The Hampton Roads Chamber welcomed U.S. Senator Mark Warner for a Virtual Business Town Hall Webinar on August 21st. Senator Warner spent 20 years as a technology executive and business leader in Virginia before being elected governor of Virginia in 2002. When he left the governor’s office in 2006, Virginia was ranked as the nation’s “Best State for Business”, “Best-Managed State, and the “Best State in which to receive a Public Education. Warner was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 and was re-elected in 2014.
Senator Warner is seeking re-election and running against Dr. Daniel Gade, a retired US Army Colonel. The Chamber hosted Dr. Gade in a Virtual Business Town Hall Webinar on July 24th, 2020.
Hampton Roads Chamber President and CEO, Bryan Stephens, opened the discussion by expressing “The Chamber is committed to focusing on the issues that impact our business community. Hearing from these candidates allows our members to make informed decisions at the polls.”
Warner began his opening statement by commending the Hampton Roads Chamber for unifying the region to allow the business community of Hampton Roads to speak with one voice. The Senator then went on to emphasize his pride in his business background and how that has benefited his career in politics. Warner stated, “I am proud of the fact that I have spent more time in my career in business than in politics. I am proud to have been an entrepreneur.”
In his many years in politics, specifically in the U.S. Senate, Senator Warner has stressed the importance of expanding and improving the infrastructure in Hampton Roads. He expressed his drive for expanding infrastructure by adding a third crossing and improving road capacity and rail systems. Warner also spoke on including Broadband as a necessity. “COVID-19 has simply accelerated the move to a digital economy by a decade. Broadband is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ but rather an absolute necessity” – Warner.
When asked about what he would like to see in future COVID-19 relief packages, Warner said he would like to see more assistance for small businesses. Senator Warner wants to add additional forgiveness and grants that specifically target businesses that have seen significant revenue loss. He also emphasized the importance of providing support for minority and women-owned businesses, state and local government, and rental, mortgage and childcare assistance for families impacted by the virus.
The conversation then turned to the racial tensions impacting our community. The Hampton Roads Chamber has initiated a robust diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative. Bryan Stephens communicated to Senator Warner that “Inclusion is imperative in business now. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it helps business overall.” Warner would like to see increased access to capital for minority-owned businesses. Senator Warner went on to explain that this virus is disproportionately affecting minority communities which is impacting local business. He warned that we’ll need to make sure that once we have a vaccine, we’ll need to have fair distribution in place in order to fully get rid of this virus and help our community.
The next question from a Chamber member inquired about federal advocacy as it relates to climate change funding. Senator Warner believes this climate crisis can turn into an economic opportunity for Hampton Roads. There is potential in addressing these environmental issues while also becoming a leader in wind and solar energy. Stephens stated, “I believe that offshore wind is the biggest opportunity for the region of the decade.” Warner agreed with Stephens and cited that he wants to bring manufacturing of wind turbines to America, and even better Hampton Roads.
While most of the discussions were strictly federal issues, Stephens inquired about an imperative state issue that is of great importance to the business community. When asked about preserving Virginia’s Right-to-Work law, Warner agreed that it should be left to the state, saying “I am proud that Virginia has a long history of being business-friendly.” He also stated that, “We wouldn’t have earned that designation as “Best State for Business” without those practices….To be clear, I think people ought to have the right to organize, labor plays a very important role going forward. But I think a lot of those issues should be up to the state.”
Warner serves as Vice-Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner was asked about his priorities with the Department of Defense relating to Virginia and Hampton Roads. The Senator expressed the need for continuing to make sure we have a strong Navy but are capable of adapting to the threats to our country that are changing form. Warner believes some of our weapon systems are too expensive, take too long to complete, and then are already technologically outdated by the time of its release. He is a huge advocate for our veterans, as well as improving military housing conditions.
Warner closed by offering hope for the future stating, “I think we are going to come back from this virus stronger than before. I will always put Virginia and our Country first. I am proud of my history of bipartisanism. Neither party has a monopoly on truth and patriotism.”