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Va. Commerce Secretary Stresses Need to Diversify, Provide Opportunities

October 15, 2015 / Archived News/ Regional News

By Allison Wrabel, The Daily Progress

While the economy in the state continues to improve, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones said there is a lot of risk that comes from an imbalance between the public and private sectors in job growth.

Jones spoke on Tuesday at the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy about “The New Virginia Economy.”

“Right now, we are too reliant on the public sector, particularly the federal government, for employment,” Jones said.

He read off a list of the top 20 employers in the state, 13 of which were in the public sector.

“We had 0‑percent growth in Virginia’s economy last year,” he said. “Why? We lost 22,000 jobs from defense cuts alone.”

Jones discussed five areas of focus to create more balance — infrastructure, entrepreneurship, strategic sectors, a climate for growth and workforce preparation.

He said the most important investment to make for growing the economy is one in workforce talent.

“There used to be a saying that money will follow talent. That’s still the case,” he said. “Just as true is that jobs will follow talent. Employers go to where the talent is because they can make up for some of these other things, but there is no compensating for not having talent.”

From a public-policy standpoint, he said they people need to be prepared to work at each level in business. He said there needs to be an ample supply of electricians, welders, coders and other manufacturing workers to continue growing existing businesses and attracting new companies.

He said that it is important to continue meeting the demand for certain jobs in terms of the credentials, licenses or certifications offered that are needed.

“Based on what I’m seeing, we’re not doing a very good job of producing the product where there’s opportunity,” Jones said.

Jones said to encourage an increase, an executive order issued in 2014 requires 50,000 more STEM‑H certifications in industries such as information technology, cybersecurity, life sciences and health care across the state before Gov. Terry McAuliffe leaves office.

“We’ve made it very clear: The priority is credentials that matter,” he said.

When asked about focusing on rural development detracting from opportunities in the urban areas, he said economic development has to be a region-level effort.