About the Area

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Hampton roads

In 1607, English explorers on three tiny ships landed at what is today Hampton Roads, the birthplace of Colonial America. They created the first permanent English settlement and the first representative government in America. And, this is where Africans first arrived and first sought freedom.

Here in Hampton Roads, centuries of history intersect with modern technology, economic growth, livable communities — rural, suburban and urban — a rich culture, a thriving maritime industry, breathtaking beachfront and landscapes and a strong military presence.

Strategically located in southeastern Virginia, Hampton Roads is one of the world’s biggest and deepest natural harbors and home to the world’s largest naval base at Norfolk.

Hampton Roads is also home to the world’s largest shipyard in Newport News and one of the busiest and fastest growing ports on the Eastern Seaboard, the Port of Virginia, with products popular the world over. The harbor flows into the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, whose watershed covers 64,000 square miles and all or part of six states and Washington, D.C.

Located within 750 miles of two-thirds of the population of America, Hampton Roads’ location at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay has long defined the economy and the culture.

With a population of over 1.6 million, Hampton Roads is among the top 35 largest metropolitan statistical areas, the fifth largest MSA in the Southeast and the largest between D.C. and Atlanta.

But, unlike many metropolitan areas, Hampton Roads’ population nucleus is not confined to one central city, instead spread among several cities and counties, including Virginia Beach, the largest in population, and Suffolk, the largest in land area in Virginia.

The U.S. military defense began here. Soldiers who accompanied the first settlers are predecessors of the hundreds of thousands of men and women to don a U.S. military uniform. Now nearly one-fourth of the nation’s active-duty military personnel are stationed in Hampton Roads. All five military services’ operating forces and major command headquarters, including the Navy, Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, and Marines Joint Forces and the only NATO command on U.S. soil call Hampton Roads home.

Hampton Roads has an educated workforce thanks, in part, to its close proximity to D.C., 15,000 military retirees annually, 11 institutions of higher learning such as the College of William & Mary, Hampton Sydney, Norfolk State and Old Dominion Universities. It also enjoys a lower unemployment rate relative to the rest of the nation because of the strong military presence.

The economic base is currently shifting away from almost complete dependence on military installations and moving toward a diverse mix of industries, including shipping, defense-related industry, technology — including modeling and simulation — tourism, service, manufacturing and agriculture. It is also the home of two federal research labs: NASA Langley Research Center and Thomas Jefferson Lab National Accelerator Facility.

Hampton Roads is responding to these challenges by reinvigorating the pioneering spirit of the settlers, to forge a future that will make “America’s First Region” one of its strongest economic centers.