Building Opportunity: The Economy

July 17, 2017


And by working together, Virginians have made a lot of progress — starting innovative new businesses, investing in their own and their children’s skills, coming together to build and upgrade critical infrastructure such as the Port of Virginia, creating great schools and colleges, and fighting to make sure everyone has the chance to fully participate in those schools and workplace opportunities.

As a result of this hard work and investment, the state’s economy is strong. And yet it’s still not working for everyone.

Virginia workers have increased their skills and education in recent years. Sixty-nine percent of people working in Virginia now have at least some college education, up from 59 percent a decade ago and 40 percent in 1979. Still, real median wages have stagnated, and low-wage workers have actually seen losses compared to a decade ago. Only Virginians with a bachelor’s degree or higher have seen real wage increases in the past decade. And in too many places, there are still fewer jobs than a decade ago.

Building an economy that works for everyone, in every corner of the state, means tackling the tough issues. It means working together to make sure everyone is prepared for, and can afford, the training and education they need. It means building and maintaining the physical underpinnings of a strong economy. When Virginians came together to improve the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads and build the Inland Port in Front Royal, we were making an investment in all of our future that’s paid off in good jobs. We can and should continue coming together to make sure everyone, in every corner of the state, has every opportunity to reach their potential.


Smart investments to build communities that work

By making smart investments in the building blocks of strong, dynamic economies, we can create jobs today and set up all communities for success. That’s part of our history. In 1816 the General Assembly created the nation’s first board of public works to build roads and canals, and later cities invested in safe drinking water systems to make sure people could live and work safely in growing centers of commerce.

Today, Virginia boasts many of the fundamental building blocks that allow strong communities, commerce, and innovation to thrive, such as functioning road, rail, and water systems. However, some of those systems are wearing out from age. There are 1,200 Virginia bridges that are structurally deficient, some stressed by overuse as new suburban development has put heavy demands on networks built for rural communities. And other systems that could help Virginia excel have yet to be built, such as modern telecommunications capacity in every Virginia community.

Uneven Jobs Growth-01

Meanwhile, the past decades of unbalanced growth have created challenges that we must come together to address. In some parts of Virginia, the growing economy has also brought gridlock, leaving commuters stuck in traffic, and young people unable to buy a home, while the construction industry has yet to recover to job levels of a decade ago. In other parts of the state, the loss of jobs and population leave the dream of a better future out of reach. And across many communities, infrequent and unreliable bus service too often leaves working people stranded by the side of the road. By working with local communities to identify areas where new growth can be accommodated, including opportunities for infill development in areas that are already served by roads, transit, sewers, and schools, and then partnering with the local communities to reform outdated zoning laws that are barriers to modern smart communities, Virginia can help young families build their future while also strengthening neighborhoods.



  • Repair the infrastructure legacy that was built by prior generations.
    Through vision and hard work, people in Virginia came together in the past to build the basic systems that allow healthy communities and modern businesses to function. Too many of those systems — from the DC Metro to the drinking water systems of many communities — are crumbling, however. Repairing and modernizing these systems for today’s economy and communities will provide good jobs in the short term and prevent catastrophe in the future.
  • Make sure everyone, in every part of the state, has access to high-speed, affordable internet access.
    In most of Virginia, entrepreneurs and families can choose from a variety of high-speed internet access options. In some places, however, there may be no options, or only one provider that charges very high prices. By partnering with local communities using tools like community broadband, access can be expanded to families and businesses in underserved areas.
  • Make smart, targeted investments to make sure people in all parts of Virginia can get to work, get home, and afford to raise a family.
    Through targeted use of federal transportation funds, providing low-cost loans to local school divisions seeking to modernize facilities, and encouraging local governments to reform zoning practices, state policymakers can help solve some of the challenges created by unbalanced growth. This includes investing in better transit along dense suburban corridors, working with local communities to focus new housing and employment where it’s most needed and where basic infrastructure already exists, and modernizing outdated schools in older communities to improve the quality of life for hard-working families and to strengthen struggling neighborhoods.


Creating inclusive local economies and communities where everyone can reach their potential

Whether they are born here or move here, people value that Virginia is a good place to raise a family. Many families are able to afford a decent home in an area with good schools. And for the growing share of workers in Virginia who have a college degree, wages have increased significantly over the past decade, helping lift up themselves, their families, and their communities.

Although many workers in the state are doing well, too many hard-working families are struggling. Virginia’s troubling history of racial segregation, the exclusion of Black families from mortgage loans, and decades of underinvestment in schools that serve primarily Black students has created pockets of disinvestment and poverty in Virginia’s older cities and suburbs. Meanwhile, in rural southside and southwest Virginia, technological advancements and shifting global trade patterns have decimated communities of coal miners and textile workers. Too many young people in the state look around and see little hope for a bright future, despite the affluence of other parts of the state. And even those folks who are able to overcome the challenges of troubled communities too often face barriers, whether that’s difficulty obtaining a loan to start a new business, the inability to get a job due to overly restrictive licensing requirements, unfair competition from businesses that break the rules, or language barriers that make it hard to navigate confusing systems.

In order to foster broad-based prosperity and a thriving middle class, to create jobs today and an economy that continues to be strong far into the future, we need to come together and adopt policies that lead to strategic investments, integrate the economically and socially marginalized, and eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment and innovation.



  • Partner with local communities to tackle the toughest challenges and create real opportunity for all.
    Many of Virginia’s communities are making strides in supporting families by tackling the challenges that come with highly concentrated poverty. The state should support these local efforts that seek to build sustainable ladders to opportunity for today’s and tomorrow’s generations, and help local leaders in other parts of the state learn from the successes of the early experiments.
  • Help entrepreneurs overcome barriers to starting businesses through a state development bank.  
    Families and small businesses — even those with the strongest track record — can find it hard to borrow to start or expand their business. State development banks team up with local banks and credit unions to invest public dollars in local business initiatives. For the past 98 years, North Dakota has operated a state development bank to provide steady, reliable access to capital for local businesses, farmers, and banks, no matter what was happening at the big financial institutions in New York. The same could be done in Virginia.
  • Reduce barriers to employment by examining Virginia’s professional licensing requirements.
    Some occupational licenses are important for protecting employers, employees, and customers, but others are used to stifle competition and create barriers for workers trying to find jobs. A survey by the Institute for Justice found the educational/experience requirements for 102 lower-and middle-skill occupations averaged 462 days in Virginia, which is more than all but seven states. Similarly, non-compete agreements by companies like Jimmy John’s can create barriers for low-skill workers looking to find different or better opportunities. Virginia should more rigorously review new and existing occupational licenses, reduce education and experience requirements where appropriate, and make it easier for licenses to transfer across state lines.
  • Crack down on businesses that break the rules by better enforcing Virginia’s employment laws.
    When companies cut corners and misclassify employees as independent contractors or fail to pay the wages that their workers are owed, everyone else is forced to foot the bill. Workers are cheated out of vital wages, benefits, and protections, responsible employers lose business opportunities and the state and federal governments lose out on important tax revenue for K-12 education, healthcare, colleges, police and fire protection, and other services.
  • Empower immigrants to further contribute to the economy.
    Immigrants play an important part in Virginia’s communities and economy. Policies that allow and encourage immigrants to reach their full potential benefit everyone. That includes allowing more folks to play by Virginia’s rules by broadening access to driver’s licenses and providing help to everyone in navigating complicated systems such as applying for a business license.


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