Richmond’s Future: What now? [edited highlights of the Public Square of December 3, 2015]

Richmond Times-Dispatch Published: December 13, 2015

Editor’s note: The Times-Dispatch held its 61st Public Square on Dec. 3. The topic was big and bold: What’s ahead for the Richmond Region? But the conversation flowed from more than four years of sharp research, original insights and specific recommendations from Richmond’s Future, a think tank founded and led by Eugene P. Trani, president emeritus of Virginia Commonwealth University. The Square drew a large crowd — so large, in fact, that we unfortunately had to turn away some visitors because the auditorium at the Times-Dispatch building downtown was full. Below, we present some edited highlights from the two-hour conversation, moderated by RTD Publisher Tom Silvestri, with help from a highly engaged audience of about 200 central Virginians. (To view a video of the entire evening, go to the Public Square page on Richmond.com.)

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Tom Silvestri, RTD publisher: … Welcome to the 61st Public Square, our initiative in a civil, civic conversation, featuring you and a topic of interest to the greater Richmond area. Tonight, a broad topic. A topic that we’re going to close the 2015 season with. And that is, we’re going to end the year looking to and thinking about Richmond’s future. … Basically, what does the region need to consider to do, to start working on now, so that we’re better-prepared to capture the possibilities ahead? And how do we not get left behind by other regions that are more collaborative — and have their eye on the interests to advance what they’re doing in a more dynamic and smart way?

Here’s the score. Tonight, we’ll hear the findings of a group called Richmond’s Future, which since 2011 has been led by Dr. Eugene Trani, who’s Virginia Commonwealth University’ president emeritus, in an exploration of Richmond. … The exploration of this group basically zeroed in on Richmond’s strengths, our weaknesses, our failures, our accomplishments, our general hopes, and our specific aspirations. Recently, Richmond’s Future delivered its final report on how the Richmond Region compares with similar regions in the United States. It’s mindful of the major trends and of what we face in the next two decades. But the conclusions are all about predicting the future and proposing how Richmond can plot a course going forward. Tonight, you’ll hear them. …

In the first hour, we’ll lead off with John Martin, whose Southeastern Institute of Research in Richmond has been tracking the seven huge shifts we face. … After John gives his presentation, he’ll be followed by Dr. Bob Holsworth. You know him from his VCU fame, but he’s also Richmond’s Future’s director of research, an outstanding analyst. Bob will deliver 11 takeaways. … After the presentations that basically give you the work of Richmond’s Future we’ll have a very interesting discussion with four analytical, informed Richmonders, moderated by Dr. Gary Rhodes, from Reynolds Community College. …

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John Martin, president and CEO of the Southeastern Institute of Research: … I’m going to put some context together for you to understand the work of Richmond’s Future. In looking at the big trends that we all have to acknowledge, every city across the country has to acknowledge. All residents have to think about, where are we going? And how do we address those trends to our advantage here in RVA? … You just start to look around, and you start to see demographic trends, societal trends, cultural trends. Where are they all heading? And you look at that direction. So what we’re trying to find is not a specific point in time, but a general direction. … Tonight, I’m going to share with you seven major shifts.

You can’t think about the future without thinking about population growth. And so here in the U.S., we’re at 322 million today. Just looked it up to confirm it again this morning. And we’re growing to 358 million by 2030. This is pretty much a fait accompli. And it’s a good thing to be growing. It’s a lot better to manage growth than manage decline. When you take it to a Virginia perspective, we’re a little over 8 million today, and we’re going towards 10 million by 2030. So, Virginia’s growing. Growing in a big way. And where’s that growth going to happen? Well, demographers have been talking about the population crescent for some time. The golden crescent running from Baltimore to Washington, Fredericksburg, Richmond, over to Hampton Rhodes. That’s where 80 percent of our future population growth’s going to be. … And we are at the elbow, so Richmond’s growth — we’re going to have another 300,000 people. We’re around 1.2 million today. Our broad (Metropolitan Statistical Area). And we’re going to go to 1.5 million. …

Growth is certain here for RVA. But the question has to come up, “Well, what’s that growth going to look like? Who’s coming here?” Well, our birth rate is basically flat now, since the Great Recession. We’ve turned the corner a little bit. We’re at 2.1. But that’s the replacement rate. So it’s not the natural births and deaths. We’re not going to have more births than deaths that’s going to grow us exponentially. It’s going to be a lot of people coming in from outside. So, who are those people going to be? Well, I’ll tell you who we want. Who we want are knowledge workers. And we want knowledge workers because they’re the ones that — you know, the creative class — they generate a lot of the innovations in the economy, and a lot of people benefit in their wake. … Do we have the right chemistry to attract the knowledge workers in the future?

Shift number two is urban activity centers. There’s a shift towards urban living, and it’s been going on for a while. A hundred years. And all over the world, this trend is happening. We’re seeing more and more people move to the cities. About half the world lives in cities now, and it’s going to go to 80 percent. We’re seeing it happen here in Virginia. … In part, because of the millennials. The millennials want to be in cities. I’m not saying just downtowns. That’s attractive. But it’s activity centers you’ve got to keep in mind. The Regional Planning District Commission here in Richmond has identified 14 activity centers. … You can think about some of them, like Innsbrook or Midlothian — Rockett’s Landing’s going be one. All of these are our future edge cities. If you go up and ride around northern Virginia, and you see all these large cities now, they were at one time just activity centers. … How do we connect these activity centers without becoming so congested? How do we think really smart about transportation? How do we think about moving more people than cars? And I think transit’s an answer. … And then secondly, how do we advance regional priorities, if we’re going to get greater and greater strength in these activity centers? How do we avoid Balkanization? How do we avoid these activity centers becoming their own little kingdoms? We really need to think regionally, if we’re going to compete against super-regions that exist across the country, like North Texas and Route 128 (in Massachusetts), and Boston and the Research Triangle. We’ve got to think about a big, powerful region, if we’re going to compete for economic development prizes in the future.

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Shift number three is diversity. We really are changing the complexion of our population in America, and even right here in RVA. 2030 is the year that the minority is going to become the majority of children. And we’re moving this way faster and faster. … In 2043 , the minority is going to become the majority. We’re going to really move into sort of a pluralistic society. And it’s going to be fascinating. … If you look at what is happening, with sort of appreciation for minority progress in the U.S., it’s trending down among whites and blacks. That we really have to become much more sensitized to this, and much more thoughtful about this topic. And I will tell you, doing research from companies that want to move to locations — understanding diversity, and how that locality accepts and thrives in diversity, is really a factor. And so some cities are developing reputations for being sort of diversity-sensitive. And that’s what we have to be here. …

Shift number four is the age wave. … Ever since the dawn of man, there have been more younger people alive than older people. It’s always been that way — except ‘til now. There’s a fundamental change that’s going on. … We’re living a lot longer. … And we are shifting from basically a population pyramid, to a population rectangle. And that has profound implications on the future for us. … There are going to be just as many people under 18 as over 65. That’s the future we’re headed for. Another way to think about this, it used to be about four people under the age of 18, for every one over 65. Hey, Social Security makes sense, right? Now, it’s about two people under the age of 18 for every one over 65. In the future, it’s one to one. … Our population makeup of 65-plus-year-olds is going to go from about 10 percent to 20 percent. You might be saying, “Big deal, John. Twenty percent.” Well, what state do we joke about, where we sort of warehouse older folks? Florida. And what is Florida today, in terms of the population makeup of 65-plus, and its overall population? It’s about 20 percent. And that’s where we’re headed, as the Richmond Region. So Richmond, in the future, by 2040, is going to look like Florida does today. …

You’ve got a couple of challenges, because you can’t shake off some of the things that come with aging. You don’t see as well, hear as well. Stoplights get a little more confusing. And it’s just the natural course. And chronic diseases are also a natural course. And once you get one, the second one happens quicker, and the third one really comes. So we’re going to see dramatic increase in all of these chronic diseases. And so we’re going to have to manage that. And we’re going to have health care becoming at the center of everything. … So in the future, health care’s going to become the new community anchor. Used to be, build a golf course, then the community gets built around it. Now, it’s build a shopping mall. Like, Short Pump, then the community fills in. In the future, it’s build a hospital, medical health care campus, and the community comes in. …

Shift number five: income poverty. This is a sad one, but it’s reality. And we don’t see it improving. When you look out, you can say, “Oh, gosh. Well, we have this flat sort of poverty rate. It’s 12 to 15 percent. But that’s not the real story. The real story is, look how many millions of more people are in poverty.” We’re now at 46 million people out of the 322 million. And if you start to overlay on top of this, “OK, let’s go to 150 percent of the poverty line,” which is not that high in terms of income, and you start adding another 40 million people to this. … And the trend is not our friend in this case. One in four live in poverty in the city of Richmond today. If you just go right outside to the contiguous counties, one in 10 in Henrico County live in poverty. And it’s about the same number for Chesterfield. …

Another way to look at this is the wealth gap. … The older folks, 62-plus, always have in the history more assets than the younger people. Forty and under. And it’s historically about 7.5 times a difference. Because you get to save a lot more the older you get, right? Well now, today, that same dynamic is twice that. The wealth gap is now 14 times. So we’ve had this lost generation, the millennials, getting out of college with a lot of debt, $29,000 in debt. …

Shift number five: work-related shifts. If you look at the statistics in Richmond, the entire MSA, the whole region, there are 38,000 unemployed people. And if you look at how many jobs are posted, 52,000 jobs. And you’re saying, “What’s up with this math? What’s going on?” Well, there’s a mismatch of job skills. We don’t have folks trained for the jobs that are available. … And we don’t own this in Richmond. This is a national problem. The demand for middle-skill workers is going to continue to grow. And when I say middle-skill workers, I’m talking about people that have skills that are a little bit higher than you get from high school, but less than a four-year college. … The middle-skill jobs account for 49 percent of our labor force today, but we only have 40 percent of our workers with those skills. … When we look at it in the future, between 2010 and 2020, 46 percent of the openings are going to be middle-skill — that’s where we have to be focused. Those are the jobs of the future we have to fill. …

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The last shift is the rise of the millennials. … Remember, we’re going to have relatively fewer younger people in the future in our society. … So what does that mean? When you think about, “Wow, we need these young people for our creative energy. We need these people for our workforce. We need to have them here in RVA. RVA needs to win here, because there’s a coming worker shortage in the future.” I want to take you to some statistics we got from the Bureau of Labor, thinking about our pipeline of workers. In the future, going out to 2022, we’re going to go from 154 million workers to 163 million. That sweet spot of the 25 to 54-year-old age group, that’s going to increase, but just by about 2 percent. Where are a lot of the workers going to come from? Well, it’s really going to be the older workforce. The 55-plus. That segment’s going to grow by 28 percent. But look at the youngest segment. An actual decrease in workers in that young segment. And we’re seeing some communities actually projected to have fewer young people in their society. And so what we believe — and we’re already seeing it with some cities that understand this sort of calculus. They’re going, “Oh my gosh. We’ve got to become a hot spot for young people now. We’ve got to be a cool place that young people want to go to. Because there’s going to be an emerging battle for them.” An economic development battle. And so cities are preparing for this future right now. And we already see in our research some sort of early leaders getting ahead and getting a reputation for being a hot spot for young people. It’s called “Place-making.” Place-making, to try to attract these young people, is the new science of economic development. … Understanding that workforce is such a key to the future for any city. Portland has definitely got an early leader advantage. Denver is a really hot, hot place for young people. Just ask your friends where they daughters or sons are thinking about moving to. Denver is usually on the list. Austin’s another hot place. And Nashville. In fact, the young people in Nashville are so excited about their city, they talk about their city more than the next closest city, Austin. … So we’ve got to have apostles, and make people really excited about where we’re headed and what we’re doing. And particularly millennials.

Because it’s changing the economic development model. The old model was, you just go after big companies. You try to win some of those Fortune 500s. Then people are going to follow, and your community grows. Now the evolving model — you still have to go after companies — but you spend a great deal of time building a sense of place and community. Building your culture. Making your place cool and hip. And then people will come because they want to live there. And then with the labor force in place, companies come. … So, what do millennials want in a place? What are they looking for? Well, we do a lot of research in this area. And we’ve identified all of these attributes that they’re looking for. … You’ve got to be safe. You’ve got to have a variety of employment options, and you’ve got to have quality and affordable housing options. But then from there, it falls into a second category that we call place-making attributes. And this is that culture that I’m talking about. How do you accelerate that, and put your best foot forward to say, “We have a great community here.” So I’ll tick off some of these. And just think about RVA as I mention some of these attributes: … offering outdoor recreation options. Having a great food scene. Man, do we have that. Embrace creativity. Embrace innovation. Is near the mountains. Well, we’re pretty close. Has access to water. Is bikeable, walkable, easy public transportation. Embraces business startups. So, the quick answer is, we’re doing a lot of things right. And in fact, RVA is one of the hotspots in the country among millennials. So we too have a little early advantage. But we can’t dare give this up. We’ve got to keep driving it. …

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Bob Holsworth, research director for Richmond’s Future: What I’d like to do is first just try to give you a little capsule of what we tried to do over four or five years. And then try to take away some of our 11 big findings over time. What we did first, as John said, we just tried to compare the RVA region to other similar places around the country. We started off by looking at the region, not just the city. Not just the city and the three-county larger surrounding counties, but the entire region. And this took us all the way down to Petersburg. … What we tried to do is to compare our region to the nine other regions in the country of similar size, so that we’d start actually with apples to apples. …

Then secondly, after we did those comparisons and looked at the trends that John just mentioned, we said, “How do we move forward?” And what we did there, is that we looked at four different approaches to moving the region forward economically — and to try to become a more prosperous place. The first approach is a very traditional approach. We looked at what industries do we have, or might we begin to have or make more prominent in this region? It’s called the cluster approach. How do you develop industry clusters, that people can get jobs and people can prosper with?

Secondly, most economists will tell you that at the end of the day, the biggest investment anybody can make to promote economic progress is an education. What do you need to do in this region in terms of education? Thirdly, we looked at a lot of the things that John just described. How do we make this an interesting, cool place, an attractive place that people want to come to? What’s the place-making part? And fourth, we looked at what we might call inter-regional and inter-organizational strategies. How might we relate to other regions around the state, and how might we relate to the state government? … And that’s what we’re going to try to describe to you right now, very quickly, our 11 key takeaways.

The first was, compared to the nine other regions in the U.S. of similar size, the Richmond metropolitan area is actually a relatively strong performer. In terms of overall personal income, we do well. In terms of total employment, we do well. In terms of people’s employment in jobs that are going to be good for the future — IT, bio-sciences — again, we do relatively well. What’s the caveat? The caveat is that growth on a number of these key measures, from 2000 to 2010, has been relatively tepid. So there’s no reason to be complacent. …

Takeaway two: For residents at the low end of the economic scale, conditions have worsened over the past 10 or 20 years. Not just a Richmond phenomenon, but one that we have to address. Overall poverty rates have ticked upward. Percentage of children in poverty increased by 15 percent between 2000 and 2010. Housing’s become less affordable for renters. … The highest growth in some ways is in Henrico County. It went from 6 percent poverty rate to 9 percent poverty rate in 2010. …

Takeaway three. How do we do in terms of education? RVA ranks third out of the 10 peer regions in college-degree attainment. In terms of the number of people in this region who have college degrees, relatively strong. What we saw, however, that was a little bit troubling and that we didn’t even know when we started, is that we ranked eighth in the percentage of adults who have a high school degree. So once again, when you take the low end of the educational scale, we have some real challenges in the Richmond region. Part of that was related to low completion rates in cities like Richmond and Petersburg. And the smaller rural jurisdictions as well.

Takeaway four. When we began to look at where we have some opportunities, we said this whole region, particularly if you go down to Petersburg and Hopewell, has a real opportunity to take advantage of our location to become a logistics capital. We looked at transforming the Port of Richmond. You could have a major inland port here related to the Virginia Port Authority, out of which, around which, you could have distribution facilities. You could be creating all kinds of jobs for people with all kinds of skill levels in this area. At Fort Lee, they have the Army Logistics University. It is the center for logistics training for the U.S. Army. Over 30 percent of the people in the U.S. Army will come through Fort Lee at one time or another. Many of them will also opt out of Fort Lee eventually, and they can be part of the workforce if they’re used capably. And they also have something called the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Logistics Systems. All of this allows us to strengthen our relationship with Hampton Roads, connecting the Port of Virginia to the Port of Richmond.

Takeaway five. Let’s talk about education. As John said, we need to focus on improving underperforming school systems to ensure that all students can acquire the skills necessary in the 21st century. This is just absolutely crucial. I think if you take a look at a lot of the work that’s being done in the nonprofit community now, there’s an emphasis on this, particularly on the middle schools. What we’ve seen is that we’ve done a pretty good job enhancing performance in elementary school. … The region needs to focus on reinventing career and technical education, to enable students and parents to understand their career options, and the pathway to achieving these choices. … Many of the jobs that are needed today, the skills that are needed, may not require a four-year degree. But they require something beyond high school. They require some kind of certification that might be given through the community colleges. They require some kind of advanced training. …

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Takeaway six, to go into the place-making issue. We believe that we could be a leader in the competition among mid-sized regions to attract talented young professionals. But certainly when you take a look at what young professionals like, the Richmond region has a lot of it. We have an arts community that is absolutely second to none among cities and regions our size. … We have what’s called a thriving food scene. Our restaurants and our chefs are now national news. … We have tremendous outdoor recreation opportunity. So we can really be a magnet for young people. But the study that SIR did also said that while people who live here and people who are outside of Richmond see this as sort of a great place to be, they don’t identify it as a great place to actually work. … Think of the students that are at William and Mary, or Norfolk State, or at UVa. Are these students being attracted to come back to the RVA area? And we’re not sure they are. … We think the business community needs to sponsor coordinated outreach and internship programs to colleges across Virginia, and to students from RVA who might be attending other places, that showcase our employment options and our quality of life, to convince graduates to start their career here. …

Finally, on this issue, we also felt that our troubled history with respect to race can impact this issue as well as the region’s overall political climate. We saw in the studies that young professionals did not put diversity with a high mark in terms of the Richmond region. That we don’t have the reputation that Charlotte and Atlanta have, as a region that’s made substantial progress in bridging racial divisions. … In terms of interregional strategies, we think that focusing on Hampton Roads and logistics makes real sense in the short term. We also, as I mentioned, think we need to capitalize on this educational corridor that exists between Charlottesville and Hampton Roads. If you think about that, over half the public university students in Virginia are there. Almost all the medical education is there. …

Takeaway ten — and this is the big, sort of always the elephant in the room. But when we speak with people, they actually have a palpable lack of confidence that the jurisdictions and institutions in the region can work together to execute the kind of action that will enable us to meet the potential. … A lot of folks have said, “How do we get around this? How do we do this?” People point to things like the (baseball) stadium, the lack of ability to cooperate there. … They point to the children’s hospital, not being able to reach an agreement on that. And everyone says, “Here it is. We just don’t know how to execute.” And there is that lack of confidence there. Our own sense is that in the near future, there’s not one answer to this. There’s not a legal, structural, or political answer that’s just going to magically … solve this problem for the region. … But what we felt is that the region can learn, however, from a lot of the cooperative efforts that have worked. You know, if you take a look at it, over 20 years there have been a lot of things that have worked. We helped to expand the airport. We had the convention center downtown, at a time when nobody thought that anything could be built downtown. We’ve had the Sports Backers doing all the great things to have outdoor recreation. We’ve had everybody gather together and help support the VCU School of Engineering and the Biotech Park. I think what we need to do is find a way to develop the collaborative sense again in this region, by looking back and seeing some of the lessons that we can see, out of the successes that we’ve had in cooperation. …

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Silvestri: Thank you, Dr. Bob. So we’ve got seven shifts and 11 takeaways. And you’re saying, “What do I do with it?” … We’re going to tee up a panel conversation, without a table, moderated by Dr. Gary Rhodes from Reynolds Community College, where they will take the first shot at the reaction to seven shifts and 11 takeaways. …

Gary Rhodes, president of Reynolds Community College: … On the panel with me tonight, we have Rachel Burgess, who is with Southeastern Institute of Research, the same organization … that John Martin is CEO of. And, you know, Rachel’s a millennial. Did you notice that? …. We have Ted Chandler. Ted is one of the senior partners in New Richmond Ventures, which is a venture capitalist and economic development entity with us here in the region. We have Ken Johnson, who is CEO of Johnson Marketing, and has been in our community for about 25 years. …

Rachel, I’d like to hear your thoughts about, what should corporations and nonprofits do? Because our future is tied a lot to the millennials. And attracting them. … How do we keep them here?

Rachel Burgess: … We have a lot of the things that millennials want. And we need to be talking about that. We actually connected some focus groups among HR leaders … And in these focus groups, we were asking HR leaders about their perception of Richmond, and what they think that millennials think of Richmond. I was moderating these groups, and I had to keep a very straight, you know, nonreactive face as one of the participants said, there is nothing to do in Richmond after five. (LAUGHTER) I about jumped out of my chair. And this is someone who is recruiting millennials to our city. … Probably half of the leaders in the focus groups had no idea what there was to do in Richmond. They thought Richmond was unsafe. That people were leaving on the weekends because there was nothing to do. And the reality is, there is so much to do. There’s an amazing food scene. We have incredible outdoor recreation. So we need to find ways that we can educate our HR leaders. …

Another thing we learned … is that a lot of college students in Richmond don’t think that there are jobs in Richmond for them. And so we need to do a better job of connecting the businesses in Richmond with the universities. And same with those universities outside of Richmond. There are a lot of — we did a study among students at UVa and William and Mary, and a lot of the universities outside of Richmond, but within Virginia. And their knowledge of Richmond and what Richmond has to offer was next to nothing. They thought, again, it was dangerous, there’s a lack of diversity, and that there were no employment opportunities. So we need to do a better job of getting the businesses connected with the universities.

Now, one thing we do know about millennials, is that they want jobs that are innovative, that are creative, and that allow them to have increased opportunities in those categories. So a lot of that means that the companies they’re going to be interested in are more start-ups. They’re more entrepreneurial. They’re smaller businesses. And a lot of these businesses don’t have the time to go to a career fair. Or are not able to afford interns. So we need to think about ways that we can showcase these companies to college students. …

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Rhodes: … I’m going to take this over to Ken. … Of these 11 findings, or recommendations, and the seven trends, is there anything at all like low-hanging fruit? And where do we start with all this?

Ken Johnson: … When you look at what John mentioned earlier in his presentation, he talked about Denver. He talked about Austin, Nashville, and a few other cities. Each one of those cities were very deliberate in changing how they look and how they feel. Denver wanted to be an international city, so they expanded the airport. Austin wanted to embrace their quirkiness and their awkwardness as a community, so they embraced the entertainment industry in a big way. And they also embraced the technology industry. Huge, huge, huge advancements for them, as well as Denver. Nashville saw that they were a country-music town. They changed it to a music town. Then they saw that they had many hospitals. They’ve got a huge health-care industry in Nashville. So then what they decided to do was embrace the health-care industry. But not in the traditional sense of embracing health care. They embraced it in a way that, “We want to be the thought leaders in health care. We want to come out with the new gowns, the new shoes. We want to come out with the new medicine.” We have all that here in this community right now. I think it’s about changing our mindset towards getting there. … Our school systems. We cannot continue to do the same things and expect the same results. We’ve got to embrace innovative schools. We have to look at alternative learning methods. …

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Rhodes: … Ted, I’m going to pick on you. … The city just approved a 40-year lease with the port, and we know that Fort Lee has this huge logistics opportunity down there. … So connect the dots for us a little bit between logistics as a potential area for us to really be great. …

Ted Chandler: … I think that it was really eye-opening for the business community when this group came up with this concept of clusters and tried to identify where we had some unique strengths — and determined that, wow, we are really a great logistics center. … We happen to be on Interstate 95, the main north-south interstate corridor for most of the population of the United States. We’re right at Interstate 64. We’ve got that east-west corridor going. We’ve also got the fact that we happen to have this port that is the Virginia Port, which is going to become more and more and more important in the future, with the work that’s been done there. And the fact that we have a Richmond Port that has languished a bit. Until, really, this report came out, pointed out how the James River — which is, of course, the most historical river in the United States — was also, essentially, an interstate from Hampton Roads to Richmond for goods. Right alongside Interstate 64. With a whole bunch of undeveloped land around it in Richmond that could benefit from this.

So I love the fact that the report said “logistics.” … Why was Amazon moving here? They figured out we were a logistics center before we figured out we were a logistics center. But once this study connected those dots, pointed out the number of businesses that we have that are actually logistics businesses — I mean, what do you think Universal Corporation actually does? What does Owens & Minor actually do? One by one by one, you look at these companies. So it’s the kind of identification that gives us confidence that, “Wow. We have a unique advantage over other cities. All we have to do is recognize it, do some barrier removal, and then enjoy the benefits.”

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Rhodes: Let me shift back to the millennials for a second, and one of the comments that was made earlier was that RVA, greater Richmond, is not a great place for jobs. Especially for millennials to find work. They just don’t think of this as a place to go and find a job. Yet we graduate a large number of students. … So what’s the ideal workplace like for someone who’s a millennial?

Rachel Burgess: I think if it was boiled down to one word, that word would be “collaborative.” Millennials, we’ve grown up in school doing a lot of group projects, both in high school and in college. So we’re used to solving problems as a group. We’re used to thinking about different topics and challenges in a group environment, and running ideas off of each other. And so having a work environment that really allows that will be helpful. I think another way that we can see that is having really open work environments, that really expands the opportunities for collaboration. And you see that more and more. Whereas the traditional office used to be a long hallway with offices off of it, now it’s just a big open room with a lot of tables and computers. And I think that that really is something that is appealing. Millennials love community. They thrive off of community. And so it helps create a stronger community, where you get to know your co-workers. I think millennials also really want to have their voice be heard. And maybe sometimes they want that before they have earned it. (LAUGHTER) Which is probably valid. But, you know, I think that there’s a balance there. I think that there is opportunity to bring millennials to the table, for them to learn and to grow. We know that Boomers are thinking about their legacy, and that they’re really open to mentorship opportunities. So there’s a really symbiotic relationship that can happen there. …

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Rhodes: Ken, you mentioned schools before. So, what’s the formula, if there is one? What do we need to do, as a community of interested people, passionate about quality of life here? And what’s the magic fix for taking our schools, with the challenges it has, and having people want to move to this city, because the school system is so great? Recognizing it’s going to take time for that to happen.

Ken Johnson: I think we need to be more deliberate in our actions with education. I think with secondary schools, John mentioned earlier about P-TECH schools. New York City alone has 125 P-TECH schools, that focus on Apple computer, or Microsoft. You can be a Microsoft engineer in high school and graduate and go to work for Microsoft. We need to be embracing that type of atmosphere.

Rhodes: But I don’t know what a P-Tech school is, so talk about that.

Johnson: Well, it’s primarily a technical school … in which you can focus in critical key areas. If you want to fix Apple computers, or if you want to fix Boeing jets, you can go to school just to work on Boeing jet engines. … Specific job skills. And we need to look at that. That’s a huge opportunity here. For some, four-year college is not an option. Secondly, I mentioned earlier, the alternative learning methods. You know, some of us, years ago, an outlier was home schooling. We all thought, “Oh my God, home schooling? They must be crazy people.” You know, that’s not necessarily a bad thing these days. Charter schools. In the black community, “Oh, heck no. We don’t want charter schools.” For years, that was the case. “We pay our taxes. We need great schools.” And we’re 100 percent right, we do need great schools. But again, we need to look at charter schools beyond the fact that they are different types of schools, but they’re different learning schools. And charter schools can be a great enhancement to our educational environment. …

A lot of what we need to do, whether school, transportation, and all, it’s going to be political will. And that’s one of the things that I think our community lacks in a tremendous way. It’s having the political will sometimes to make that unpopular decision. And to move us forward. And not necessarily represent just your particular area, but represent the entire region. Because we have great schools in this region. Be clear about it. … But I think that we have a population there that are not getting the best educations. And that’s some of the poor kids in our community. We have to address them. Because they’re all of our kids.

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Rhodes: … Let me open this up now to the guests who’ve come. First one, raise your hand. All right, please.

Deborah Repp, Glen Allen: I recently had the very incredible real-world experience of running for the Senate of Virginia in Western Henrico. And aside from all the political issues about campaigns, what I found was, all of the people — I mean all of the people I met with — thought the poverty level was about $38,000 a year. They are so misinformed, or not informed at all, about the kind of facts that you’ve put together here about our region. And, you know, the people in Western Henrico basically said, “We don’t want to have anything to do with the city of Richmond. We don’t trust the government there. And we like things the way they are, thank you very much. And by the way, keep all immigrants, migrants, refugees, out of our community.” … How do you address that?

John Martin: … I think it’s up to all of us. I mean, it’s a communication issue. And it’s understanding reality. We shared with you the trends that are going to happen. They are happening. So it’s a fait accompli on these seven. And it’s our responsibility as folks from RVA, no matter what part we’re in, we are the tip of the sphere. We’re the folks that get it. And we’ve got to go out and tirelessly tell everybody, and keep spreading this message. That’s what it’s going to take. Because we’ve got to get everybody behind this.

Bob Holsworth: You know, I would just say that if I look at Henrico, I see a rapidly-changing community, and a rapidly-changing county, that is really grappling with a lot of the issues that we have raised. I’m not sure that you saw it in your election. But my sense is that if I look at Henrico, and I look at the Board of Supervisors elections in Henrico, and I look at the demographic changes, my sense is that Henrico is beginning to at least grapple with these issues. And inexorably, it will have to grapple with them more, given the political and demographic dynamic that is occurring in Henrico.

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Leonard Edloe, Mechanicsville: … We talked a lot about poverty. But in my 42 years in health care, I noticed something else developing here. A permanent underclass. When I came here, most of the uneducated, unable to read and write, were older. And they became younger. And now I see where a grandmother hasn’t finished high school … and then the child and now the grandchild. So, how do we deal with that? And it goes further. You know, as a pastor, and a (pharmacist) and having preached in the local jails here, those same people who weren’t finishing high school — I was preaching to them on Sunday evening in the jail. And then Ken talked about the economic thing. When it comes to — I’m not going to call it “minority business.” I’m going to call it what it is. Black businesses. They have gotten lower and lower and lower. And what is the majority community going to do to encourage this, not only with economic partnerships, but with just the tax money from government spending? In 42 years, other than Medicaid and Medicare, I never got a local or state contract to do anything, in probably one of the most recognized pharmacies in the United States. It makes no sense.

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Charles Robideau, Midlothian: … Why did I read everything that was in The Times-Dispatch about this event, and all of the studies and everything? I was hoping to see something tangible that could be done about public transportation. Not just in the city of Richmond, but in the area. I live in Chesterfield. I’m one of almost 400,000 citizens of Chesterfield. We have no public transportation there. We’re the same as Henrico. Now, I hear that the counties want it that way. Well, there are some in my county that want it that way. I asked one of the supervisors recently at a meeting, “When are we going to get transit here?” He said, “Oh, we don’t have any riders.” I said, “Well, how are you going to get riders if you don’t give them something to ride on?” This is so elementary. …

David Green, CEO of GRTC, the region’s transit company: … I appreciate Mr. Robideau’s comments about public transportation. You know, it’s such an obvious weakness here in Richmond. But for some reason, it seems to continuously be left out of the conversation. But his comments, and some of the comments that John Martin mentioned in his presentation, are identical to comments that I’m hearing from colleagues of mine throughout the country, that people’s attitudes towards transit are changing. Meaning, they want more of it. And the communities that don’t keep pace with it are going to get left behind. The Brookings Institute Survey that gets referenced a lot throughout our community, that mentions that Richmond is a top-50 city in terms of population but ranks 92nd in terms of access to jobs. That identifies the need here. And unfortunately, we have a lot of people in our community — friends, neighbors, co-workers, family — that have no other way to get to work than on public transportation. …

So the issue of transit boils basically down to three questions. The first one being, should we improve it at all? And I think the answer to that, clearly, is yes. So then the questions become, what do we do? And then, how do we pay for it? What to do is already being addressed. There is an initiative called the Richmond Regional Transit Vision Plan that’s already underway … that basically is going to look at how to improve transit for the next 25 years. … And I encourage everybody to participate as much as possible in their public meetings. How to pay for additional transit then becomes the next question. And that’s an issue that’s already been answered by other jurisdictions throughout the country, in that they have what’s called dedicated transit funding. We currently lack that here, and it is an issue. Transit in our region is funded by the local governments, through what’s called their general funds. It’s the same pot of money that they use to pay for other important initiatives such as schools and public safety. Public transportation is not an inexpensive endeavor. It’s very expensive. But without dedicated funding, then we’ll not only not be able to significantly expand transit, it’s going to be difficult just to maintain the existing level of service. Because the cost of putting the service that we provide for the community just continues to increase, year after year. So the beauty of improving transit, basically, is that the result is a positive impact on other issues, like poverty, … economic development, education, workforce development, health care, affordable housing. As you improve public transportation, the result is a positive impact on all of those other areas.

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Carter Bailey, Richmond: I’m actually a VCU student. … I know that there are some organizations in Richmond actually putting things into motion now. And I was just wondering, how would you exactly reach out to millennials, and how would you exactly do things to try to get them? …

Caitlin Kilcoin, Richmond: I work at the Greater Richmond Chamber. For the past couple of years I’ve managed our leadership programs. And our leadership programs have really 100 percent focused on attracting and retaining talent to Richmond. How do we do this? We develop events and program that showcase the Richmond region area. We have a YRichmond program that attracts interns. So companies have numerous amounts of interns in during the summer. Lots of companies participate in them. It’s pretty much showcasing the RVA lifestyle to them. So it’s eight weeks, 25 events, crash course. So they’re not leaving their internship being like, “Well, there was nothing to do after 5 o’clock in Richmond.” …

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Rhodes: Let me go back to a question that was asked earlier by Dr. Edloe. And Dr. Trani would like to respond to Dr. Edloe’s question about the black small businesses. Dr. Trani?

Eugene Trani, president emeritus of VCU and chair of Richmond’s Future: It really is a very significant issue that Dr. Edloe, who served with distinction on the Board of the VCU Health System for six years, raised. We need the institutions, both private and public institutions in our metropolitan area, to make a concerted commitment to employ minority contractors. I had the good fortune to go through the $200 million building that is being build next to City Hall. And I asked the question, What is the minority participation? And the minority participation on that building is 25.2 percent. That did not happen by accident. That’s something VCU has been doing for years. And what VCU has done in that area needs to be replicated not just by private businesses, but by the government localities. You cannot set quotas. But you can sure set guidelines.

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Terone Green, Henrico: I’m a native Richmonder, but I also live in Henrico County right now. I heard you all talk about what I would consider the jewels that we have in our area. But what we need to start thinking about doing is opening those jewels up so we can appreciate them, we can see them. You talk about the port. I would ask, how many people have really been to the port to appreciate it, to see what’s down there? How many people have really been on the campus of a Virginia Union, a Virginia State, a VCU? … and just really walked, and appreciated what’s there. … So, let’s stop spending thousands of dollars to go to some other place. See what we could see here and appreciate what we have. It’s like your family. If you don’t appreciate what you have, you’re going to lose it.

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Brian Glass, Richmond: Something on regional cooperation that affects all of us is in the process of taking place right now. And every one of us requires it. It’s called water. Thirty years ago, Henrico County realized that there was going to be a water shortage, and they started to plan on how to deal with it for the next 50 years. And right now, under construction in Cumberland County is a reservoir that in three or four years, is going to supply Goochland, Powhatan, Henrico, the city of Richmond. And it’s going to take into consideration the need for this region for the next 50 years. It’s going to cost a fortune. It’s been planned. … This is regional cooperation that’s worked.

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Doug Pick, CEO of FeedMore: … Consultants love folks who want to change. And they love two groups. They love the top 10 percent, because they’ll do anything to stay ahead. They love the bottom 30 percent, because they’ll do anything to survive. We are blessed to be in the middle 60 percent, and we’re cursed to be in the middle 60 percent. That’s what makes it so tough for this area to go, “How do we move forward?” Because there’s risk in that. And I don’t know how you do this, beyond these wonderful concepts and data, without courageous leadership. … It takes the citizenry to say, “We’ve got to do this together.” … It’s up to us to give them the incentive, “I’ll vote for you if you cooperate. I’ll vote for you if you collaborate.” It’s up to us.

Tom Silvestri: Dr. Trani might want to say what’s next in March, given the elected officials.

Eugene Trani: We are very fortunate that The Times-Dispatch (early next year) will publish in pamphlet form, as an insert, presumably, the full final report of Richmond’s Future, all 60 pages. And then in March, we are inviting all the elected officials from the 13 counties and four cities that make up our statistical metropolitan area, plus business leaders and nonprofit leaders, to a gathering that Gary Rhodes has agreed to host at J. Sergeant Reynolds. So the elected officials are going to have an opportunity to hear these recommendations, to hear the trends that John is predicting, and the takeaways that Bob Holsworth has presented to you tonight.

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Oliver Hedgepeth, Chesterfield: I’m a university professor, from Alaska. I moved down here a few years ago. … I came here for one reason, and that was just to look at this quote and read it and say, “RVA should focus on reinventing career and technical education.” Your takeaway five. And I do believe it’s very important. And as a professor of logistics, by the way, for 30 years, I’ve seen a big gap from the college students I graduate with master’s degrees and MBAs, who’ve been waiting tables for 10 years now with those degrees. …

So my question: … Where do we place these students from high school or Reynolds or wherever? Historically, we’ve been placing them in Walmart, Target, FedEx, UPS. A lot of these large places. But I was going to ask you, how do we coordinate all of these different schools? These career and technical centers, together with Reynolds and the other schools? … I’ve been placing students with Target and Walmart all my life, for 30 years. Maybe I need to focus on black-owned businesses. Maybe small start-up companies. A company’s got five people in it and they want to be innovative — because I’ve seen some of these millennials, and they’re eager to take my job. You know, they want my salary right now. (LAUGHTER) You know. And they can’t get it. …

Gary Rhodes: … For every advanced degree — could be medical, engineering — you need two people with a bachelor’s degree to support that one advanced degree. And you need seven people, which could be a certificate, it could be a two-year associate’s degree. But you need seven people here to support those two bachelor’s degrees, to support the one advanced degree. So we are focused now in a big way on trying to increase the training that we do for the seven. That’s where more of the jobs are in our region. It’s a national trend as well. So there is a lot of partnering that goes on. (Reynolds community college) is the biggest feeder to VCU, for example. And we partner a lot in their program. Students can come to us, they can take certain courses. You can’t take welding and expect it to transfer to VCU or William and Mary. It’s not going to happen. But you take the right classes, get a certain GPA, you have guaranteed transfer to the four-year universities here in Virginia.

We also partner a lot with the K-12 schools. So we started a program with Henrico called Advanced College Academy — it was four years ago now, because the first class graduated. So these were freshmen in high school. Kind of like a Governor’s School, where they came from all over the region. But they ended up meeting at J.R. Tucker High School. That’s what Governor’s Schools do. They come from all over. And they stayed together as two cohort classes for four years. So their freshman and sophomore years, they were taking high school classes. Their junior and senior years, they were taking Reynolds college classes at the high school. Our first group just graduated this last May with 42 students who graduated with a two-year associate degree and a four-year high school diploma. … Henrico now has a second group, down in Highland Springs. So on the east side of the county. Powhatan has started a group, Goochland has started a group. Next year, Hanover starts two classes, and the city will be starting a little bit of a hybrid version of the same thing. So, we are partnering from the K-12 level all the way up now with the four years.

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John Accordino, VCU Center for Urban Regional Analysis: … I think the whole Richmond’s Future project, and certainly the studies we’ve heard tonight, really ought to be taken seriously as a blueprint for our region. … It’s no longer about recruiting big plants to come to the city. It’s about growing our workforce, growing our talent base, as a way of adding value. But one of the things that we haven’t talked about is the tremendously rapidly-growing global economy. The middle class out there, that are a tremendous opportunity for Richmond, for the companies that we have here now. Really, the middle class in many, many countries is growing. They are an untapped opportunity, to a large extent, for our businesses, that could do a lot more exporting.

Now, there are people working on this. We’re working with the Greater Richmond Partnership, Virginia Gateway, and others, to help businesses do that. But I think it’s also really important for the region to get behind these kinds of efforts. A lot of the things we’ve talked about tonight, improved transit system, much better workforce training — all of this also feeds into a robust and healthy export initiative for our community. And beyond that, we need to be thinking about embracing the global economy. If we do that, I think we will find that we grow better, that we solve a lot of our problems, including embracing immigration and thinking ourselves about the role we can play in the global economy.

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Michael Parsons, Richmond: I think in a lot of ways, I’m one of the kind of people that Richmond wants to attract. I moved here two years ago with my girlfriend, and we both loved Richmond. We got married here this past year. We’re looking for our first house here. I made my best friend move from Boston here about six months ago, so I’m bringing people with me. And — (APPLAUSE) yeah, yeah. And we hope to stick around. I get to work every day in the East End of Richmond. And if there is one thing that might eventually drive us away, it is always having a permanent underclass. Or an East End and a West End, a rich end and a poor end, a black end and a white end. I don’t want my kids to be raised in a place where there’s a black section of town, or a poor section of town, and a white section of town and a rich section of town. So if you guys have any suggestions that are practical about ways that could mix things up, raise people up from poverty, desegregate our schools, our public housing, our jails, that would be appreciated and we might stay for the rest of our lives, until we become the same age as the boomers, or the Greatest Generation over there, or hopefully beyond.

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Bob Holsworth: … This whole issue of translating all the energy that we have among citizens and people who are concerned into that political arena is a very important part of how we go forward. Because at the end of the day, we need all kinds of people who are active and engaged in the community, and we need to translate that, as Ken said, into the appropriate political will across the region, to take the steps that can really move us forward.