty. Poverty is no longer an island we don’t see. For example, the largest free health-care clinic in the state of Virginia, CrossOver Healthcare Ministry, is located right across the street from Regency Square in western Henrico. In 2014, CrossOver provided compassionate health care to more than 7,000 low-income, uninsured neighbors.

Richmond’s Future-Related Work

Richmond’s Future did not directly study RVA’s poverty-related challenges. However, the pervasiveness of this issue entered Richmond’s Future committee discussions and is addressed in several reports, including the “Is RVA Ready?” report and presentation by Bridging RVA in May of 2014, which addressed concrete steps to ensure that young people understand their range of career options, with a special emphasis on those who would not be attending four-year colleges.

We need to build on the work of the mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission, on the creation of the Office of Community Wealth Building, and on individual efforts like the Better Housing Coalition’s redevelopment work, by addressing poverty as a regional, multidimensional challenge.


6) Employment Gap Widens

Technology gains have and will continue to disrupt our workforce. Jobs involving routine functions (bank tellers, travel agents, bookkeepers, etc.) are being automated. Many jobs of the future will require cognitive and technical skills, but not necessarily college degrees.

In fact, the demand already exceeds supply for these middle-skill workers — those who have more education than high school, but less than college, and who can learn technical skills to support growing industries like advanced manufacturing and health sciences.

Middle-skill jobs account for 49 percent of Virginia’s labor market, but only 40 percent of the state’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level. Many of the job opportunities in the future will be these middle-skill jobs (source: NSC Analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment).

Local market data from the Virginia Employment Commission points to this national trend playing out in RVA. They report the number of unemployed at 32,630 and the number of job openings at 52,203 as of May 2015.

Richmond’s Future-Related Work

Richmond’s Future addressed employment- and job-related challenges in two separate reports: “Is RVA Ready?” in May 2014, and “STEM-H: Demand for STEM-H in the Richmond MSA” in September 2012.

“Is RVA Ready?” explored the additional 65,000 two- and four-year degrees needed for RVA’s future job market (11,000 in STEM-H). The “STEM-H: Demand for STEM-H in the Richmond MSA” study measured the economic effect of science, technology, engineering, math, and healthcare (STEM-H) disciplines on the Richmond economy over time, and explored new metrics at the secondary educational level which will help determine whether the Richmond metro area is preparing enough students to fill the STEM-H pipeline in future years. Both studies pointed to a need to improve K–12 education.


7) Millennials Dominate

Millennials, born between 1983 and 2001, are the largest generation in U.S. history at some 83 million strong. With half of Millennials still in school, their collective force has just begun to make its mark on society. Today, Millennials make up 29 percent of the U.S. workforce; by 2025, they will be 40 percent.

Millennials are fast becoming America’s new cultural leaders. Their views of what’s important, what’s fair, and who is responsible differs from the mindsets of older generations. For example, they are more interested in making a difference at work than in making a living. They want to work for a company that’s a force for good. As social libertarians in their outlook, they are comfortable with diversity in race, culture, and sexual orientation. They want to start companies and build a sense of community that engenders a renaissance in civic participation and the rebuilding of social capital.

Cities and regions that fully appreciate and cater to Millennials may be the winners of the future. Because of the age shift, the future growth of regions depends on becoming a Millennial magnet and attracting more Millennials through placemaking activities.

Richmond’s Future-Related Work

Understanding the demographic trends that could potentially shape a future economic development battle for tomorrow’s creative workforce, Richmond’s Future launched the YRVA Study (“Y” for Gen Y, another name for Millennials).

The YRVA study identified key placemaking attributes: a great food and arts scene, access to outdoor recreation amenities, embracing of creativity and innovation, support for startups and entrepreneurship, bikeability and walkability, transit, and more. The study assessed how RVA was performing on these dimensions relative to some of its competitors like Austin, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte. The study reinforced that we must deliberately market RVA to our local college students to help them see RVA as a job market.

The YRVA Study succeeded in educating senior business leaders about the value of Millennials to our community’s future, and about this group’s needs.

Another Richmond’s Future study provided insight in this topic area as well: “The Arts as a Key Economic and Community Development Driver in the Richmond Region,” released in April of 2013.


By almost any measure, the five-year run of Richmond’s Future has been a huge success. The organization had all the right ingredients: an inspired leader, an engaged leadership board, a research council comprised of national talent who call RVA home, over 100 volunteer experts on various topics and industries, and a generous grant from the Community Foundation.

Now we have a clear sense of what’s coming, and we know some of the things that RVA needs to do. Of course, this is not a “one and done” effort. Dr. Trani’s very large footsteps now need to be followed.

It’s up to all of us to answer: What’s next for Richmond’s Future?