Week of 2/10/14
Hampton Roads was once home to one of the real Monuments Men
(WTKR-TV, Feb. 9, 2014)
George Clooney, Matt Damon and art treasures stolen by Nazis - sounds like a movie right? It is!
Monuments Men opens Friday and is based on an actual group of unsung heroes from World War II. It turns out, one of those heroes of the art world was a real-life treasure to those who knew him in Hampton Roads.
He was Everett Parker Lesley, Jr. known to his friends as Bill.
Linda McGreevy was a new professor at Old Dominion University where Lesley taught Art History and also had some personal history to tell.
He was one of the Monuments Men - 345 men and women, mostly volunteer art experts, who joined the service during World War II to protect cultural treasures from Nazi destruction.
"It was the American and British troops who came in, those professionals in the art world, who helped to start this process of bringing these things back to where they really belong," McGreevy says.
The story has been told on smaller scale in films like the Rape of Europa, which McGreevy knows from owning Naro Video in Norfolk.
Starting today, millions will know the story thanks to the latest George Clooney and Matt Damon film.
But very few people know firsthand one of the people who not only witnessed history but helped preserve it.
"He said I had the bust of Nefertiti from the Berlin Museum on my desk for over a year," McGreevy says.
Lesley also found a train carrying a famous DaVinci and helped return it to Poland.
He was living history for his colleagues at ODU.
"He was very proud of what he had done and here was a woman who could speak to him about it, you know, and actually was surprised and interested and like, 'Oh Bill, you did that?'" McGreevy says. (More)
ODU economists forecast 2.2% growth for area
(Inside Business, Feb. 7, 2014)
With a federal budget in place and some federal spending cuts restored, the Hampton Roads economy is expected to grow by 2.2 percent in 2014, according to projections made last week by Old Dominion University's economic forecasting team.
That figure is slower than the historical average of 3.1 percent and lags behind national growth, but it's faster than the gross regional product growth rate of 1.73 percent in 2013.
Professors Vinod Agarwal and Gary Wagner, who lead the forecast team, predicted a 1.68 local growth rate in 2013. Gross regional product, the broadest measure of a local economy, is the market value of all goods and services produced in a region.
The professors forecast a brighter picture for the local economy in 2014 with unemployment falling from 5.9 percent to 5.3 percent; home values jumping 7.9 percent; port tonnage increasing 4.8 percent; retail sales growing 3.6 percent; and hotel room revenue growing 2.4 percent.
Still, some of the projected growth in these sectors falls short in returning to pre-recession levels. For instance, of the 40,000 local jobs lost from 2007 to 2010, the region has only been able to recover 23,500.
The hotel industry suffered last year, with revenue declining 1.3 percent after being forecast to grow 3.3 percent. Some business owners cited the unusually cold spring, and Agarwal said substantial decreases in federal travel, especially among military personnel and contractors, had a negative effect on the local hotel industry. (More)
A fine tool for evaluating higher education
(Opinion, The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 9, 2014)
Eighteen months after graduating, criminology majors at Old Dominion University reported earning an average salary of $29,673. That's slightly higher than the average for criminology majors at all of Virginia's public and nonprofit private colleges and universities, but less than the average salary - $36,571 - earned by all of ODU's graduates.
Those figures, calculated with data from graduates in the five consecutive classes ending in 2010, are part of the trove of detailed information available through the Virginia Longitudinal Data System, a massive project involving the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia and other state agencies. It's posted at research.schev.edu.
The system's databases show details - none of which identifies any student - about debt and post-graduation wages by institution and degree program.
They show how many students reported finding full-time work 18 months after graduation, how many pursued advanced studies and how many students - from Virginia and out of state - earned a specific degree.
They break down graduation rates, enrollment and transfers. The project sifts through race, gender and locality to provide information that officials hope will be used to inform public policymakers, as well as help parents and students decide what to study and where to study it. The result is knowledge far richer than any gleaned through annual horse-race rankings of the best universities and colleges. (More)
Snow days were not good days for business
(Inside Business, Feb. 7, 2014)
For at least a day in the last week of January, the hotel rooms at the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside were occupied by customers - and employees.
Workers at the hotel either couldn't get home or feared not being able to get back to work the next day, especially since bus service in the area was down, said Tim Peters, general manager. So employees were offered free lodging.
"We put them up, and we fed them breakfast, lunch and dinner," Peters said. "Some of them brought their kids because they didn't have anyone else to take care of them."
The hotel was one of the many businesses affected by snow that began late Tuesday, Jan. 28, with some places in the area receiving as much as 10 inches.
Many businesses closed while others remained open, but most had normal operations altered in some way, for better or for worse.
For the Sheraton, it was for worse. Even with its doors open, Peters said the hotel was down about $30,000 in revenue from the snow.
Gary Wagner, an economist with Old Dominion University, estimated about 80 percent of the hourly wage workforce was off the clock in Hampton Roads, which amounts to about $61 million in lost earnings each day. He noted the research for his estimates was scarce, but said the estimates are reasonable.
"The average hourly wage in Hampton Roads is about $21," he said, "and I've estimated that about 59 percent of our workforce is hourly." (More)
Posting takes on a whole new meaning
(The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 9, 2014)
NORFOLK residents, or anybody else for that matter, who come across a post sticking up from the shore of the Lafayette River can be a citizen scientist for the day.
All they have to do is stop for a moment, take a photo of the river from the post and email the photo to Old Dominion University biologists.
It's so easy and fun to be a valuable part of monitoring the health of this pretty little river that is often overshadowed by the mighty Elizabeth into which it flows. Cell phones are carried almost everywhere by folks, even when running and biking, and email directions are embedded right on the river post.
The Lafayette Wetlands Partnership sponsors the citizen scientist program, called Eyes on the River. The partnership is counting on residents to help monitor the health of the river with photos day in and day out, as well as monthly and even from year to year.
For example, the partnership wants to know how the restored wetlands is doing behind Larchmont Elementary School, where Old Dominion University biologist Todd Egerton is taking the photo with this column.
Are the newly planted grasses taking hold? Have geese invaded the area to dine? Did last week's storm do any damage? What else is happening on the river that day?
Eight river post sites are around the river where different aspects of the health of the river can be monitored. Eventually there will be 12 posts. The program is based on one in Australia called Fluker Posts. (More)
ODU economists predict a modest bump in growth
(The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 6, 2014)
The economic outlook for Hampton Roads is sunnier in 2014 than forecasters predicted it would be a year ago. But the region's economic growth will continue to trail the nation's, an Old Dominion University team said Wednesday.
Defense spending, port activity, the health care industry and tourism are expected to contribute to a 2.2 percent boost in gross regional product this year, compared with a 1.7 percent expansion in 2013, said Old Dominion University economics professor Vinod Agarwal. He presented his annual forecast at a luncheon hosted by the Economics Club of Hampton Roads.
Gary Wagner, also an ODU economist, said in a separate presentation that the national economy is expected to expand at a faster clip, by 2.8 percent, in 2014. The nation's Gross Domestic Product increased by 1.9 percent in 2013.
Agarwal said the local economy will be boosted by more defense spending this year than originally expected. But he said the big hit the military took in 2013 continues to undermine the region's momentum. The local economy's predicted growth rate for 2014 is well behind its average annual 3.1 percent expansion over the past 50 years.
Still, Agarwal indicated that the region doesn't face nearly as many storm clouds as a year ago.
Last year, Hampton Roads was hammered by across-the-board cuts in federal spending required by sequestration. That congressional squabble and the subsequent government shutdown seeded uncertainty among businesses and consumers.
The atmosphere has improved in the new year, Agarwal said. (More)
ODU report: Hampton Roads economy to get boost in 2014
(The Daily Press, Feb. 6, 2014)
Old Dominion University economists expect Hampton Roads to add about 11,400 jobs this year with growth from the health care, tourism and construction industries, according to a forecast released Wednesday. Even so, the region's dependence on defense spending means its economic growth will lag behind that of the nation.
More defense spending, an increasingly busy port and growth in health care and tourism spending should drive moderate growth in the Hampton Roads economy in 2014, ODU economist Vinod Agarwal told attendees of the annual economic forecast hosted by the Economics Club of Hampton Roads in downtown Norfolk.
The ODU team expects the region's economy, as measured by gross regional product, to grow by 2.2 percent. While that's better growth than last year's 1.73 percent rate of expansion, that's not as strong as the national economy's growth of 2.8 percent that ODU economist Gary Wagner projects for this year. Why the lag? The region's economy depends more heavily on defense spending, which the economists say attributed to 43 percent of gross regional product in 2013.
"Something we need to learn from this is we need to reduce dependence on defense," Agarwal said.
While defense spending in the region dropped by 1.7 percent last year, Congress took action to mitigate the effects of sequestration and approved a 1 percent pay raise for federal civilian employees, which will give the local economy a small boost in 2014, Agarwal said.
Because federal cuts affected travel by federal employees and defense contractors to Hampton Roads, hotel revenues declined by 1.3 percent last year. This year, he said increased defense spending should help hotel revenues increase by 2.4 percent. (More)
ODU: Hampton Roads economy will still lag
(Richmond Times-Dispatch/Associated Press, Feb. 6, 2014)
The Hampton Roads economy is expected to expand at a faster pace in 2014, but it still will lag behind average annual growth, Old Dominion University professors said Wednesday.
Defense spending, port activity, the health care industry and tourism are expected to contribute to a 2.2 percent boost in gross regional product, which would outpace the 1.7 percent expansion in 2013, Old Dominion University professor Vinod Agarwal said at an annual economic forecast luncheon.
Historically, the regional economy has expanded by an average of 3.1 percent a year over the past half-century, he said.
Overall, the growth expected for Hampton Roads this year is lower than the 2.8 percent rate that is expected nationally - just as it was last year. (More)
Tolls aren't small change; not for those in Portsmouth
(Opinion, The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 6, 2014)
Linda Hamilton can't afford to live in Portsmouth anymore.
She already keeps the heat at 60 degrees in her Olde Towne house, which she bought nearly a decade ago. She's cut back on cable TV. As you can imagine, she declines some frills.
"I don't make a lot of money," said the assistant librarian for Chesapeake Public Schools.
The 62-year-old Hamilton loves her "charming" home. She enjoys her pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.
But it's those darned tolls. A recent study said the typical commuter will have to pay $1,000 annually once the state subsidy is gone in three years.
The tolls are pushing Hamilton and other Portsmouth residents over the edge - and over the river. ...
James Koch, the Old Dominion University economics professor who studied the tolls' impact on Portsmouth residents, agreed that most people will stay put.
"Based on large statistical studies elsewhere," he told me, "about 2 to 4 percent of the population moved in cities that imposed tolls where they hadn't existed."
Koch said it might be a decade or more before we'll know the local statistics. (More)
College disciplinary defense bill fails in subcommittee
(The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 5, 2014)
A bill one might call "the best defense money can buy" - college edition - has flunked in the General Assembly.
After hearing testimony from supporters and opponents, a House of Delegates subcommittee Tuesday afternoon tabled legislation allowing public college students facing disciplinary hearings to be represented by lawyers.
Del. Rick Morris, R-Isle of Wight County, said that HB1123 was brought on behalf of students accused of misconduct who were denied constitutional rights before a college tribunal with the power to suspend or expel.
His bill also would have allowed students expelled or suspended more than 10 days to appeal a college council's decision to a local circuit court and receive damage awards for successful appeals.
Morris' bill did not apply to students accused of academic infractions. ...
Speaking against it were representatives of many of Virginia's four-year public colleges.
Michael DeBowes, Old Dominion University's director of student conduct and academic integrity, suggested Morris' bill would create a more adversarial process than is in place on many campuses.
Morris later said those processes are already adversarial and are stacked against accused students. (More)
States to grant in-state tuition to veterans attending public colleges
(WVEC-TV, Feb. 4, 2014)
A major boost for the G.I. Bill, as the House of Representatives unanimously passes a bill requiring all fifty states to grant in-state tuition rates to military veterans.
On a 390-0 vote Monday, the House passed the G.I Bill Tuition Fairness Act (H.R. 357).
The legislation would enable G.I Bill recipients to receive in-state tuition rates at any public college or university in the country, and not just those from a veteran's home state of record. As it is, twenty states including Virginia already have state laws to that effect on the books.
"If I had gone to another state, it would've cost me," said ten-year Navy veteran Ken Wiseman of Norfolk. The 30-year old Veterans of Foreign Wars member is currently a graduate student at Old Dominion University, courtesy of the G.I. Bill. Wiseman says passage of a new federal law compelling all states to make the change is good public policy.
"This is an extremely important thing to do," he said. "there is an unemployment rate of current conflict veterans coming home that fluctuates monthly but often is higher that the civilian unemployment rate. This helps those veterans, puts them in school, puts money in their pockets to help them pay their bills, they don't have to worry about going to school and working." (More)
In Norfolk: Ice cream shop evolves; grocery store closes
(The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 4, 2014)
Updating the store scene in Norfolk:
An ice cream shop near Old Dominion University is changing more than its flavors, and a small grocery store in the Freemason area has closed.
Norfolk Ice Cream Co. shut on Jan. 3, more than five years after it opened on Monarch Way. But those looking for treats needn't despair.
Butch Mariano, the co-owner, said it will reopen as Twisted Yogurt Bar in March.
"We were making our numbers with the ice cream," Mariano said, "but we thought a better, healthier alternative would be something more appropriate for a neighborhood near the campus."
In the mornings, Twisted Yogurt will offer what Mariano described as a "super-healthy" alternative to the typical breakfast fare of doughnuts, bacon and pancakes. It will feature a variety of yogurts, including Greek and low-fat, along with a smorgasbord of toppings, including fruit and granola.
It will switch to frozen yogurt in the late morning and continue selling that through the evening, Mariano said. (More)
Virginia Gay-Marriage Ban Faces Boies-Olson Legal Team
(Bloomberg, Feb. 4, 2014)
David Boies and Ted Olson, who helped upend California's gay-marriage ban and triggered a national wave of similar lawsuits, are urging a U.S. judge in Virginia to make the state the South's first to accept same-sex unions.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said last month he wouldn't defend the state against a lawsuit by two gay couples seeking to marry, comparing the ban to the state's prohibition on interracial unions overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. With the attorney general now on their side, Boies and Olson are set to argue the case today in federal court. ...
"Virginia has argued on the wrong side of some of our nation's landmark cases -- in school desegregation in 1954, on interracial marriage" in 1967, Herring said in announcing the shift. Herring was the fourth state attorney general to stop defending a state in lawsuits over gay-marriage bans.
Besides Rainey, the defendants are Prince William County Circuit Court Clerk Michele B. McQuigg and Norfolk Circuit Court Clerk George E. Schaefer.
Bostic, a professor at Old Dominion University, and London, a U.S. Navy veteran who has been a real estate agent for 16 years, have been together since 1989, according to court papers. They are joined in their suit by another gay couple, Mary Townley and Carol Schall, who were denied a marriage license in Chesterfield County. (More)
ODU's first Conference USA schedule is challenging
(The Virginian-Pilot, Feb. 4, 2014)
It's a good thing Alabama isn't in Conference USA, or league officials might have had Old Dominion open conference play against the Crimson Tide.
As it is, ODU was handed a tough early schedule in its first C-USA season, opening with three games against teams that went to bowls last season.
The conference opener is Sept. 20 at defending league champ Rice. A week later, ODU hosts Middle Tennessee State, which lost to Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl, and defending East Division champion Marshall will visit on Oct. 4. The three had a combined record of 28-13.
Rice beat Marshall in the C-USA championship game and lost to Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl.
ODU athletic director Wood Selig said those first C-USA three games "give us a terrific opportunity right out of the gate."
Marshall, which returns quarterback Rakeem Cato - the league's Offensive Player of the Year - and most of its starters from last season, likely will be picked to win the league. The Thundering Herd beat East Carolina for the East Division title, then after losing to Rice, upset Maryland 31-20 in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Md.
Maryland pounded ODU 47-10 last season.
"We'll find out a lot about our opportunities for success in Conference USA in those three weeks," coach Bobby Wilder said.
"I know our fan base is going to be fired up" for the first two C-USA home games, he said. "I'm assuming at least one of them will be on national television." (More)
Keast & Hood Structural Engineers Names Craig Swift Associate
(CityBizList Baltimore, Feb. 3, 2014)
Craig D. Swift, PE, SE, LEED AP, Recognized for Service and Commitment.
Keast & Hood named structural engineer Craig D. Swift, PE, SE, LEED AP, an Associate of the firm. Based in the Washington office since 2010, Swift provides project management and structural engineering design for projects in the U.S. and abroad.
"Craig has proven himself as a well-rounded engineer, an organized project manager, and a creative structural designer," said Principal Matthew J. Daw, PE, LEED AP. "He has been recognized for his commitment and contributions, which have been a critical part of the firm's continued growth."
Swift has over 10 years of structural engineering experience, including extensive involvement with seismic analysis, design, and retrofit in the U.S. and Haiti. He recently managed earthquake repairs at the Baltimore Basilica in Baltimore, Md., Gymnasium Vincent in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and the Sherman Building in Washington, D.C. He also oversaw renovations to the University of Virginia Pavilions X and VII.
Swift's current involvement ranges from renovations at Gettysburg College and Virginia Tech to design for new construction at Old Dominion University, management of a multi-year continuing services civil and structural engineering contract for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and additional work in Haiti, including pro bono structural design for an orphanage and a school. (More)