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
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
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
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
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: