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Committee for Geelong's Weekly Addy Opinion Piece - Norfolk

The Committee for Geelong has a solid track record of establishing connections and building relationships with cities, businesses and individuals across the globe, the most recent example of this being the visit to Geelong by the Secretary of Commerce and Trade for Virginia, Maurice Jones.

The purpose of developing these international links is to benefit Geelong, not only by positively raising our city's profile on a global scale but also by researching cities similar to ours and using the key learnings to develop strategies to support Geelong's long-term economic prosperity.

During the committee's trade mission to the US in 2015, we visited the city of Norfolk, in southeastern Virginia. The committee's link with Norfolk was established in 2006, and there are many similarities between our two cities.

In 2007 Ford closed its plant in Norfolk, its largest plant on the US East Coast. Established in 1925, the plant employed 750 people. Jacoby Development purchased the site and then sold some of it to a Belgian logistics company, which has turned the site into a distribution centre for nurdles - those plastic pellets used in manufacturing.

And like Geelong, Norfolk grew through the first half of the 20th century but the inner city declined.

In Norfolk's downtown Granby St area, a few blocks from the waterfront, retail stores closed and businesses moved out. In 1979 the Downtown Norfolk Council (DNC), a tax-exempt, non-profit advocacy group, was created to bring together the interests of Downtown's private sector with those of the city administration and elected leaders.

By 1990 there were still many vacant buildings and pessimism persisted. The critical factors in turning this attitude around were leadership, planning and support of the DNC.

Importantly, there were strategic leaders in three relevant functions of the Norfolk City Council - the mayor, the city manager in the Department of Development, and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

DNC persuaded businesses to support the Downtown Improvement District, a 48-block district, established in 1999, which DNC manages for the Norfolk City Council. Downtown property owners pay an additional 16 cents per $100 of assessed property value on top of their normal rates. This money is used for marketing and to provide services including public space maintenance, cleaning and business development and support.

With a population of about 245,000, Norfolk is now the commercial and cultural centre of the region of Hampton Roads and has achieved designation as one of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities. The residential population of downtown Norfolk continues to grow and Norfolk is now also home to three public universities and one private institution.

Much of what the committee learned from our visit to Norfolk prompted our advocacy for the establishment of the Geelong Authority.

As Geelong transforms it is vital that key learnings from other cities, which have experienced successful renewal, are considered in the future.

Rebecca Casson is the Committee for Geelong CEO. Twitter: @Comm4Geelong.



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