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Hampton Roads leaders ready for action following Pharrell's business forum

A day after Pharrell Williams held a forum about bringing growth to Hampton Roads, city leaders said they're ready to get down to business.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Grammy-award winning artist Pharrell Williams made it clear: he wants to see Hampton Roads grow and help provide the opportunities needed to do it. 

He started by creating a forum called "Elephant in the Room," which brought together business and city leaders at Norfolk State University Thursday evening.

Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse, who’s worked with Pharrell, said the forum was a springboard for tackling difficult discussions.

"Ready or not, here we come," said Rouse when asked if Virginia Beach was ready for these difficult discussions. "I mean, those problems are here and we have to be able to stand up. We may get knocked down, we may get uncomfortable, there may be an 'elephant in the room,' but again, we have to confront and talk about these issues head-on, that's the only way we're going to grow."

RELATED: Pharrell invites businesses to talk about potential in Norfolk, Virginia Beach

The forum gave Pharrell a chance to show the financial resources that are available to Hampton Roads to create better businesses. It also gave him a chance to hit on the need for diversity and inclusivity.

"There was $3 trillion on that stage last night here in Hampton Roads to figure out how we build together as a region," said Rouse, referring to the business owners and entrepreneurs who expressed interest in investing in Hampton Roads at the forum. "We have to provide access to capital, access for minorities, as well for small business owners."

This financial support could create windows of opportunities for groups such as the Hampton Roads Alliance. President and CEO Doug Smith said his team created multiple outlets to create better businesses in the region, such as the 757 Action Framework.

"Frankly, we haven't always been an inclusive region," said Smith when he talked about diversity in Hampton Roads. "We were exposed to a number of really important organizations last night that are interested in investing in Hampton Roads. We need to go back to them with a very clear sense of what they're looking for."

Pharrell called on Hampton Roads to be more inclusive, knowing that money alone won’t lead to success.

Rouse agreed, saying, "It's about bringing more young people of different races, as well as women, giving everybody the opportunity to be successful."

It was a feeling of inclusivity that Pharrell hoped to bring to Virginia Beach and the region with his “Something in the Water” festival.

RELATED: 'Toxic energy' | Pharrell letter casts doubt on Something in the Water 2022

His disappointment in the way the city handled the death of his cousin, Donovon Lynch, at the hands of a police officer this year led him to pull the festival from Virginia Beach.

At his forum, Pharrell said he wants to move past the controversy surrounding it, but he needs to see real change.

Rouse said Pharrell is currently having discussions on what to do next for the "Something in the Water" festival and where he wants to hold it.

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