While riding the good fortune of geographic proximity to Washington, McDonnell never brought a single advanced industry employer to Virginia but was proud to take credit for every job at any new convenience store. Now it is Governor McAuliffe’s turn to show that jobs aren’t just a campaign talking point.
The kinds of jobs that mean something are those that will employ the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers we hear about from every politician who wants to sound like an higher education proponent. These are in industries, manufacturing and services, which pay well and contribute significantly to the GDP because they have a multiplier effect. They have supply chains that stimulate local economies by leveraging opportunities from the benefit of shorter lines of communications.
“They send you to new governors school when you are elected. We’re standing outside talking … so what’d you run on? … We all kind of, after a while, sheepishly admitted we were going to be the jobs governor. And we realized that all thirty plus new governors at that point in time were going to be the jobs governor. The point of that is that it is a very competitive world out there.” – Governor Bill Haslam (TN) speaking at the Brookings Institute
Possibly the clumsiest McDonnell attempt to weigh into advanced industry focused on Wallops Island. During his campaign for Governor he pledged a tenfold boost in state funding for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport and proposed space tourism as a natural tie-in. His only tangible legislative achievement was an initiative that amounted to a frequent flyer program for well-heeled space travelers. No miles have been accumulated in any individual account just yet.
If you have forgotten, here is the essence of McDonnell’s campaign proposal:
- Supporting a ten-fold increase in base funding for the spaceport operations, bringing them to $1 million annually, and focusing a portion of the funding on a coordinated marketing strategy to attract more companies to invest in and create jobs in Virginia
- Creating an aerospace business roundtable to bring experts together to plan for Spaceport development and future projects
- Aggressively recruiting and growing new and existing aerospace companies.
- Promoting space tourism initiatives
- Supporting scholarships and investment in aerospace related educational programs and workforce training opportunities
- Putting “Virginia First” — leading the country in science, technology, engineering and mathematic educational programs and ensuring our workforce is highly skilled in career and technical skills, which the Spaceport relies on
McDonnell ended up spending more time talking about agricultural exports rather than advanced industry initiatives during his four years in office. His involvement with Star Scientific aside, he left no footprint in the private sector.
At a recent Brookings Institute forum, two Governors who have demonstrated success in their states, Hickenlooper of Colorado and Haslam of Tennessee, discussed efforts to expand key advanced industry clusters and the need for a supportive federal platform for those efforts.
“… it’s having the trained workforce that really matters. … It needs to start back at K. We don’t talk about K-12 anymore, we talk about K to J, having a job. And trying to realign education to recognize the realities of how competitive the world is today.” – Governor Bill Haslam (TN) at the Brookings Institute
While Governor McDonnell ran around Virginia patting himself on the back for every advantage (like Wallops Island) he inherited, Governor Hickenlooper laid the necessary groundwork in Colorado that allowed Colorado to lap Virginia (a couple of times). Hickenlooper conducted a needs assessment with the local county economic development folks asking: “What do you see in the future? What do you want to have happen?” There were common threads:
- be more pro-business
- get rid of red tape
- better access to capital
- better training of the workforce
- market the state: brand it not just as a tourist destination, but as a place for entrepreneurs and businesses to grow
- focus on technology and innovation
Governor Hickenlooper said that when looking at advanced industries, these came right to the forefront; especially in aerospace. And while Colorado, on a per capita basis, is first or second in the country in aerospace, the greater economic effect rises from all the accessory benefits. The people, the engineers and the scientists that are involved in industries like aerospace that have long tails are also involved in schools and non-profits. Hickenlooper argues that in Colorado’s case, it’s not just manufacturing and launching satellites and various spacecraft. By emphasizing and focusing on the advanced industries, like aerospace, the accessory benefits are orders of magnitude greater than in other industries.
Aerospace wasn’t only the open door to industry that McDonnell failed to walk through. McDonnell was often criticized by Terry McAuliffe for failing to offer his own initiative, GreenTech Automotive, an incentive to locate a assembly facility in Virginia. Well, the baton has been passed and now the onus is on Governor McAuliffe to demonstrate his pronouncements were more than campaign platitudes.