“Pro-business friendly principles create wealth and spur innovation,” said Barry DuVal, President and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. On Thursday, January 23, 2020, more than 34 local Virginia Chambers, including the Hampton Roads Chamber, as well as distinguished members of the Senate and House of Representatives, attended the annual Chamber Day at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia.
“For the Commonwealth to grow and prosper, it has to grow and prosper along border regions,” said DuVal. He reported real successes in Virginia’s job growth and said investing in infrastructure, broadband connectivity, and the talent pipeline is critical to the growth of Virginia’s economy.
The Honorable Mark Herring, 48th Attorney General of Virginia, delivered opening remarks and addressed a crowd of more than 200 attendees. “Last year, Virginia reclaimed its title as CNBC’s number one state to do business in,” said Herring. “I think a big part of that has to do with the progress and transformation we’ve seen in Virginia in the last couple of decades.” Herring recognized various achievements of the Commonwealth, such as the prosperous economy, affordable higher education costs, clean energy initiatives, and more. “All of this important work has helped us grow and retain businesses that were started here and helped us attract more businesses to the Commonwealth.” He also mentioned tech and manufacturing companies such as Amazon’s HQ2 that have invested in Virginia. “Investments like these have had positive ripple effects throughout communities and helped build even stronger local and regional economies across Virginia.”
During Chamber Day at the Capitol, audience members heard about various 2020 General Assembly Session priorities from both the Senate and House perspectives. Important issues discussed included broadband connectivity, economic development, infrastructure, and right-to-work laws, which are critical to the growth of Virginia’s economy.
House of Delegates members Rip Sullivan, Todd Gilbert, and Kathy Byron briefly discussed their agendas for the current Session. Rip Sullivan addressed the need for improved infrastructure throughout Virginia. “We stand on the precipice of very challenging times for transportation issues,” said Sullivan. He stressed the urgency for transportation reform to repair roads throughout the Commonwealth and called it the “most important business issue of this General Assembly session.”
Todd Gilbert touched base on the legacy Republicans left for Virginia as being the number one state to do business. Gilbert urged legislators to use caution when voting on legislation that may alter that number one ranking. “What’s good for business is good for people,” said Gilbert. He reminded the audience that pro-business legislation positively affects people who live and work throughout the state.
“I’m here to tell you that businesses both large and small across Virginia are about to find out they’re doing business in an entirely different state,” warned Kathy Byron. Byron mentioned current hot topics in the General Assembly, like right-to-work laws and minimum wage. She told the audience that increasing the minimum wage will hurt small businesses, forcing them to compete with more prominent corporations and will most likely put them out of business. Byron also urged attendees to protect right-to-work laws, which protect workers’ freedom of choice. “If Chamber’s want to stop or slow these policies, Chamber members are going to have to reach out directly to members of the General Assembly.” She encouraged Chamber members to stand up and make their voices heard to enact positive change within the business community. “Whether or not we continue to be a national leader in business growth and development will depend on what happens between now and March 7, 2020.”
After the House of Representative views, a panel discussion focused on the Senate perspectives for the General Assembly Session took place next, moderated by Dr. Bob Holsworth, Managing Partner of DecideSmart. Holsworth introduced four Senate of Virginia panelists: Jen Kiggans, Ryan McDougle, Jennifer McClellan, and Monty Mason. Holsworth asked panelists about opportunities for bipartisan collaboration in the business community.
Senator Mason highlighted the Port of Virginia as a business opportunity. He said, “For the last several years we have focused aggressively on the Port of Virginia as an enormous economic engine for the United States, much less for the Commonwealth.” Mason championed The 757 and recognized the Port of Virginia as well as offshore wind opportunities for bipartisan collaboration. “Where else in the world do you have a supply chain such as Virginia?” He also said renewable energy and the Port of Virginia provide a “dominant economic engine for the Commonwealth” that has been a topic of bipartisan agreement.
“Business is not a partisan issue,” said Senator Kiggans. She agreed with Mason’s point about The 757 and said, “As a representative of The 757, we have a growing and thriving business industry.” Kiggins mentioned the importance of supporting right-to-work laws and said there is much room for agreement among party members. McClellan shifted the conversation toward education reform. She argued that an educated population would ultimately have a positive effect on the business community. “A good educated populous is necessary for a good work base and is good for a thriving democracy,” said McClellan.
Senator McDougle agreed with fellow Senator’s comments about education, the Port of Virginia, and energy efficiency. However, McDouble said broadband is one issue that requires bipartisan collaboration, particularly in rural and urban regions. “Economic development is just as important, and the way we can grow all of Virginia, especially economically distressed areas, is for broadband access.”
Both McClelland and Mason agreed that early childhood education is a critical component of K-12 education. “Education is the foundation for any economic development,” said McClelland. She stressed the need to teach critical thinking skills to the youth to prepare them for the future. Mason agreed and reminded audience members that the quality of education and access are also crucial.
“We have a bias that everyone needs to go the traditional four-year college education track,” said McDougle. He agreed with McClelland and Mason but discussed the importance of trade and vocational schools for young adults. Kiggins added, “Workforce development is critical to educate students about their options outside of a four-year degree.” Overall, the Senate panel agreed that while there are different perspectives on each issue, Republicans and Democrats can work together to create positive change for Virginia.
“The federal budget has been very friendly to Virginia,” said Aubrey Lane, Virginia Secretary of Finance, as he delivered the keynote address during the Chamber Day at the Capitol. Lane described the tax and financial status of Virginia throughout his term as Secretary of Finance. “Last year, when you filed your tax return, you received additional revenue because of changes to standard deductions,” said Lane. He cited the positives in Virginia, such as job creation and the 2.6% unemployment rate in Virginia.
Lane discussed his proposed budget for the state and said, “This budget puts a lot into economic development. The good news is that Virginia is coming out of recession.” Lane told the audience that the proposed budget for Virginia should save $1.9 billion in reserves, which is the most in history. He also attributed economic success to the tech talent pipeline, which Amazon helped bring to the Commonwealth through its second HQ site. “There is a significant investment here in supporting business needs,” said Lane. In closing, Lane encouraged audience members to engage their elected officials and representatives to create change.
In closing, DuVal announced the launch of a coalition: Virginians for Employee Free Choice, which supports maintaining right-to-work laws in Virginia. “It’s not simply the businesses, it’s the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said DuVal. Virginians for Employee Free Choice is a coalition of businesses and business interests both large and small from across Virginia who are committed to protecting the Right-to-Work law in the Commonwealth.
“This is an essential component of the economic development and must be preserved and protected in its current form,” said Patrick Gottschalk, Former Secretary of Commerce and Trade for Virginia. Gottschalk reminded attendees that Virginians should support right-to-work laws if they want to maintain the number one ranking for business in the U.S. “Preserving and protecting the right-to-work is good for the Commonwealth and Virginians. It ensures we can compete for economic development projects and continue seeing new jobs created,” said Danielle Fitz-Hugh, President and CEO of the Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce.
DuVal urged attendees to support the Virginians for the Employee Free Choice coalition and visit www.vaemployeechoice.com to learn more. “With your voice, we will reign a strong and prosperous state."