A short time ago, Virginia was considered the number one state to do business in.
However, in recent years, the Commonwealth has fallen behind other states.
Governor Ralph Northam hopes to change that.
“I believe that if we work together — and especially with the business community — we can certainly get back to being number one in the country,” he said.
Virginia’s economy and workforce development were two points that Northam discussed at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas on Thursday.
He gave his “State of the Commonwealth” address at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce’s Lunch with the Governor.
According to Northam, Virginia’s unemployment rate is 3.3 percent, which is the lowest it has been in more than 10 years.
With this positive news comes a few challenges. Becoming dependent on one or two industries, such as the military and government contracting, is one of them.
“No region in Virginia should be solely dependent on one industry,” Northam said. “So, with some urgency, I really believe that we need to diversify our economy.”
To diversify Virginia’s economy, officials must focus on workforce development.
Northam said it’s important to identify the 21st century jobs, which include cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.
Community members must also get past the stigma that children must attend four-year institutions to be successful.
“The reality is that it’s not really blue collar or white collar jobs anymore,” Northam said. “These are new collar jobs and you don’t really have to have a four-year education.”
Officials need to look at how they can promote the Commonwealth’s 23 community colleges and emphasize vocational and technical training, as well.
“If you want to help grow businesses in Virginia and also attract new businesses to Virginia, we have got to be able to train the 21 century workforce,” Northam said.
Broadband and the budget
Northam also emphasized the need to focus on rural parts of Virginia.
“I can promise you that if you go to the eastern shore of Virginia, or the south side of Virginia, or the southwest of Virginia, the unemployment rate is nowhere near 3.3 percent,” he said. “So, in order to lift up all of Virginia, we really have to help rural Virginia.”
Lack of access to broadband is one challenge many Virginia residents and businesses are facing.
“There is no excuse in 2018 that there are so many pockets across this great Commonwealth that don’t have access to broadband,” Northam said.
Northam also mentioned his plan to sign a two-year budget, a task he completed later on Thursday.
“[It’s] a budget that is something that, as a physician, I have felt very strongly about — and I suspect a lot of other people across the Commonwealth have, as well — but it will increase access to close to 400,000 working Virginians that today don’t have access to healthcare,” he said. “And so I think that that’s something that we can all be proud of.”
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