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ODU Economics Club to Present Economic Impact Award to Norfolk Southern Corporation

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Old Dominion's Economics Club of Hampton Roads will present its 10th annual Economic Impact Award to Norfolk Southern Corp.

The annual award is presented to an individual, company or organization that has had a positive effect on the local or national market through sound economic and financial policy. Previous winners include Betsy Duke, former governor of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors; former Gov. Gerald Baliles, who is also a former director of the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, and last year's honoree, STIHL Inc.

At the luncheon Wednesday, March 15 at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, Alan H. Shaw, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, will accept the award on behalf of Norfolk Southern.

The company is one of the few Fortune 500 firms headquartered in Hampton Roads. Old Dominion University economists say its impact extends far beyond payroll and local expenditure.

"Norfolk Southern's presence and importance to the region is reflected in its corporate social responsibility," said James V. Koch, Board of Visitors professor of economics and the University's former president, who founded the Economics Club of Hampton Roads in 1991 as a community service.

"There are things all over town named for (retired executives) David Goode and James Hixon. That tradition of philanthropy stretches back decades."

Norfolk Southern operates nearly 20,000 miles of rail routes in 22 states and the District of Columbia, serving every major container port in the eastern United States. As a result, its employees are spread across the eastern half of the country.

In terms of the size of its local workforce, Norfolk Southern is far from Hampton Roads' largest employer, Koch said. "However, the employees they do have here tend to be higher salaried and involved in making key decisions for the company."

This is significant, said Vinod Agarwal, professor of economics and director of Old Dominion's Economic Forecasting Project. Agarwal said the regional economy of Hampton Roads is tied closely with multi-modal transportation. Decisions that Norfolk Southern makes to move goods more efficiently tend to have a positive effect on the regional economy.

"This is our railway," Agarwal said.

Norfolk Southern's insistence that tunnels leading away from the Port of Virginia accommodate double-stacked railway cars helps increase the "economic trail" the local transportation industry as a whole.

"This is very significant. Goods that come into the Port of Virginia are shipped across the Midwest. If material had to be moved by truck, it would cause more ships to port in Savannah (Georgia) or Baltimore."

While the list of Fortune 500 companies changes rapidly, only three have their corporate headquarters in Hampton Roads: Norfolk Southern, Smithfield Foods and Dollar Tree. Agarwal said without the area (and its 1.6 million residents) thinking more like a region, other large firms are not likely to relocate here.

"We have a highly integrated economy, but our local politics is not highly integrated," he said. "When we attract a firm to Hampton Roads, everyone benefits, whether its headquarters is in Suffolk or Virginia Beach. But I've been here since 1981 and I'm still talking about regionalism. Our local governments don't see things the way we do."

The ODU Economics Club of Hampton Roads is an organization for business and government executives and community leaders who share an interest in the practical implications of economic principles, trends and events. It is administered by Dean Jeff Tanner of the Strome College of Business, under the supervision of an elected board.

To register for the Economic Impact Award luncheon click here or contact Economics Club executive director Bruce Rubin at 757-683-3590 or brubin@odu.edu.

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