Goal: To make Hampton Roads a center for the cutting edge

NORFOLK — Technology business leaders and educators across the region aim to forge closer alliances to strengthen Hampton Roads' reputation as a high-tech hub.

They are focusing on two things: partnerships that could turn cutting-edge research into new commercial products and producing a larger homegrown work force of engineers, scientists and technicians.

The effort is being pushed by the Hampton Roads Technology Council, which on Thursday held a half-day workshop designed to bridge cultural and communication gaps between academia and industry.

About 50 local industry executives, lab researchers and educators representing public schools, community colleges and universities gathered at the Holiday Inn Select on Military Highway. They talked about ways to work together to meet work-force demands, solve industry problems and generate more research leading to marketable products.

"I think the technology community needs to do a better job of reaching out to the universities and building those relationships," said David Edwards, senior vice president and director of engineering services at WR Systems Ltd., a Fairfax County-based government contractor with an office in Norfolk.

The region needs more locally educated technologists and scientists and must do a better job of keeping talented young people from moving elsewhere, Edwards and others said.

"You need a skill mix with a lot of breadth to accommodate the total work-force needs of that industry," said Lee Beach Jr., executive director of the Hampton Roads Research Partnership. "We have recognized our potential, and I think all these communities are energized to be responsive."

During the past decade, the region gradually has developed the potential to become a national technology hub, researchers said, and has resources that are the envy of other high-tech regions, including two federal research labs: NASA Langley Research Center and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

Thomas Morris, Virginia's education secretary, said new legislation now in place has set goals for state universities such as Old Dominion and Norfolk State to become more involved in spurring economic development and research with commercial applications.