Todd P. Haymore Column: The Keys to Making Virginia More Competitive by Securing Significant Investments | Columnists

By Todd P. Haymore

AAnyone who has worked with me knows that I enjoy using old sayings to help explain a current issue or matter.

One of my favorite sayings is, “You can’t win if you’re not at the table – you have to be where the action is to win.”

When it comes to economic development, this saying is true, but could be changed: “You can’t win projects if you don’t have sites ready – you have to have them ready to bring you the action.”

Virginia, for all its attributes, is sometimes not where the action is due to site preparation issues.

Fortunately, recent actions by former Governor Ralph Northam, new Governor Glenn Youngkin, and the General Assembly seek to address these issues and bring more action to Virginia.

Economic development is a highly competitive endeavour. This involves states working with localities and private sector partners to attract business investment that creates jobs, broadens tax bases and brings other benefits.

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To win these investments, economic development officials try to make the most competitive offer possible to a company, usually based on the company’s planned investment and job creation.

Virginia does all of this well and is ranked best for business for many reasons: the best elementary and secondary education systems; excellent workforce development programs; a low and stable corporate income tax structure; “right to work” status; a world-class port system; and abundant natural resources, to name a few. But, we cannot rely on these benefits alone or remain static in economic development.

Undeniably, Virginia has worked hard over the past decade to make itself more attractive for new investment. For example, we doubled the size of the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund, created new initiatives such as GO Virginia and the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, and reformed the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to ensure companies meet certain performance metrics before to receive incentives.

At the same time, Virginia became more creative. For example, when recruiting Amazon HQ2, we looked beyond incentives and considered how our higher education institutions could play a role in Amazon’s expansion and, in turn, prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future. This originality, coupled with an attractive performance-based incentive package and exceptional partners, helped Virginia land HQ2 and its 25,000 jobs.

Unfortunately, this victory is not the norm. According to VEDP, a lack of ready-made sites is the most common reason why Virginia has lost major projects in recent years.

I witnessed this when I was secretary of commerce and trade, when we lost at least four multi-billion dollar capital projects, including a high-profile auto plant in Alabama, because we didn’t. had no suitable sites.

More recently, Ohio landed a microchip factory that will create 3,000 jobs with six-figure average salaries. Virginia was in the running for this project and several others who chose to settle elsewhere.

For large projects, such as automobile and chip manufacturing, megasites are essential. A megasite is generally considered a landmass of 1,000 acres or more, with at least 700 contiguous, developable acres, that are leveled, have utilities, and are ready for construction by a company. Virginia has only nine sites that could meet these criteria.

In addition, the Commonwealth has worked to ensure that it has more business-ready sites of at least 500 contiguous acres. We have 18 such sites, but only three are identified as ready for business.

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done on these fronts. Fortunately, VEDP, through the Virginia Business Ready Sites Program, works with partners to increase competitiveness by identifying or improving sites.

Why? Because in today’s competitive environment, “ready-to-go sites are really becoming a selection factor,” according to Michelle Comerford of Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., a leading site selector.

We know the challenge and what we need to do to meet it. Youngkin and the General Assembly have an opportunity to accelerate progress made over the past decade and better position Virginia for greater economic development victories.

The opportunity arises via a new historical investment for the preparation of the site. Northam proposed $150 million in his outgoing budget for the VBRSP, and Youngkin signaled his support by offering more ongoing annual funding for the program.

Budgets recently approved by the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates keep funding in place, but with gaps that are both critical and concerning. These differences will likely be resolved by budget negotiators.

The most important thing is that the VBRSP receives at least 150 million dollars and soon. This significant investment—combined with maintaining or strengthening pro-growth policies, strong workforce development programs, strategic use of current incentives, and continued creativity—will make Virginia more competitive. for large projects that can create thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in capital expenditure. .

And maybe he’ll put a new twist on a favorite saying: “Virginia is at the table and ready to win when the action comes our way.”

Todd P. Haymore is managing director of the public affairs consultancy of Hunton Andrews Kurth. He served as Secretary of Commerce and Commerce for Governor Terry McAuliffe; Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry for Govs. McAuliffe and Bob McDonnell; and Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for Governor Tim Kaine. He is Vice Chairman of the GO Virginia Region 4 Board and a member of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Directors of RVA757 Connects. Contact him at: [email protected]