Follow the Leaders
On Thursday, September 20, 2018, Governor Ralph Northam stood before more than 140 Virginia Council of CEOs members and their guests to speak, in part, about the state of Virginia’s economy. Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball accompanied him. Governor Northam’s address marked the fifth time the sitting governor has addressed the Council. Governor Mark Warner was the first in 2003.
The Governor addressed the crowd for approximately 15 minutes before answering specific questions from an audience largely made up of small to mid-size business owners. Northam chose to take off his governor’s hat for the event, opting instead to talk plainly about “what it is we can do to help businesses start in Virginia, but also to help businesses grow and contribute to the economy and your lifestyle.”
Northam, Virginia’s 73rd governor, possesses a diverse background that includes positions as a U.S. Army doctor, a pediatric neurologist, a business editor, a state senator and Virginia lieutenant governor. He is also a small business owner, having started the Children’s Specialty Group with his wife in 1996.
“We practiced under the umbrella of Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters,” explained Northam. “We have grown that practice to about a hundred pediatric sub-specialists now. We employ about 250 people. I understand a little bit about what it is to start a business – and then grow a business – in Virginia.”
Like most CEOs, Northam is concerned about finding qualified workers for his business. That’s why he’s also interested in seeing Virginia develop a base of workers for the 21st-century job market, which he defined as jobs in science, technology, engineering, the arts, math and healthcare. “Things like cybersecurity, unmanned aerial systems, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, data collection, data analysis – these are the jobs of the 21st century,” said Northam. He also emphasized the importance of growing programs within Virginia’s community college system, with a special focus on certification and apprenticeship programs and high school vocational and technical training to “keep that pipeline open from our students to the business community.”
New business owners are often faced with a number of daunting questions – like how to navigate Virginia’s tax code, for example. Northam stressed that his administration is invested in making things easier. “I just wanted to let you know that we have your back, if you will,” he said. “We have several programs in Virginia to help startups. One of them is called VirginiaScaling4Growth. We also have workshops that we sponsor throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, and if you or someone in your presence needs help, either growing your business or starting your business, I think we have a really good economic team.”
“We work very closely with the VEDP (Virginia Economic Development Partnership), which is the economic development partnership in Virginia, and we have a number of tools in our toolbox that we can now help businesses with and also help to attract businesses,” Northam added.
The governor also spoke about the state of Virginia’s transportation system and the Commonwealth’s unemployment rate, and he expressed optimism about making Virginia agencies more efficient and the tax code more user-friendly to attract new business to the state.
Governor Northam welcomed questions from the floor after his presentation, and CEOs in the audience quickly peppered him with a range of questions on topics that included how to address the flooding in Tidewater and Eastern Shore regions, where specifically to go for workforce training program assistance, a clarification of his stance on a recent Executive Order about worker misclassification and independent contractors, and his perspective on public/private partnerships.
In closing, the governor asked the business owners in the room to help him elevate Virginia as a place to attract business, stating, “With all of us in this room collectively and the business community, I think if we keep working together, once again soon, Virginia will be the number-one state in this country to do business.”
The Virginia Council of CEOs has connected Central Virginia CEOs with local and national thought leadership since 2000. Our think tank includes award-winning companies across industries like IT services, marketing & advertising, logistics & transportation, business products & services, consumer products, human resources, finance, health services, and more. Learn about VACEOs membership.