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Reinvent Hampton Roads: Helping the Regional Economy to Thrive

March 13, 2021

The future of the Hampton Roads economy depends on employees like systems engineer Charles Chiou. It also depends on companies like Virginia Beach-based G2 Ops, which hired this 2017 Old Dominion University graduate to work in cybersecurity while he was finishing his master’s degree.

Attracting young talent like Chiou to build careers in Hampton Roads is among the goals of Reinvent Hampton Roads. This economic competitiveness initiative was incubated at the Hampton Roads Community Foundation. It launched in 2016 but still receives grant support.

Chiou is a systems engineer at G2 Ops thanks in part to the Digital Entrant Program run by the Virginia Cyber Alliance. The Alliance is a project led by ODU and funded by GO Virginia, the state’s regional competitiveness incentive program, through Reinvent Hampton Roads.

Chiou, a graduate of Virginia Beach’s Kempsville High School, earned a degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in applied mathematics from ODU.

“My parents encouraged me and my brothers to excel in our academics,” says Chiou, who spent his high school summers at STIHL Manufacturing’s Technology Summer Camp in Virginia Beach.

Given the demand for graduates in his field, Chiou could have started his career anywhere and left the region as many new college graduates do. But, thanks in part to a Cyber Alliance grant, Chiou’s career is anchored in Hampton Roads where he enjoys being near family, the beach and the burgeoning arts scene. He also is working on his master’s degree at ODU.

In 2019, Chiou was among the first five beneficiaries of the Digital Entrant Program. It subsidized Chiou’s salary and helped offset training costs in cybersecurity, a field identified by Reinvent as critical to the region’s economic

future. G2 Ops helps the military and other organizations evaluate their vulnerability to digital attacks. It employs 90 people in East and West coast offices. The Digital Entrant Program “helped me make the decision to hire in Virginia Beach instead of San Diego or D.C., and it helped me invest in him early,” Tracy Gregorio, G2 Ops president, says of Chiou.

Reinvent strives to improve the Hampton Roads economy by creating a critical mass of expertise and investment in key industries like cybersecurity. It also is focusing on port operations, advanced manufacturing, maritime industries, aerospace and unmanned systems. Central to Reinvent’s efforts is creating more high-paying jobs in a variety of industries.

So far, Reinvent has helped GO Virginia invest in digital shipbuilding and other maritime industries, unmanned aerospace, site and talent evaluation, and entrepreneurship. Beyond money, GO Virginia, Reinvent and their partners have motivated Hampton Roads governments, colleges and others to better work together as a region.

“The region is the fundamental building block of the economy,” says Jim Spore, Reinvent’s president and CEO since 2016. Spore, who was Virginia Beach’s city manager for 24 years, has watched efforts to foster regional cooperation wax and wane for a generation.

This time, he believes Reinvent and its partners have it right and says improving the regional economy “will come down to a battle for the brains.”

And, that means keeping bright young professionals like Charles Chiou living and working in Hampton Roads.

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