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Old Dominion University's 's sixth annual State of the Region report examines a wide array of Hampton Roads issues, ranging from the economy to the Circuit Courts to art museums and galleries.

Published by ODU's Regional Studies Institute, the report also looks at the local housing situation and compares the area's progress in the high-technology arena to other cities and regions of Virginia.

In addition, the 104-page report discusses Hampton Roads' creative classes, assessing a researcher's findings regarding these groups' connection to economic growth, and offers insight into the effects of reduced boat taxes on the area's cities.

James V. Koch, Board of Visitors Professor of Economics and President Emeritus, oversaw the production of the report, which received financial support from the university and a number of local organizations and individuals. Koch notes that the report does not constitute an official viewpoint of the university.

"Our State of the Region reports always have maintained the goal of stimulating thought and discussions that ultimately will make Hampton Roads an even better place to live," he said. "We are proud of our region's many successes, but realize it is possible to improve our performance. In order to do so, we must have accurate information about 'where we are' and a sound understanding of the policy options available to us."

The 2005 report is divided into seven parts. Among its findings are:

• The regional economy continues to perform better than the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation. The 2000-04 time period is the best five-year period the region has experienced since 1969. Employment increased four times as rapidly as national employment and Hampton Roads experienced significant job growth in scientific, technical and information technology occupations - something that largely eluded the area in the past. Defense expenditures increasingly dominate the region's economy and account for about 75 percent of all recent growth. The report also notes, however, that if all BRAC recommendations, including the closure of Oceana, were adopted, and nothing took the place of these activities, then the region would lose about 2.6 percent of its jobs and a roughly equivalent amount of its gross regional product.

• While housing prices increased 40 percent in Hampton Roads (after inflation) during the past decade, most of this increase can be attributed to improved economic fundamentals such as lower interest rates, increased incomes, Department of Defense housing incentives and more cautious building policies by area developers. Hence, Hampton Roads does not have the kind of housing price bubble that currently exists in cities such as San Diego, San Francisco and Boston, and the state of Florida.

• George Mason University Professor Richard Florida has argued that highly mobile, creative individuals are the kingpins of modern economic growth. They are especially attracted to regions that offer diverse demographics, cultural opportunities, living styles and residential areas, as well as a tolerance of the uncommon. While Hampton Roads does not fare well when measured against several of Florida's variables, empirical tests of his hypotheses reveal they have only limited validity.

• In tracing what happens to parties that enter the region's Circuit Court system as a plaintiff or defendant, the report examines a variety of efficiency measures relating to the courts and concludes that they are operating rather well. In 2003, the most recent year for which data are available, the nine Circuits that are wholly or partially located within Hampton Roads dealt with 81,008 cases (35 percent civil and 65 percent criminal). Large proportions of these cases were dismissed or settled before they came to trial and very few cases were heard by a jury.

• Led by the Chrysler Museum of Art, Hampton Roads is home to several excellent art galleries and museums. These valuable institutions, however, are struggling to maintain their collections, programs and hours because of financial strains. It's apparent that the region's decision makers have not placed a high priority on the aesthetic sensibilities of its citizens.

• On the face of it, Hampton Roads ought to be a technological powerhouse because of the high-level federal research facilities and defense installations located in the area, plus a higher education community of considerable size. Yet, while Hampton Roads can claim the second-greatest technological development of any region in the Commonwealth, it is a very distant second to Northern Virginia and has never realized its potential. Future prosperity in technology is tied to developing the modeling and simulation industry that has sprouted primarily in Suffolk, and stimulating Eastern Virginia Medical School's potential in conjunction with Old Dominion University.

• Over the past decade, the region's cities and counties have diminished the taxes they assess on boats so much that in several cities (for example, Virginia Beach), boat taxes in essence no longer exist. The report shows that all jurisdictions in Hampton Roads have suffered due to the reduced tax revenue and that the low-tax strategy has not attracted more boats from other regions, as intended.

Copies of the State of the Region report are available by calling 683-3114. This year's report, as well as the reports from 2000 through 2004, may be found on the Internet at www.odu.edu/forecasting.

This article was posted on: October 7, 2005

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