The Hampton Roads Chamber hosted a membership luncheon with both of the Commonwealth's United States Senators, the Honorable Mark Warner and the Honorable Tim Kaine on August 28 in Norfolk.
The unique forum at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott was an opportunity for direct access and engagement with Virginia’s two Federal legislators to focus on their efforts to improve the nation's economy and matters on the world stage, which impacts regional business. While the Senators have both addressed the Chamber, it was the first time they shared the dais.
The Senators each spoke on a variety of topics to include armed forces; job creation; regulation of taxation of business; foreign policy; funding our nation’s infrastructure; the budget and national debt, as well as the impact some legislation has on regional businesses including the Affordable Care Act.
Early in the remarks, the senators discussed the recent VA scandals surrounding access to healthcare for the nation’s veterans. Senator Warner said it’s not necessarily the quality of care itself, but how long it takes to get into the system.
“If there’s one agency that should treat its clients with respect and honor, it’s the VA.” He went on to highlight recent $17 billion in funding that will help set a new course for the beleaguered agency, saying, “Money alone will not solve our problems. It will take a culture change.”
An exuberant Warner focused on the “relentless American optimism” and encouraged diversification as a means of improving the regional economy. In particular, he focused attention on Modeling and Simulation technology, commercial space, advanced composites material and unmanned aerial systems. According to Warner, all are examples of what the Commonwealth’s business community can leverage from the Defense industry into the private sector.
Following podium remarks Senators Warner and Kaine, fielded questions from an audience of more than 300 Chamber members. Topics included offshore energy, the demand for qualified healthcare workers, internet sales taxes and complicated taxation codes impacting the bottom line.
Workforce development and in particular, veterans employment, was a feature of both remarks and follow on questions from the audience. Senator Kaine pointed out that the current unemployment rate for Veterans is higher the national average overall, and this must be a top priority.
Debbie Johnston, a member representing Care Advantage, Inc., challenged the Senators on the “desperate need for healthcare workers,” suggesting that veteran’s education is a solution.
Senator Kaine noted that the best medical technicians in the world come from the ranks of the military, but face problems once they leave uniform because of certification issues. He is gratified to see the Defense department embracing dual certifications so transitioning military service members can enjoy employment opportunities in the private sector.
Bobby Pearson, Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health, shared the connection between his industry and the need for a ready workforce: “I think it’s great what they’re talking about, regarding the dual certification process to give folks who are in the military once they leave (active duty service) to have jobs in the healthcare industry. On the health insurance side, we’ve rolled 20,000 new individuals in the health exchange this year and we’re going to need more doctors to provide care for these individuals who are newly insured.”
Addressing questions on internet sales tax from Dan Coogan, a member representing Northwestern Mutual, Senator Warner says work is underway. However, progress is stalled in the House of Representatives. The Marketplace Fairness Act provides a national template for the collection of taxes, which will benefit city and state economies.
Responding to a question from Deborah Stearns, past Chair of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce and Senior Vice President of Jones Lang LaSalle regarding off-shore energy, both senators stressed their continued support for such exploration and development. Additionally, Senator Warner pointed out the need for royalties for the Commonwealth.
These and other topics are representative of the kind of dialogue the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is fostering on behalf of its membership body. Decisions being made in Washington, D.C. on a daily basis are having an impact on the Hampton Roads regional economy and our national security.
Gary McCollum, Chamber trustee and Senior Vice President and General Manager for Cox Communications was impressed with the format.
“I really enjoyed the event. Getting two Senators' schedules together is next to an impossible feat, and the Chamber was able to do it! The timing of the year for this event was perfect too. While it is still fresh, we should get visibility and the word out to the members who were unable to attend. I really hope this can become an annual event.”
It’s great to see our two senators in one place to have an open discussion with our local representatives as well to see what the issues are for the Hampton Roads community and to see where we need to go moving forward.”
Shepelle Watkins White, a local lawyer and Vice Chair of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs committee said, “There is much work to do in Washington, but we have two senators who are working in the trenches and really looking out for the best interests of Virginia.”
"The Hampton Roads Chamber is a business advocate in national, state and local government and works closely with elected officials to create economic prosperity and enhance the quality of life," said President and CEO Bryan K. Stephens. "Events such as this Senatorial forum allow Chamber members to gain access to decision makers and get involved in business issues that impact the community."
The Chamber thanks the following sponsors: PRA Group (Presenting); Cox (Platinum) and Bon Secours Virginia Health System and Colonna’s Shipyard, Inc. (Bronze); Williams Mullen (Gold Legislative Affairs Partner); Clark Nexsen Architecture & Engineering and Verizon Communications. (Silver Legislative Affairs Partners).