‘GoVirginia’ announced

Published 8:55 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Delegate S. Chris Jones, of Suffolk, speaks to a crowd of about 75 at Norfolk’s Nauticus Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center on Tuesday morning about the GoVirginia initiative.

Delegate S. Chris Jones, of Suffolk, speaks to a crowd of about 75 at Norfolk’s Nauticus Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center on Tuesday morning about the GoVirginia initiative.

A group of business, education and government leaders came together on Tuesday to introduce a new regional initiative they hope will improve the Hampton Roads economy.

“The problem is simple,” said John O. Wynne, chair of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation and former president and chief executive officer of Landmark Communications. “We’re overly dependent on public sector and government contract jobs.”

The announcement was made to a crowd of about 75 at the Nauticus Half Moone Cruise and Celebration Center in Norfolk.

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Called GoVirginia, collaborators on the project include the Virginia Business Higher Education Council and the Council on Virginia’s Future. It’s being implemented in every region of the state, but it is especially germane to Hampton Roads, which historically has had an economy heavily reliant on defense spending.

“We’ve been able to ride the crest of federal funding for a very long time, and we think those days are coming to an end,” Wynne added.

The numbers paint a picture that shows Virginia has room for growth. The U.S. Department of Commerce ranked the state 48th for economic growth in 2014. Of its top 20 employers, 13 are in the public sector, again showing the dependence on government spending.

It was too early on Tuesday to talk about specific actions government might take in support of the initiative. But, according to a video shown at the event, support in general might include seed money for innovation, investment in economic development resources, encouraging local governments to collaborate more, providing matching funds for research-related needs such as laboratory equipment, and improving infrastructure.

Wynne said the new initiative is “not about new taxes or increasing taxes,” nor is it about new layers of government or bureaucracy.

“This is all about creating a better tomorrow for our children and our grandchildren,” Wynne said. “Economic development is not a partisan issue. Job creation is not a partisan issue.”

Highlighting the point, legislators from both sides of the aisle were on the program — and they both happen to represent parts of Suffolk.

Delegate S. Chris Jones, a Republican and the House Appropriations Chair, said he intends to work with other legislators to identify and repurpose dollars to put toward the initiative.

“The way we do it isn’t working, and it’s not going to work in the future,” he said.

Delegate Matthew James, a Democrat, said he is “enthusiastic” about the initiative. He said local governments need to “stop cannibalizing each other” when it comes to economic development because a business picking up from one Virginia locality and moving to another hurts the state as a whole.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, also at the event, was also passionate about the intiative.

“We’ve seen great success, but now we need to turbocharge it up,” he said, boasting the state’s 4.9-percent unemployment rate — lowest in the Southeast, he said — and the first billion-dollar revenue month ever in Virginia, which came in June.

“We’ve made tremendous progress, he said. “We’re just taking it to the next level.”

Asked after the program whether he thought localities would get on board, he gave a definitive answer.

“I don’t think they have an option anymore,” he said, pointing again to the declining federal spending. “The voters want results, and they don’t care how you get there.”