His thoughts — Virginia’s economy

Published 3:35 pm Thursday, April 28, 2022

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In the last couple of years, our former governor bragged about how Virginia was rated No. 1 by CNBC. That sounded good, however, if Virginia was fairly rated No. 1, why have North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida all been getting more companies moving to them than we are? These are the facts behind those two conflicting beliefs.

CNBC rating was once well respected. In recent years, they have let their “woke” thinking change the way they ranked states. They rank such things as trained workforce, available sites, college level attainment, quality of life, and cost of living. More recently, they added intangible criteria such as equity and diversity. These are not the issues that most chief executives base their decisions. When surveyed, CEOs rate Virginia between 14th and 20th.

The COVID Issue

COVID clearly had a bad effect on our economy. Almost one out of nine of every job that existed in February 2019 disappeared. Nationally it was worse. We were partially protected by having a higher percentage of our jobs dependent on the military and government entities.

Now, two years later, we are regaining those jobs at a slower pace. Of the 450,000 jobs lost, over 200,000 have not returned. When compared to the states south of us, we are way behind.

A most troubling fact is the number of folks who range 18-65 years old who have decided to not return to work. Some have opted for early retirement, while others have figured out ways to have money that does not require working a regular job. Employers not having key employees have limited some companies return to normal and growing their business.

The Economic Development Partnership

This is the nonpartisan part of state government that is solely focused on job creation. After analyzation, they are determining what steps need to be taken to better compete.

They reviewed from 2014, when we were ranked 24th, to today, where we rank 20th. With the work of the Partnership and Growth Virginia (which I serve on), we began the process of developing more sites that will hopefully attract new businesses. The budget that is currently being developed will include $150 million to make these sites ready for industry. Virginia has not kept pace with competing states.

In the last six years, we have missed out on at least eight major opportunities that could have created 47,000 direct jobs, 97,000 affiliated jobs, and increased state revenues by over $400 million. This includes automotive companies looking to expand as well as computer chip manufacturers, all multibillion investments.

Legislation that Delegate Kathy Byron and I successfully carried this year extended the sunset for the Major Business Facilities Job Tax Credit to 2025. This is a major tool to attract companies.

The Port of Virginia

A bright spot in Virginia’s economic picture is our port. We are very fortunate to have a water channel to the port that is the deepest on the east coast. This enables the massive cargo ships to come to Virginia first to unload containers before moving on to shallower ports. This is true in reverse, allowing our agriculture products an advantage over others. Currently, to handle the ever growing size ships, other ports are working on deepening their ports. We in turn are doing the same to remain first.

The Major Employment and Investment Commission

Better known as MEI, is the oversight group that evaluates the major projects that come before the Partnership for consideration to ensure that a project is truly a good investment for the state.  I currently sit on that commission and served as chairman in 2018-19. During my tenure, funding was approved for projects around the state including Amazon HQ2 in Northern Virginia, Blue Star Gloves in Southwest, CoStar in Richmond, Microsoft in Southern Virginia, Volvo Truck in Roanoke region, CMA CGM in Tidewater, Merck in the Valley plus others around the Commonwealth. I am delighted that Delegate Danny Marshall has recently been appointed also.

As you can see, much is being done to create jobs and opportunities. However, more must be done. Currently, our universities are educating young people. Regrettably, currently, after spending tax dollars to educate them, too many are moving to competing states.

Every community should be focused on keeping and attracting employers to offer young people the opportunity near home.

Frank Ruff Jr. represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.