“It is important that our members and the business community-at-large have an opportunity to hear from their elected leaders on issues of importance to them,” began Bryan K. Stephens, President and CEO, Hampton Roads Chamber, during the 2019 Congressional Forum.
Congressman Bobby Scott (VA 3rd District), Congressman Rob Wittman (VA 1st District), and Congresswoman Elaine Luria (VA 2nd District) convened with business leaders and Chamber members on Monday, November 25, 2019, at the Hilton Norfolk, The Main. These three Congressional Representatives met to discuss outstanding issues currently debated in Washington.
The purpose of the annual Congressional Forum is to provide the business community with an opportunity to engage with members of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the issues facing the nation, the Commonwealth, and Hampton Roads. “We truly appreciate the work our regional Congressional Representatives do to support the business community and are delighted they are with us today,” said Stephens.
“One of the issues of particular interest to the business community is that of higher education,” said Congressman Scott. He delivered opening remarks focused on the importance of affordable higher education and proper training for the future of America’s workforce. “We’re looking at what’s called the future of work, and we want to make sure we’re training people for the right jobs.”
Scott also stressed the need for an increased minimum wage. “After ten years of no increase, a full-time minimum-wage worker cannot afford a modest two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.” He said increasing the minimum wage is needed for Americans.
“It is incredibly important for our economy that we focus workforce development,” said Congressman Rob Wittman. Congressman Wittman noted the employment rate in Virginia is at an all-time low and highlighted the importance of a skilled workforce in today’s world. “We are at maximum employment, and the limiting factor for most businesses is getting employees who are trained and ready for the job,” said Wittman. He agreed with Congressman Scott on educational reform. He reiterated the importance of development for children and students to ensure future success.
Congressman Wittman also said broadband is a critical component of Virginia’s economic opportunity as well as ensuring academic success for the next generation. Wittman said access to broadband is a necessity for families, business owners, and across America. “We must build broadband systems out,” Wittman said.
Congresswoman Elaine Luria spoke on the need for military readiness, environmental and sea-level rise in Hampton Roads, and the demand for nuclear energy. She mentioned the defense department budget, and how out of date amenities and facilities can negatively impact deployment and training schedules for service members. Luria said, “Wind and solar are key components of our future energy, but I think that nuclear energy has to be an aspect of that.” She also noted the environmental and security effects of sea-level rise at Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Oceana, and Langley Air Force Base. “When I look at these issues, they’re not just national security-related, or military readiness related," said Luria. "They’re the jobs and livelihood of the people in our community and of the people you employ throughout the region.“
The Congressional panel took questions from the audience. “Do you see a path to an appropriations bill by December 20?” asked Admiral Craig Quigley, Executive Director of Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance. Congressman Scott replied, “There has been a bicameral agreement on top-line items for the appropriations bill, and that was a breakthrough for us. I don’t see any reason why we can’t get the job done.” Congressman Luria added, “I think we have a responsibility on both sides to look to our local economy and try to find efficiencies.”
Bryan Stephens asked for comments on the impact of the current administration's tariffs on China and the effect on the business community. Congressman Wittman stated, “I’ve been a vocal opponent of tariffs, I don’t think it’s an effective way to negotiate trade deals.” Wittman said it was incumbent upon Congress to negotiate business practices and trade policies effectively with China. “I think if China wants access to our businesses, then our businesses retain ownership of their intellectual property,” said Wittman. He argued that a direct and straightforward approach with China regarding tariffs and trade is the best way to continue growing business opportunities.
“The problem with the tariffs right now can be seen in the fact that we have to spend billions of dollars bailing out farmers. Hopefully, we can do better than what we’re doing,” said Congressman Scott. Congresswoman Luria agreed with Scott, “The retaliatory tariffs are having an impact, and our exports are appearing to go down.” She went on to say that agricultural districts along the Eastern Shore have experienced a decline in exports due to the tariffs.
The congressional panel discussed the rising threat to national security with China. “To maintain American economic superiority, we need to be engaged militarily, diplomatically, and economically in these countries," said Congresswoman Luria. "If we don’t keep our foot in the door, someone else is going to walk in.”
The Hampton Roads Chamber is the premier pro-business organization serving as an Impactful Advocate, Powerful Economic Partner, Inspiring Ignitor, and Regional Collaborator, setting the conditions for businesses to succeed.
Thank you to the following 2019 Congressional Forum sponsors: Cox (Presenting Sponsor); The Hilton Norfolk | The Main (Host Sponsor); The Port of Virginia (Gold Sponsor); Newport News Shipbuilding (Silver Sponsor); Entercom Communications, Virginia Maritime Association, and Troutman Sanders LLP (Bronze Sponsors); Bon Secours (Platinum Legislative Affairs Partner); Chesapeake Regional Healthcare and Sentara (Gold Legislative Affairs Partners); Clark Nexsen (Silver Legislative Affairs Partner); and Sinclair Communications (Radio Sponsor).