By Ralph Northam
Northam is governor of Virginia.
As governor, my mission is to build economic opportunity for all Virginians, no matter who you are or where you live, and our administration has hit the ground running. We’ve worked across the aisle to pass a balanced state budget that expands healthcare access to working Virginians, and invests in core priorities such as education, workforce development, and public safety. And we deposited money to the Commonwealth’s financial reserves to help us during the next economic downturn — preserving Virginia’s AAA bond rating in the process.
That’s the kind of progress we make when we focus on solutions, and don’t let politics keep us from working together. That’s what the Virginia Way means to me, and the way ahead can be a model for our Commonwealth, and the rest of the country.
This year, Virginia was ranked one of the top four states to do business in the nation, and we’ve maintained the lowest unemployment rate in a decade.
Ten years after the Great Recession, even in a state as economically strong as Virginia, there are places where the economy is still struggling. Many, though certainly not all, of those struggling communities are in rural Virginia — the Southwest, Southside, and Eastern Shore (where I grew up).
In my mission to build economic opportunity, I’ve been keeping an eye on rural Virginia. And to take advantage of economic opportunity when it comes, you need a healthy workforce. That’s been a challenge in rural Virginia, but it’s beginning to change this year thanks to leadership from both sides of the aisle. Across the Commonwealth, and especially in rural areas, people will have better access to healthcare because of our work expanding Medicaid.
This year, I’ve made more than 70 stops across rural Virginia, a third of which have been to Southwest Virginia. We’ve seen 51 business announcements in those areas for 3,400 new jobs and $751 million in new capital investment. There are exciting economic opportunities in good jobs such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare, cybersecurity, energy, and many other sectors.
But the number one thing I hear from business owners, throughout Virginia and the country, is that if we train our workforce, companies already in Virginia will expand and more companies will relocate here. Working together, I know we can better prepare Virginians for the jobs of the 21st century.
Additionally, limited access to high-speed internet is a big barrier to economic opportunity, particularly in rural Virginia. It affects business people, school children, and families. I want to solve this problem, and we can do it by making smart investments in our future.
To have a workforce ready for the jobs of today and tomorrow, Virginia also needs to continue to invest in public education. I am a product of rural public schools on the Eastern Shore, and I know how important good public schools are for a community. Attracting the best teachers, while continuing to expand access to early childhood education, are investments we should make that will help all Virginia children reach their potential.
Together with smart investments in our long-term success, we should also provide tax relief to working Virginians who need it most — many of whom are in rural Virginia. The recent federal tax changes have benefited mainly higher earners. These tax policy changes from Washington will result in additional revenues to Virginia. We can use this opportunity to invest in those who need it most— hard working Virginians. We can do this by making Virginia’s existing earned income tax credit refundable, ensuring that 600,000 working Virginians, including thousands of veteran and military families, can get the full tax benefit for which they qualify.
This will put money in the pockets of working Virginians that could help pay for childcare, transportation, or school supplies, and reduce the impact of other taxes that hit family budgets the hardest. To be clear— we can make the Earned Income Tax Credit refundable, just like the federal government and 24 other states do, without raising taxes, but by investing increased revenues where they will do the most good. Virginians in every locality and every legislative district will benefit from this. In localities in Southwest, Southside, and the Eastern Shore, more than a third of residents will benefit.