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Northam outlines administration plans during Tysons event

Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam addresses the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) at its annual TechCelebration banquet in Tysons Corner. Angela Woolsey/Fairfax County Times
Governor-elect Ralph Northam hopes to double the number of veterans employed in Virginia over the course of his upcoming four-year term, the former U.S. Army doctor pledged in a speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) during its annual TechCelebration banquet at The Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner.

Virginia has already passed the goal set forth by current Gov. Terry McAuliffe of hiring 20,000 veterans through the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) program, a free training and certification program that helps employers recruit, hire, and retain former military service members.

Organized by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services (VDVS), the V3 program launched on June 12, 2012 with a Richmond conference of 63 employers representing 50 companies that aimed to educate employers on the value that veterans can bring to the workforce and how they can connect with that talent pool.

Since then, the V3 program has enrolled 546 companies and certified 452 of them, resulting in 28,267 reported hires of veterans, according to VDVS’s website for the program.

Upon taking office in 2014, McAuliffe challenged the program’s certified employers to hire at least 20,000 veterans by 2018, a goal that the Commonwealth met 400 days ahead of schedule on Nov. 1, 2016, according to an online press release from the VDVS’s news room.

With the program surpassing 25,000 hires earlier this year, V3 program manager Michael Bluemling Jr. told WAVY-TV on Aug. 10 that the new goal is to achieve 30,000 hires by the end of McAuliffe’s administration.

“I would really like to double that,” Northam said at the NVTC’s Dec. 11 event. “Don’t tell Gov. McAuliffe that we’re going to outdo him, but that’s the plan over the next four years.”

As a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Northam was commissioned into the Army as a second lieutenant and served in Germany as a doctor treating soldiers wounded in Operation Desert Storm.

The governor-elect cites that experience as a key motivator behind his interest in helping active and former military members.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Virginia had 729,398 veterans in fiscal year 2016, constituting more than 11 percent of the Commonwealth’s total adult population.

58.8 percent of Virginia’s veteran population, or an estimated 460,000 people, had employment in 2016, according to an economic news release from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics on the national employment situation of veterans.

However, the bureau recorded 16,000 veterans, or 3.4 percent of the Commonwealth’s total veteran population, as unemployed in 2016, with an additional 306,000 veterans not participating in the labor force.

Northam hopes to change those statistics as governor.

“We want to make sure that Virginia is the most veteran-friendly state in the country,” the governor-elect said.

While he will not take office for another month, with his inauguration scheduled for Jan. 13, 2018, Northam has already started laying out an agenda for how he would like to build off of the legacy left behind by the McAuliffe administration, which he served as lieutenant governor.

Northam credits McAuliffe’s leadership for helping inch Virginia away from its historic dependence on government contracting and the military as an economic foundation.

As the state sought to recover from the sequestration imposed on federal spending in 2013, McAuliffe released a New Virginia Economy Strategic Plan on Dec. 5, 2014 at the Virginia Chamber’s Economic Summit.

The report called for the creation a “new Virginia economy” by expanding the state’s economic infrastructure, diversifying into high-growth industries, using tax incentives and other tools to foster a good business climate, encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, and collaborating with educational institutions to ensure the future workforce has the skills needed to succeed in this new economy.

McAuliffe’s plan has seen some early success, as the unemployment rate in the Commonwealth has gone from 5.4 percent when he took office in January 2014 down to 3.6 percent as of October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to Northam, more than 215,000 new jobs have been created in Virginia, and the state attracted over $19 billion in capital investment over the course of McAuliffe’s administration.

However, Virginia’s governor-elect says there is still room for improvement when it comes to the economy, pointing to ongoing challenges in rural parts of the state and the need to train workers for 21st century jobs, especially in the technology sector, as his top priorities.

While Virginia as a whole has a relatively low unemployment, that success has not been evenly distributed, with the state’s southwestern region in particular still seeing unemployment rates as high as 6.9 percent, according to the Commonwealth’s labor market data for October.

Rural areas also still lack the infrastructure necessary to build a viable economy.

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 State of the Commonwealth Report found that 38 percent of the state’s rural population – the equivalent of approximately 900,000 residents – lacked broadband access, compared to only 3 percent of urban Virginians.

“There is no excuse that there are so many pockets in Virginia that don’t have access to broadband,” Northam said. “How can you grow a business, how can you start a new business, how can you educate children if we don’t have access to broadband?”

Northam also promised to continue working with the academic community and private sector to provide training for what he calls 21st century jobs in industries such as cybersecurity, data analysis and collection, and biotechnology.

A technology needs assessment released by the NVTC in December 2016 found that employers struggle to find college graduates and other potential workers with the right qualifications for jobs in the technology sector, which requires not just technical abilities, but also soft skills like communication and critical thinking.

As the largest technology council in the country, the NVTC represents about 300,000 employees in the Northern Virginia region and serves around 1,000 companies and organizations.

“We need to work together with our education system and the private sector to really train the workforce for 21st century work,” Northam said. “…I look forward to working with NVTC to expand our economy in Northern Virginia.”


If you are serious about this ” expanding the state’s economic infrastructure” wouldn’t it make sense to at least set up a study group to evaluate moving Dulles Airport parking lot land ownership back to Virginia from the federal government? Obviously parking tied to metro usage is NOT NATIONAL SECURITY intensive as reuqired under the 1986 Act that moved the land to the federal government which MWAA has been happily taking advantage of for decades!
Bob Ohneiser Esq.

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