By Amber Kennedy

The Hampton Roads Maritime Collaborative for Growth & Innovation (HRMC) and Old Dominion University (ODU) unveiled two major maritime initiatives to advance the region's economic development during a Nov. 4 event:

  • ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., announced the establishment of the ODU Maritime Initiative to advance ODU as a globally recognized institution for maritime opportunities; and
  • John O. "Dubby" Wynne, HRMC co-chair, released "A Pathway for Maritime Innovation in Hampton Roads," a report prepared by TEConomy Partners that identifies four opportunities to leverage and expand the region's innovation and workforce support for industry partners.

The ODU Maritime Initiative will coordinate and grow the University's maritime-related degree and certificate programs, talent development, entrepreneurship and research and innovation. It will expand opportunities to engage industry partners across a broad spectrum of maritime domains, including the Port of Virginia, offshore wind energy, the Navy, shipbuilding and repair, autonomous systems and cybersecurity in catalyzing workforce, research and innovation. The University will shortly begin a national search for a leader of the initiative.

"Old Dominion University is proud to be a national - and international - leader in maritime," said President Hemphill. "Our important work is having a profound impact. And, today, we are taking a bold step forward with regard to our maritime efforts."

An ODU Maritime Leadership Work Group, composed of faculty and staff from across the University and representing all colleges and research centers, was established in fall 2020 to review existing programs and centers, recommend immediate and long-term strategies for growth and develop a blueprint for ODU to follow. The work group completed its work and recommendations in spring 2021.

The TEConomy report notes the presence of four major economic drivers in the region related to maritime - defense/shipbuilding/repair, port and logistics, offshore wind energy and coastal resilience. All have innovation and workforce needs, and present opportunities the region can support and expand - including through autonomous systems, digital transformation, cybersecurity and advanced manufacturing.

The report recommends four pathways the Hampton Roads community could take to focus on these opportunities:

  • Develop a national hub for autonomous systems;
  • Organize a maritime small business innovation collaborative;
  • Establish a Department of Defense/DoD center of excellence for naval sustainment and mission engineering; and
  • Build a sustainable home and brand for maritime innovation in Hampton Roads.

"HRMC was formed to recognize the array of assets and opportunities Hampton Roads has in its broad maritime and water ecosystem," Wynne said. "The TEConomy Report gives our region a set of exciting opportunities to move the needle for innovation and economic growth."

President Hemphill noted that ODU already has several centers in place to pursue these proposed pathways, including the Virginia Institute for Spaceflight and Autonomy, the OpenSeas Technology Innovation Hub, the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Maritime Industrial Base Ecosystem, the Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience, and the School of Cybersecurity/Coastal Virginia Cybersecurity Innovation. He also noted the University has more than 100 degree programs, certificates and centers related to water and maritime.

Wynne noted the region's support for the ODU Maritime Initiative. "When HRMC was originally formed, we identified ODU as a 'globally recognized institution focused on maritime' as foundational to our region's growth and assets for innovation. It is exciting to see this initiative come to fruition," he said.

Hampton Roads is already putting the pathway recommendations and ODU's leadership role into action. On behalf of a coalition of Hampton Roads and northeast North Carolina partners, Reinvent Hampton Roads recently submitted an application for the "Build Back Better Regional Challenge" grant through the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The application, "Reinvent Hampton Roads," identified the theme of maritime innovation as an industry cluster, with three of the seven projects proposed based directly upon the "Pathways" report.

"We had an immediate opportunity to put these plans into action," said Jim Spore, president and chief executive officer of Reinvent Hampton Roads. "While there is no guarantee that we will win the grant, we have laid a strong foundation and coalition of partners to move ahead on other fronts as well."

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