Gov. McAuliffe Touts Progress on Initiatives Driving Economic Development at Virginia Rural Center C
South Boston, Va. – At the 2017 Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity on Monday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe touted low unemployment, improvements in education and demand for high tech jobs among the strides made during his administration’s tenure.
The annual summit presented by the Virginia Rural Center is a gathering of the Commonwealth’s administration, elected officials, community leaders, educators, and businesses to discuss the challenges in and solutions for growing rural Virginia’s economy.
“Rural Virginia is the backbone of the new Virginia economy,” Gov. McAuliffe said, noting that of the $16.5 billion in new economic development brought during his administration’s tenure, nearly $6 billion went to rural communities.
Gov. McAuliffe called out Lancaster County and Page County as rural areas where unemployment rates dropped by seven percent each. He explained that initial unemployment insurance claims across Virginia hit a 43 year low earlier this year and during his Administration, Virginia’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent, the state’s lowest mark since 1973.
“We’re close to full employment here in the commonwealth,” said Gov. McAuliffe. “Our problem is we have too many open jobs we’re not filling.”
He said that there are 36,000 cyber jobs that are open in Virginia and that credentialing programs and other educational initiatives will help ensure that workers in rural communities can help fill those positions.
Danville Community College, with its cyber degree offering, is the newest of 17 centers of cyber excellence in the state, designated by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.
“Northern Virginia would like to have people in Danville,” Gov. McAuliffe said.
The growing role of community colleges in workforce development was a topic discussed by other presenters during conference sessions.
“It’s not just about four-year degrees,” said Jim Dyke, a member of the Virginia Research Investment Committee and GO (Growth and Opportunity) Virginia. “Many jobs can be filled by certifications and associate degrees.”
Dyke’s remarks came during a State Economic Development Initiatives panel discussion moderated by Todd Haymore, Secretary of Commerce and Trade.
“Workforce development has emerged as the number-one thing for economic development,” said Haymore, who also outlined the goals and progress of the GO Virginia initiative that launched last year.
Broadband internet access was another key theme throughout the first day of the conference and the focus of a panel discussion hosted by Bill Shelton, Director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
“Today, every conversation across the commonwealth has a broadband component,” explained Shelton.
“For rural areas, lack of broadband connectivity can be a showstopper to attracting large businesses,” said panelist Tad Deriso, President and CEO of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation.
Deriso explained how the completion of a fiber optic cable between Spain and Virginia Beach makes the Commonwealth an even more important telecommunications hub which will benefit rural Virginia specifically.
Ed Gillespie, Republican Candidate for Governor, also discussed the expansion of broadband internet in his remarks kicking off the summit.
“Seventy percent of all internet traffic across the globe flows through Virginia,” said Gillespie. “Yet 900,000 Virginians do not have access to broadband capability.”
Gillespie pledged to cut the number in half if he were elected governor.
In recognition of the Virginia Rural Center’s important work at the intersection of business, intergovernmental, academia, and non-profit partnerships, Gillespie called to double the size of the Virginia Rural Center’s budget if elected governor. He also said that Rural Virginia will be invited to co-locate in the Office of the Governor to ensure Rural Virginia has a front row to policymaking.
Agricultural development opportunities also took center stage, with an emphasis on the use of technology and innovative grocery business models.
“Let’s position Virginia as the silicon valley of agriculture technology and innovation,” said Basil Gooden, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry. “Technology will change the way agriculture moves forward, and we want Virginia to be at the forefront.”
Marcus Scarborough, Vice President of Honor Capital, talked about tackling the problem of “food deserts” in rural areas, and compared the grocery business model of large retailers to the more favorable pricing of the model the smaller local stores supported by his firm.
He said that while big box stores require an $80 average checkout basket size to meet their target numbers, his stores only require a $20 checkout size that is much more appealing to lower incomes in both rural and urban areas.
“We’re finding that grocery stores are a catalyst for economic development in local communities,” said Scarborough.
The Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity continued Tuesday with panels on clean energy as an economic development tool, regional asset development and entrepreneurship, and innovative workforce solutions.
For more information, visit www.cfrv.org.
The Virginia Rural Center is a collaborative partnership of the Center for Rural Virginia and the Council for Rural Virginia, which work together on a joint mission to work with policymakers and stakeholders to create innovative solutions and expand entrepreneurial opportunities to ensure economic prosperity for all regions in the Commonwealth. The creation of the Center was a recommendation of the Rural Prosperity Commission, created by the General Assembly in 2000. Learn more about the Center and Council at www.cfrv.org.