By Paula C. Squires, Virginia Business
In what was his public debut before the larger business community, Stephen Moret, the new president and CEO of Virginia’s business recruiting arm, told members of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that he wants to position Virginia as one of the fastest growing states in the South and the U.S.
Moret said his goal is to see Virginia in the top three states in the South in terms of job growth and in the top five in the U. S. To accomplish that goal, Virginia would need to create 20,000 to 25,000 additional jobs a year during the next 10 years, over and above its baseline growth. “That’s not going to be an easy thing to do,” he told chamber members who gathered at the Hilton Richmond Downtown Hotel. “But think what the impact would be: more economic opportunities for the Commonwealth, billions in new sales for small businesses, being able to retain more college graduates…”
Just three weeks into the job as head of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, (VEDP) Moret used yesterday’s speech to outline what he described as his five top aspirational goals. It was the first opportunity many people in the business community had to see the man who has assumed leadership over the VEDP at a time when it is poised for a major overhaul.
The VEDP board of directors hired Moret in late November, not long after the state’s investigative arm issued a blistering report on inefficiencies and statutory shortcomings at the 100-employee, quasi-independent state authority.
Moret came to Virginia after serving as president and CEO of the Louisiana State University Foundation in Baton Rouge. Before that, he was for eight years the cabinet-level secretary leading the Louisiana Department of Economic Development.
Besides robust job growth overall, Moret’s other goals include supporting growth in every region of the state. “I will not view my efforts as a success or the efforts of the VEDP as a success if we have parts of Virginia that are growing while others are literally shrinking.”
In the past five years, Moret noted, Northern Virginia represented about a third of the state’s population and two thirds of its population growth while populations in half of Virginia’s counties and independent cities decreased during that time. During his first three months, Moret plans to travel to the state’s various regions to get acquainted with local economic development officials and the regions’ economies.
Moret said he shares in the chamber’s goal of restoring Virginia to its No. 1 ranking for business climate. As recently as 2013, Virginia ranked as a top state for business in several national surveys, but in recent years it has fallen out of the top 10. Moret said work on public policy and marketing efforts would help boost the rankings.
“In Louisiana, we did a lot of work in that area,” he said. In early 2008 when he took over as head of that state’s economic development agency, Louisiana’s average position in national polls of best states for business was 38 spots behind Virginia, he said. When he left in 2015, Louisiana was 12 spots behind Virginia. “Most of that was a big jump for Louisiana, and little bit of that was the decline for Virginia,” he said.
He also wants to restore VEDP as the country’s pre-eminent economic development organization. “I want to do that in a collaborative way,” he said by engaging with the Port of Virginia, the state’s tobacco commission, institutions of higher education and other groups involved with economic development.
Also high on his agenda in the first year will be working to implement the 35 recommendations from the report by a state watchdog group — the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission — and devising a strategic plan for the authority’s long-term growth.
Aside from his aspirational goals, “The bigger motivation for me is this is a mission. I love this work. The chance to do this work in one of the best places for business in America, that was something that I could not turn down.”
Moret said he looks forward to working with the chamber and commended the group for its work on a blueprint for business growth for the state and in its role in helping to advance GO Virginia, a new state funded initiative that will focus on economic development and collaborative deals among regions.