More than 40 business leaders gathered July 17 at Tidewater Community College’s Virginia Beach Campus for a Business Development Roundtable Discussion hosted by the Hampton Roads Chamber and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. The Business Development Caucus was founded by business owners who serve in the General Assembly. Its mission is to introduce and shepherd legislation that promotes entrepreneurship and job growth in the Commonwealth and to monitor and oppose legislation that is contrary to those goals of the caucus.
On-hand to listen to business leaders were Delegates Glenn Davis, Ron Villanueva, Chris Head and Senator Jeffrey McWaters. Former Delegate Mike Watson, now coordinating the Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Subcommittee, also addressed the group.
This Business Development Caucus meeting marked the 10th of its kind to be held in the Commonwealth. Delegate Glenn Davis said, “We are conducting a listening tour, going around right now figuring out how we can best serve and grow jobs and businesses.”
Opening up the discussion, Delegate Chris Head asked attendees, “If you had a magic wand and with a wave of that wand you are instantly able to have one new law or regulation that would help your business, or you could take an existing law or regulation and make it go away, what would it be?”
Ideas from the group included elimination of the redundancy of the Department of Environmental Quality, creating a more pro-business culture across the state, offer more incentives, improve the education system and workforce development, elimination of the Business Professional & Occupational License (BPOL) tax, streamline the permitting process, increase funding for Virginia Economic Development Partnership and reevaluate the procurement process.
Bryan K. Stephens, who for the last eight months has served as President & CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, explained that prior to serving in this role, he spent five years leading a manufacturing company in San Antonio, Texas. Stephens said, “In my experience in Texas, a lot of the success of existing businesses and the economic development bringing businesses into the region, has to do with the governmental culture at the state level. For instance, Texas has a very pro-business culture. They even go as far as to say ‘We are unapologetically pro-business.’ They then back it up with action. It starts with the Governor all the way down through state elected officials to the local officials. There are numerous incentive programs and tax initiatives that help businesses succeed and bring new businesses to the state of Texas.” Stephens then referred to CNBC’s recent “best states for business” ranking which dropped Virginia from fifth to eighth, adding, “In my opinion, we’re simply being out hustled by other states, Texas being one. Let’s take a look at our culture in the Commonwealth and make sure we truly are pro-business.”
Regional President for BB&T, Bob Boyd, serves as volunteer chair for the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance. Boyd said, “Economic development in Hampton Roads has a lot of moving parts with 14 different economic development departments and 15 jurisdictions.” He told the legislators, “Think about the funding for Virginia Economic Development Partnership.” Boyd believes that the entire annual budget for VEDP is less than just the marketing budgets for our competing states. Boyd said, “We’ve got to get assertive and aggressive and one place you can help is to make sure VEDP gets the funding they need, and then some, to do the job they need to do.”
Attorney Shepelle Watkins-White explained that her spouse is launching a small business and they have found it difficult to know where to go and what processes to follow and obtain resources. Watkins-White said, “If we could better disseminate information to the people who want to be entrepreneurs and make it a one-stop shop it would be helpful.”
Delegate Davis closed the discussion by stressing the attendees stay engaged and provide input. Davis said, “We really don’t get things done, you do! We can take these ideas. We can put a bill in. We can tell our colleagues why we need this bill passed and how it impacts growth of business and jobs in Virginia, but you are the ones living this day to day and feel the impact. You are the ones that have to come up and testify. We may be the ones that put the bills in and press the button, but we are not the ones that get things done, you do.”
Susan Long-Molnar of Managing Communications Consulting, who serves on the Chamber’s Norfolk Division Board, attended and said, “Delegate Chris Head did an excellent job of engaging the audience which represented a wide-range of business owners.” Long-Molnar suggested, “We need to develop incentives and marketing strategies targeted to large corporation headquarters to move to Virginia. This is essential to retaining other large corporations, increasing tax revenues, retaining the workforce, and much more. An analysis should be done to determine what “small business” means in the Commonwealth and whether changing the levels of small would confuse or how it would impact processes beyond VA. There is a huge difference between a company of 1-5 and one that has 100 employees.”
For more about the Business Development Caucus, visit www.bdcva.org. In addition, Virginia Department of Business Assistance maintains http://businessonestop.virginia.gov/, a one-stop shop website to assist entrepreneurs in obtaining the information and completing the steps required to register a business.