Stephens Creates Optimal Conditions for Businesses to Succeed
By Barrett Baker
A self-described “military brat,” Bryan Stephens came to Coastal Virginia by way of West Virginia University after he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Army. He was commissioned the day he graduated and spent time at both Fort Monroe in Hampton and the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk.
Serving our nation for 28 years, Bryan traveled all over the world before retiring from what he calls his first career, then took a job in San Antonio as President and CEO of a material handling equipment manufacturing company. But his love for Coastal Virginia was strong and lured him back to what he calls his third career, serving as President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.
CoVa Biz: You were looking for a reason to come back to Coastal Virginia. What prompted that move?
Bryan Stephens: It was a blessing not in disguise that I just jumped on. In the summer of 2013 I made the decision to come back to Hampton Roads and give back to the community I loved, so I began researching my options. My search began with downloading The Virginian-Pilot app on my iPad. Literally, the next day I read a story about the President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce announcing his retirement after 28 years. I don’t feel that was coincidental—more like a higher calling to serve a community in more of a servant/leader position as opposed to running a for-profit business.
CoVa Biz: In layman’s terms, what does the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce do?
BS: I’m glad you say layman’s terms because that’s how I describe the Chamber of Commerce and its role in the community. The bottom line is the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce sets the conditions so that businesses can be successful.
First and foremost, we do that by providing products and services to our members. We’re a member-based organization, so when a business joins the Chamber we find out exactly what their needs, goals and desires are and tailor a membership package specifically for them to ensure they optimize their membership in support of their business success.
In addition, we do a lot of work in support of the business community at-large. For example, we collaborate and work alongside all of the economic development professionals throughout the area to ensure that we have a strong, robust economy here in Hampton Roads. We work within the workforce development community to ensure there is a trained and ready workforce, not only now, but in the future.
We work every day to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to support efficient business and business growth here in Hampton Roads. And we consistently address quality of life issues because we believe a good high quality of life contributes to a pro-business environment.
CoVa Biz: Any exciting prospects on the horizon?
BS: Yes, I’m very optimistic we are at the cusp of a strategic turning point as far as our regional economy goes. Things are really starting to fall in place. Our region’s local government elected leaders, our state legislators and the governor clearly understand the importance of economic development and the need to diversify and grow our economy.
The business community is getting much better at coming together as a region. Many of the new civic leaders coming to Hampton Roads bring with them a mindset of collaboration having seen firsthand its proven success in their previous positions. Our region’s young professionals are starting to get organized and have meaningful input on our future.
I believe we are finally keenly aware that in order to be successful economically, we must organize, act and operate as a region. Leveraging the collective impact of working together is the only way to grow the economy. This is vitally important to our long-term economic success considering our years of reliance on federal dollars and the continual military drawdown.
So all these things are coming together, almost like a perfect storm, and I’m confident you’re going to see Hampton Roads recognized as a sterling example in the United States as a region that has come together to drive its own economic prosperity.