A series of stakeholder engagement workshops were held across the region to discuss what is important to the region in terms of growth and development. Meetings were held with the chief administrative officers and Planning District Commission staff of each of the three subregions, George Washington Region, Middle Peninsula, and Northern Neck.
Meetings were held with the local economic development directors and regional economic development organizations in the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance and Middle Peninsula Alliance regions.
Two additional meetings were held related to entrepreneurship and workforce development in which representatives from throughout the region attended to dive deeper into these topics.
Key Themes from Sessions:
Regional Economy Unchanged – The regional economy has not had much change since the Growth and Diversification Plan was prepared in 2017.
Out-Commuting Challenge – 60% of the workforce commutes out of the region daily to work. Key stakeholders agreed that this situation is by far the largest economic development challenge facing the region.
Potential GO Virginia projects to combat out-commuting are:
- Realigning training and education programs to meet industry requirements;
- Expanding work-based learning programs;
- Creating educational institution partnerships with the commonwealth cyber initiative to create jobs expanding regional workforce and technical centers.
Workforce Scarcity – Employers large and small are having a hard time finding workers to fill positions. Many employers are resorting to non-traditional measures to fill the vacancies.
Priority Sectors OK – The six priority industrial sectors identified in the 2017 Growth and Diversification Plan were still valid in 2019.
Broadband – The lack of broadband service in rural areas is still a major impediment to economic development. The current efforts to expand broadband service should continue to be a high priority and supported.
Limited Industrial Sites and Buildings – There is a lack of quality and variety of sites and buildings to support business expansion. The vast majority of the sites that are available in the region are concentrated in the northern portion of the region. Even then there are virtually no business sites that have a VEDP Business Site Readiness rating above a 3 on a five-point scale.
Entrepreneurial Program Expansion – There was a broad consensus that entrepreneurial programs, assistance, facilities, and capital access need to be expanded throughout the region. Expansion of youth entrepreneurship programs, expanded incubator/accelerator/co-working facilities, expanded SBDC services, additional business plan competitions, and additional financial resources were among the many entrepreneurial services recommended for the region.
Commercialization of Research – The advancement of commercialization of research at the Dahlgren Naval Surface Warfare Center, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS) and other research facilities in eastern Virginia are important strategies for consideration.
Downtown Revitalization – A number of the downtowns in the region have embarked upon revitalization efforts. These efforts have stimulated not only the renovation of downtown properties but also the stimulation of new business activity in these commercial hubs. Efforts should be made to support these programs and expand them to other communities within the region.
Misalignment of Workforce Preparation – The education and workforce development programs in the region are not producing the quality or the skill sets needed by the employers in the region. The education and training providers need to adjust their program offerings to be more reflective of the occupations needed by regional employers.
Work-Based Learning – There needs to be a stronger linkage between employers and educational institutions in the region with an emphasis on work-based learning experiences. Such programs as apprenticeships, internships, career and technical education programs, etc. should be expanded throughout the region.
Opportunity Zones – The recent designation of eight Opportunity Zones in the region offers an opportunity to increase private investment in these areas. The tax advantages afforded to private investors willing to invest in real estate and business in the zones should over time stimulate revitalization. There is the potential to coordinate GO Virginia investment with private Opportunity Zone Fund investments.
All of these comments and thoughts helped formulate potential project ideas moving forward for the GO Virginia Region 6 Council to consider. Next week’s post will dive deeper into potential project ideas.