NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- With 2018 comes a new administration in Richmond and an opportunity to take a fresh look at where the Commonwealth stands in its pursuit of the 21st Century economy and whether the current mindset is primed to get us there.
In January, Aubrey Layne will move from transportation to Secretary of Finance. His new job will be to make sure the state is fiscally responsible in how it spends your money. Layne says there are a number of opportunities out there for the Commonwealth to step up its game... if there's the political will and the money to make it happen.
For all of the optimism across the Commonwealth in recent years, economic growth has been modest, further underscoring the need to diversify the economy as defense-related jobs shrink.
A recent jobs report for Hampton Roads was less-than-stellar: too many lower-paying jobs across the state aren't contributing much in payroll taxes, and some 30,000 high-tech jobs in Virginia paying $80,000 a year can't be filled because some schools aren't turning out students with the skill sets to fill so-called "new collar" jobs.
Layne says solving that piece is critical to the Commonwealth solving its economic issues.
"But it's all about making sure we're teaching what is required for these people to get jobs of the 21st century," Layne says.
Layne suggests the Commonwealth may be at a critical juncture. We can list priorities and dream about things, he says, but if people want more there needs to be a political conversation about where more revenue can be found and that includes tolls and taxes.
"One of my favorite things is limited resources have consequences. You can't have it all, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need. I think we need to find other monies," Layne added.
Layne says it's worth the investment to grow Hampton Roads into a nationally-recognized leader in Advanced Manufacturing. The area's shipbuilding workforce gives the region a head start.
"Along with Advanced Manufacturing, we need to have sites ready for those industries. Hampton Roads is well positioned for that, certainly with the distribution change, the port, the railroads, with what's going on with the roads there in a few years," Layne points out.
Layne also feels there needs to be an investment to help Hampton Roads deal with sea level rise. Like it or not, it's coming and no source of funds to deal with it have been identified.
"But we're also going to have to deal with the fact that they're going to be hard choices to be made because sea level rise it's real. It's going to require additional funding, that can come from current
sources, we can cut something else, or we going to find a way to deal with this other means," Layne says.
And Layne points out a lack of a regional cooperation continues to hurt Hampton Roads. Take Amazon, Layne says. The company isn't looking for a city, they're looking for a region where 50,000 people want to live and can easily get around.
"I get it, politicians are elected from a very parochial basis. They're serving their communities. But if you look at the global marketplace, it's regions that compete. It isn't Virginia Beach competing against the world, it's the region competing against the world and other areas of Virginia," Layne adds.
Layne says there must be public confidence that monies are being used wisely, and an honest conversation with people about what they want the government to provide.
We are just a few years away from the third decade of the 21st century, and there are many who feel there is ground to make up.