WILLIAMSBURG — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin visited Williamsburg at the Colonial Heritage Club’s Grand Ballroom Wednesday morning for a community discussion on issues that affect the historic triangle and the commonwealth.
The visit was for the “Inaugural Business Leaders Community Breakfast,” an event organized by members of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce. Youngkin met with chamber members and local business leaders.
The President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Cliff Fleet, joined Youngkin on stage, asking questions on a variety of topics including public education, workforce, local businesses, affordable housing and technology.
“Virginia’s open for business, and it’s been a very important first seven months in that we have reemphasized the need to grow,” said Youngkin. “What we’ve seen happen over these first seven months is that after many, many years of stagnant job growth, we’ve actually seen 94,000 jobs added back in over the course of February to June. We’ll get the July data here shortly, and that’s extremely important.”
“At the end of the day, unless we’re adding job ops, unless we’re creating opportunity, Virginians are going to continue to do what we’ve seen for the last 10 years or so, which is, move away faster than they move here,” Youngkin added. “That’s such an important trend for us to completely flip, and so I’m pleased with the momentum that we’ve had. But what that requires is a wholesale effort to recognize that workforce development and, oh, by the way, growth, have to go together.”
Youngkin described Virginia’s job and labor participation as some of the most important measures that he pays attention to every day. Youngkin believes that Virginia’s leaders must continue to make strong efforts in job recovery to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.
“The commonwealth stayed shut much longer than it needed to,” said Youngkin. “Job Recovery for Virginia put us near the bottom of the pack. The bottom five states in the nation for job recovery, and what that meant is folks got used to not working, number one, and second of all, we had a huge exodus from our labor participation. So even when we compare jobs in 2022, relative to where we were pre-pandemic, we’re down about two hundred thousand jobs. Now we’ve seen about one hundred thousand of those come back, but even here in the summer of 2022 we’re still down another hundred thousand jobs in Virginia.”
A key factor in Virginia’s job creation has been attracting businesses to work and operate within the state. Some of the recent examples that the governor gave were the relocation of Boeing’s Global headquarters and Ratheon’s Global headquarters, both defense contractors having recently moved to Arlington. Another example was the over-billion dollar investment from Lego to build their sole U.S. manufacturing facility in Chesterfield County, near Richmond. The investment from Lego alone is projected to create over 1,700 jobs.
“Our labor participation rate in Virginia roughly went from 67% to down below 64%,” said Youngkin. “That’s a real challenge. We have to get people back into the workforce.”
The governor also touched on the passing of the Literacy Act, and also spent time discussing the model for lab schools: a customized multiple path education where students can get an education while simultaneously learning a particular set of skills or curriculum such as coding or welding. An example Youngkin gave was a school called Code RVA, a public high school that prepares its students for college and careers in the computer science field.
“It gives students a real understanding of a pathway they may not have otherwise understood,” said Youngkin. “Part of the challenge that I think we’ve had in our middle schools and high schools, particularly in the curriculum and education process, is helping Virginia students understand what the possibilities are. Once they understand what the possibilities are, well then they can begin to see how that might fit in with their own dreams and aspirations.”
Youngkin was also asked about affordable housing efforts in Virginia, saying he recognizes that the cost of living in Virginia is the second highest identified factor for people moving away from the commonwealth. According to the governor, the number one reason is job opportunities, and that local permits and zoning are at the heart of affordable housing challenges in Virginia.