Administration Officials Stress Need for Broadband Access for all Rural Virginia at Annual Caucus Re
RICHMOND, Virginia (January 31, 2019) – Bringing universal broadband coverage to rural Virginia remains a top priority for the Commonwealth, Governor Ralph Northam told more than 200 elected officials, business and government leaders at the annual Rural Caucus Reception in Richmond on Wednesday, January 30.
“There is no way today that business can grow in Virginia, there is no way that a business will want to come to Virginia, especially rural Virginia, if we don’t have universal access to broadband,” Northam said. “Our goal in Virginia is to make Virginia the most business-friendly state in the country. We want to make sure all Virginians, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, have a job to support themselves and their families with.”
In addition to Northam, Lt. Governor of Virginia Justin Fairfax and Joseph Mengedoth, Associate Regional Economist, Federal Reserve Bank gave brief remarks to attendees at the annual event co-hosted by the Center for Rural Virginia and the Virginia Association of Counties.
A number of secretariats, other state administration officials and members of the General Assembly’s Rural Caucus attended. All told, representatives from 30 counties across the state attended the event, and hundreds more tuned in to the Facebook Live video feed and live Twitter coverage.
“Coming together at events like this – sharing challenges and best practices face-to-face – are among the best ways we can all advocate for rural Virginia,” said Kristie Proctor, Executive Director of the Center for Rural Virginia. “Seeing so many representatives from across the Commonwealth – from the farthest corner of Southwest Virginia to the most eastern shores of rural coastal Virginia – at our annual Rural Caucus Reception gives me great hope for what we can all accomplish this year.”
With the General Assembly still in their 2019 session, economic development remains a key topic when it comes to developing policy to grow rural Virginia.
While the Virginia unemployment rate currently sits at 2.8 percent, Northam said, “I remind people that if you go to the Eastern Shore where I’m from, or the Southside or the Southwest, we still have a lot of work to do.”
In addition to broadband, among the initiatives legislators are tracking this General Assembly session include improvements on the Interstate 81 corridor where a great deal of commerce occurs, supporting continued efforts to attract visitors to Virginia with tourism being the fifth largest industry in the state, and the importance of supporting and growing agriculture and forestry operations across the Commonwealth.
“People sometimes forget that agriculture and forestry remain the number one industry in Virginia,” Northam said. “We need to do everything that we can to encourage our farmers, our foresters.”
Ninety percent of Virginia is rural, Lt. Governor Fairfax noted in his remarks.
“Opportunity is the oxygen of a democracy and where it exists people and communities grow and thrive,” Fairfax said. “We want to make sure there is more opportunity in all parts of the Commonwealth, but in particular in our rural areas.”
People in rural Virginia need those opportunities, Mengedoth of the Federal Reserve Bank noted.
In some rural Virginia areas, Mengedoth explained in his remarks, the unemployment rate is on the decline not because people are finding jobs, but rather because people are giving up looking for jobs and leaving the labor force all together.
“I believe we live in the best state in the best country in the world,” Northam said “Let’s all continue to work together to do everything that we can to bring rural Virginia back.”
About the Center for Rural Virginia: The Virginia Rural Center is a collaborative partnership of the Center for Rural Virginia and the Council for Rural Virginia. Together, these two organizations work with federal, state and local policymakers as well as business leaders to grow economic opportunities and preserve the quality of life throughout rural Virginia. To learn more visit www.cfrv.org.
About the Virginia Association of Counties: The Virginia Association of Counties supports county officials and represents, promotes and protects the interests of the state’s more than 90 counties. VACo monitors state and federal legislation for changes affecting local governments, and offers assistance to county leaders regarding planning and implementing new ideas and technologies. Find out more about VACo at www.vaco.org.