“We have three leaders today to focus on recovery, opening businesses, and pivoting to the positive." Bryan Stephens, President, and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber welcomed nearly 100 Chamber members to the zoom call with Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball, President and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Stephen Moret, and President and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Barry DuVal.
Secretary Ball began the discussion with a glimmer of light for economic recovery. “We are very much still in the economic development business. We will have some announcements coming but have muted the message during the crisis. For the long term economic recovery, the best thing we can do is keep growing the businesses that are here and bring more.“
Barry DuVal praised Hampton Roads' regional efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. "The port is continuing to operate. Overall, Virginia is weathering this pandemic better than most states. We rely on our strengths. I commend Bryan Stephens, Doug Smith (CEO & President of the Alliance), and Jim Spore (CEO of ReInvent Hampton Roads) for recognizing that economics is regional. Working together, you'll create a brighter future for your region.”
Stephen Moret echoed DuVal’s comments. “I’m really impressed with how the Hampton Roads region, 757, has come together. Virginia is doing better because of linkage to the federal government and professional occupations that lend well to social distancing. Having a Governor who is a doctor has been helpful for Virginia. We are looking at ways Virginia and our partners can support economic recovery. There are companies positioned to experience growth. We are reaching out domestically and internationally to them.” Later in the conversation, Moret answered a question from Chamber member Angie Bezik about those industries that VEDP expects to grow and prosper. “VEDP has reached out to 1000 companies about relocation and expansion. Cloud computing opportunities, telehealth as a sector, and technology related to that, distribution to mitigate supply chain risk. These are all potential growth markets."
In asking about a regional rather than a statewide approach to reopening, Bryan Stephens stressed the importance of opening the beaches for the business community. “Our hospitality industry is fearful we may lose summer.” Chamber member Glen Robertson followed up asking for more specifics from Secretary Ball on why the Governor is not reopening the beaches. Ball candidly said, “You are not going to like my response. We have seen other beach openings in other regions of the country. We know disease spreads where people congregate. It is not encouraging where beaches are opening. We got a great proposal from Virginia Beach on how they would like to do reopening, and we are working through this."
Newport News Mayor McKinley Price wanted assurance for his constituents that there will be equitable enforcement of guidelines. “Representing a minority concern, we all know the statistics of minorities getting the disease the most and are in the jobs that are the most affected." Secretary Ball stressed that workers and consumers must feel safe. "The Department of Labor has an industry website and if a worker feels employers or employees are not following the requirements for the workplace, we will investigate. It is so critical to have consumer trust. Workers need to feel safe. We are ramping up testing and tracing in disproportionate communities. But we have to be careful, there is a certain level of distrust, and we don't want people to feel threatened.”
Both Chris Stone, CEO of Clark Nexsen, and Greg Garrett, CEO of Garrett Realty Partners, have processes in place for their companies to sustain and thrive during the pandemic. Garrett said, “There are companies that have been able to stay open and increase business. We need to share best practices for those who are trying to open.” Stone set his company up for teleworking several years ago. His concern now is the talent pipeline. “We rely on a highly-skilled workforce. Now there are deep cuts in higher education and a large number of students deferring for a year." Secretary Ball responded with the hope that the Administration and the General Assembly will "reforecast the budget this summer to determine what we have to spend."
DuVal asked all the business leaders on the call to help determine the next steps by filling out a survey. “Blueprint for Getting Virginians Back to Work is an initiative that will provide recommendations on operating in the current economic climate caused by COVID-19 and how to return stronger than before. The Virginia Chamber will be collecting input from members of the business community to develop this initiative.”
Doug Smith, President & CEO of the Alliance, urged participants also to utilize resources and surveys on the 757Recovery.com website. "We've completed two surveys here in Hampton Roads. The first was a benchmark; the second shows comparison data. A Third survey will build on work we have done, and the state chamber has done to set the recovery framework to launch on the 757Recovery site.”
When asked about the Commonwealth’s status as #1 State to do business, Moret said he believes a lot of what is already in place will make Virginia competitive post-pandemic. "Many of the same things are critical, including a pro-business environment, broadband, transportation, and infrastructure. These are already in the budget. But we are in for a period of extended unemployment so we must attract new investment. Investing in international trade will be essential, as will site development—the most common reason we have lost businesses is other states have sites ready.”
DuVal wrapped up his comments by stating lessons learned during this crisis will make Virginia stronger. “In terms of prioritization, it is always about talent closely followed by connectivity. Remote working is more important now more than ever. We can emerge out of this better, stronger, more robust. It will come down to talent for every region, connectivity will be deciding factor for each region.”
Moret and Ball thanked the participants for their input. These sessions help the Administration shape the policies and procedures to reopen Virginia safely.