Governor Terry McAuliffe addressed more than 80 business leaders on a wide array of topics impacting businesses in the region at the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce in a special session of the Chamber on April 1.
Governor McAuliffe made Hampton Roads the first Chamber he interacted with in the Commonwealth for this discussion series. The Chamber hosted the event in order to better provide access to elected officials and be the voice of business for its members.
McAuliffe addressed the “big three” economic sectors in the economy of Hampton Roads – Defense spending, tourism and the Port of Virginia – as well as Medicaid expansion, transportation and education.
Chamber President Bryan K. Stephens, who served as moderator for the event, believes the Governor’s engagement underscores the relevance of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce to the region and the Commonwealth as a whole. “The Governor understands the voice of business in this region is rooted in the Chamber. We will be doing all we can to further this dialogue to ensure the needs of all regional businesses are met in Richmond.”
Audience members were afforded an opportunity to ask questions on issues impacting our regional economy. While McAuliffe addressed these questions personally, several members of his cabinet weighed in on the conversation including Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne and Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Jennifer Lee.
McAuliffe reiterated his stance on defense aspects shared during his campaign last year. Primarily, that the Commonwealth and the region are key to defense readiness and that we should maintain our assets here. He has charged his Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security, retired Navy Admiral John C. Harvey, Jr. to not only advocate retaining our assets but in bringing additional assets to the region.
When asked about the Port of Virginia, McAuliffe was candid that there is a lot of work to be done. He was strident in saying he would not accept continued loses, but that he is hopeful the port has a bright economic future under the new management of Port of Virginia’s CEO and Executive Director, John F. Reinhart. The Governor said, “Don’t tell me how much our cargo is growing if we are losing money. Growth for the sake of growth without profit is not something I am interested in. I would prefer to have less cargo and more profit.”
McAuliffe also discussed education in the Hampton Roads area. McAuliffe said he felt that if children were forced to go to school year-round it would hurt the tourism business in the Hampton Roads area. “If there are troubled schools and the schools are in jeopardy, I am all for school all year-round,” said the Governor who added, “but we cannot put tourism at risk in this area.”
Additionally, McAuliffe also stressed an open dialogue with college presidents to keep tuition affordable.
A major discussion point for businesses was the impact of Medicaid on the bottom line and the Governor was keen to draw connections between the expansion of Medicaid and how it will affect businesses in the region. When asked about Medicaid expansion McAuliffe challenged, “Why wouldn’t we take our sickest Virginians when its 100 percent paid for and get them healthier right now?”
McAuliffe is committed to reclaiming tax dollars paid by the Virginia workforce, and bringing it back to the Commonwealth to pay for healthcare of its citizens. He championed a healthier workforce means more stable businesses and ultimately a stronger economy.
Hampton Roads Chamber Governmental Affairs Vice Chair Shepelle Watkins-White was gratified by what the Governor had to say. “I think it’s phenomenal that he’s about finding ways to find sensible expenditures of our tax dollars. I think he has a good grasp of what is going to take to increase the level of economic activity in this area and I think it’s phenomenal that he is so open about it.”