VMA2020 | Celebrating 100 Years of Maritime Growth



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America's First Port | VMA's Origin | Historic Milestones

100 Years
of Maritime Industry Growth

If you think we live in interesting times today, then think back to 1919. That year and after a long struggle, women finally earned the right to vote. Prohibition, which began in Virginia in 1916, became the law nationwide in 1919.

That year that Germany and the Allied Powers signed the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I. It was during that war that Norfolk Naval Shipyard grew to accommodate 11,000 employees, and Sewell’s Point became the site of what would become the largest Naval Base in the world.

In 1920, with the oceans now safe for commercial shipping, the Panama Canal six years old and trade resuming in abundance, 56 business leaders in Hampton Roads came together to form the Norfolk Maritime Exchange. The goal? To promote, protect and encourage international and domestic commerce through Virginia’s Ports.

Nearly a century later, that organization is now the statewide Virginia Maritime Association representing hundreds of companies engaged in the maritime industry in the Commonwealth.

America's First Port

The Virginia's ports have been a boon to Virginia and the world for nearly four centuries. From the early founding as "America's First Port" at Jamestown in 1607 through the era of the great clipper ships to the present day sophistication of computerized inter-modal technology, Virginia has been at the forefront of every major change in the shipping industry. The early growth of the Commonwealth was due to the cooperative effort of private and public servants, each investing their time to strengthen the outlook for Virginia’s future. Soon commerce and trade began to flourish.

The Voice of Port Industries

The Virginia Maritime Association (VMA) was organized in 1920 to promote, protect and encourage international and domestic commerce through Virginia’s ports. First known as the Norfolk Maritime Exchange (1920), the Association has undergone several name changes reflecting the growth and influence throughout the region and Commonwealth over the past century:

Hampton Roads Maritime Exchange (1922)
Hampton Roads Maritime Association (1945)
Virginia Maritime Association (2006)

The Virginia Maritime Association seeks and advocates for the continued growth of Virginia’s maritime industries and plays a significant leadership role to ensure that Virginia remains competitive as it relates to waterborne commerce.

Highlighted Advocacy & Historical Milestones by VMA:

1920 13 February, 56 maritime business leaders sign as the founding members of the Norfolk Maritime Exchange.
1923 Exchange actively persists and purchase of fire-boat to protect port.
1924 The exchange recommended to Congress to fund Norfolk Harbor project and Thimble Shoal Channel, the beginning of VMA's journey on advocating for the widening and deepening of the harbor and channels.

The first Virginia Ports Annual is published.
1926 Requests and achieves funding from Congress for channel improvements for Southern and Eastern Branches of Elizabeth River.
1928 Exchange obtains authorization for additional anchorage off Lambert's Point to manage increased demands.
1936 Installation of bulk cargo handling facilities, placing port in forefront of the ports on Atlantic coast.
1939 Exchange lends aid to the development of a Municipal airport in Norfolk.
1941 In 1941, the Hampton Roads Maritime Exchange developed a committee to address ways to aid the government defense program in WWII. Vessels were assigned to Hampton Roads under the Lend Lease Act, and moved $11B in war material.
1956 Quote from 1956 Annual " This was a banner year. Never before in the long history of the port, has there been as much business, as many ports, as many new and expanded facilities and services, as many ships loading and unloading, or sailing to as many ports, as many people earning a living on maritime activities, nor a keener understanding of the value of the port to the community and the State."
1957 Initiated and sponsored by Hampton Roads Maritime Association (HRMA) in 1945, the Craney Island Disposal Area project began operations in 1957 at the cost of $6.5M.
1966 Harry M. Thompson, executive vice president and secretary retires after 46 years of service to the Association.
1972 Through the efforts of VMA, in 1972 the ports of Norfolk, Portsmouth, & Newport News were unified under the VA Port Authority.
1977 Lack of proper state funding for port development is impetus for HRMA to employ a legislative representative in Richmond.
1981 Many factors have contributed to the port's phenomenal growth, but none is as important as unification of the ports in the Hampton Roads harbor. In 1981, the Virginia General Assembly passed landmark legislation designed to unify the ports under a single agency, the Virginia Port Authority, with a new single operating company, Virginia International Terminals, Inc. Unification has made Hampton Roads one of the fastest growing port complexes in the United States.
1986 After years of advocacy by HRMA, legislation passed authorizing 55-foot channel project for Hampton Roads.
1993 HRMA awarded the President's "E Star" Award for export service by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
2003 Defended against a major initiative to tax waterfront pier owners retroactively and prospectively that would have cost the industry millions of dollars annually. VMA efforts resulted in a statutory exemption for the maritime industry.
The Association's name changes officially from the Hampton Roads Maritime Association to the Virginia Maritime Association. (Clipping from the Daily Press)
2008 Secured state funding to enable construction of the Heartland Corridor project designed to significantly reduce transit times to the Midwest market.
2013 Reacted to unsolicited proposals for privatization of the state-owned terminals. The General Assembly took three actions related to privatization of the operations at state-owned terminals: 1) Legislation was passed that will institute reforms at the Virginia Port Authority (VPA)/Virginia International Gateway (VIT) designed to eliminate redundancy and reduce expenses. This legislation also prevents the Commonwealth from accepting unsolicited proposals under the PPTA for VPA facilities and operations while preserving its ability to partner with the private sector. 2) The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) is directed to study the port’s competitiveness, efficiency and governance structure and report its findings to the General Assembly. 3) Lawmakers amended the state budget to include language prohibiting any sale or lease of the Port of Virginia until a comprehensive study of port operations has been completed, and any such sale or lease has been subsequently approved by the General Assembly.
2014 The General Assembly amended the Code of Virginia relating to the Board of Commissioners of the VPA to specify "the Governor shall appoint at least one member with maritime shipping experience from a list of at least three nominees provided by the Virginia Maritime Association, who shall not be a paid member of the Virginia Maritime Association or have any other conflict of interest with the Virginia Port Authority.” This change was sought by VMA to ensure the maritime community would always have representation on the Virginia Port Authority Board.
2016 Virginia General Assembly appropriates $350 million in funding toward capital improvements for Norfolk International Terminals. This one time funding is the largest single allocation of state funds toward port infrastructure to date.
2018 The Virginia General Assembly approved $350 million for the Wider, Deeper, Safer project to widen and deepen the main channels and reclaim the port’s competitive advantage of having not only the deepest water on the East Coast, but also restoring 24/7 two-way navigation.
Congress passed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 authorizing the deepening of the Norfolk and Newport News channels to 55 feet, Thimble Shoals Channel to 56 feet and the Atlantic Ocean Channel to a depth of 59 feet.
2019 VMA retained a federal lobbyist for the first time to strengthen its continued advocacy for federal funding of “Wider, Deeper, Safer” projects and to improve its position with Congress and the executive branch.
The $320 million expansion of Virginia International Gateway was completed, giving it the capability to service as many as three Ultra-Large Container Vessels (ULCVs) simultaneously and doubling the facilities container throughput capacity.
The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind demonstration project began construction of two six-megawatt wind turbines approximately 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. Dominion Energy also announced its intention to construct the largest offshore wind energy project in the U.S. off Virginia’s coast.
With VMA’s substantial contributions, the Governor of Virginia unveiled the first International Trade Plan for the Commonwealth of Virginia as the framework for substantially increasing the international trade intensity of Virginia’s economy.
Achieving VMA’s top priority, dredging began in Thimble Shoal Channel to start the work that would ultimately deepen the Norfolk Harbor Channel and Newport News Channel to 55 feet, deepen Thimble Shoal Channel to 56 feet and widen it up to 1,400 feet, and deepen the Atlantic Ocean Channel to 59 feet by 2025.
February 13, 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the Virginia Maritime Association, marking a century of maritime growth in Virginia. The event is known as "VMA2020."


"Never before in the long history of the port, has there been as much business, as many ports, as many new and expanded facilities and services, as many ships loading and unloading, or sailing to as many ports, as many people earning a living on maritime activities, nor a keener understanding of the value of the port to the community and the State."

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