Category Archives: Economic development

Good Schools as Rural Development Magnets

The Duncansville One-Room School Museum in Washington County.

by James A. Bacon

An enduring question in Virginia’s economic development community is how to revitalize the state’s rural counties. Traditional rural industries such as farming, mining, timbering, and light manufacturing are shrinking. Young people are leaving to seek better career opportunities elsewhere, and few people are moving in to replace them. A contracting workforce is not conducive to recruiting entrepreneurs and corporate investment.

Some commentators (I’m one of them) have suggested that rural counties build on their natural amenities such as bays, lakes, and mountains, to attract retirees and tourists. But not all counties are blessed with scenic beauty and recreational resources.

There is one policy lever that rural leaders do control, however, and that is K-12 education. Newly published research by Alexander Marré with the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank and Anil Rupasingha with the U.S. Department of Agriculture concludes that good schools encourage in-migration.

“Our results suggest that for the 2005–2009 time period, the quality of schools—as measured by the share of high school dropouts and nationally benchmarked mathematics and reading test scores—had a positive pull effect on migration to nonmetropolitan counties,” write the authors in an article published in the Journal of Regional Science. “Schools with better outcomes appear to draw in new in‐migrants, even after taking into account the fact that higher‐quality schools are more likely to be located in areas with higher median incomes.” Continue reading

Will COVID-19 Spark a U.S. Manufacturing Renaissance?

Thanks to COVID–19, super-duper high-tech manufacturing processes at Micron’s Manassas semiconductor plant are getting even more high-tech.

by James A. Bacon

Will the COVID-19 epidemic inspire the “re-shoring” of manufacturing to the United States and a revitalization of the U.S. manufacturing economy? If so, that could be great news for Virginia communities bet on manufacturing as a source of economic development.

The story is not a simple one. Several commentators in the latest edition of the Virginia Economic Review, published by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, explore the ramifications of the epidemic for global supply chains and corporate manufacturing strategies. While there is a consensus that corporations will seek to reduce their dependence upon China, the pundits have diverse views on how likely multinational corporations are to repatriate manufacturing operations to the U.S. and what kind of job skills would be required.

Here follows some of the pithier observations and quotes on the topic from the Review. Continue reading

What Needs To Be Done After the ACP

By Peter Galuszka

For six long years, Dominion Energy and its partners in the $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline have waged war against Virginians as they have pushed their way forward with the 600-mile-long natural gas project.

Their strong-armed methods have created untold misery and expense  for land-owners, members of lower income minority communities, nature lovers, bird watchers, fishermen, and many others.

When some declined to let the ACP to trespass on their property for survey work, they ended up in lengthy and expensive lawsuits. Others spent hundreds of hours on their own time and dime fighting Virginia regulatory agencies who all but seemed to be in the pocket of the ACP.

And so it goes. For what? So Dominion and its partners could make billions of dollars, some of it paid for by electricity ratepayers, for a project whose public need was always in doubt. On July 5, the ACP threw in the towel.

I put together this commentary in The Washington Post suggesting what might be done to prevent this from happening again: Continue reading

Common Sense and Coronavirus in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

Stepping back. Over the past five months there has been an unending flood of information, guesses, misinformation and politicized ramblings about COVID-19.  Various factions put forth their experts and cherry picked data to support their agendas. It’s time to step back and synthesize all that has been written into a set of common sense observations and preliminary conclusions about COVID-19.

The virus isn’t going anywhere. Even the most aggressive attempts to contain the Coronavirus will not eradicate the virus. The spread can be slowed and the curve can be flattened but the infections continue and the outbreaks resurge. After a catastrophic bout with Coronavirus in the spring Spain thought it had the contagion under control. The country reopened in what the Spanish thought was a sober and controlled way. Today, cases are spiking – particularly in the Catalan region. In the San Francisco Bay area of California strict lockdown protocols were implemented. The tide seemed to have turned. Reopening commenced.  Now, many bay area counties are seeing a spike in Coronavirus. Continue reading

More Big, Honking Data Centers Coming to Virginia

Honk!

The COVID-19 epidemic may be slowing the national economy, but it is accelerating the trend toward a digitized and virtual economy. That requires more data centers, and Virginia is still a key locus of the data-center universe.

Amazon Web Services is proposing to build 1.75 million-square-feet of data center space in Loudoun County, reports the Loudoun Times. Blue Ridge Group LLC, which is acting on behalf of Amazon, is seeking approval to rezone 100-acre parcel, which is located just south of Washington Dulles International Airport.

Meanwhile, Delaware-based T-Rex Ventures LLC wants to build a $60 million data center at the York River Commerce Park. T-Rex has won a $1.5 million grant from the local Economic Development Authority and a $380,000 credit from Dominion Energy to the county, which can be used for the new data center, reports WYDaily.

— JAB

Thank Europe For a Badly Needed Reality Check

By Peter Galuszka

It’s time for a pandemic reality check, especially at Bacon’s Rebellion.

The blog is flooded with post after post about how the coronavirus crisis is exaggerated and how Gov. Ralph Northam “King Ralph” is Public Enemy No. 1 and wields improper power by closing schools, bars, beaches, businesses and so on. I won’t mention names since you know who you are.

Add to backdrop the enforced parochialism at Bacon’s Rebellion, in which we aren’t supposed to think beyond the borders of the Old Dominion, despite the fact that Virginia has enormous ties with other countries and travel and contact are essential.

Among the most damning data about the lack of progress against the virus, led by the unspeakably incompetent leadership of Donald Trump and Virginia’s provincialism, can be found in a small story in today’s Washington Post.

As some readers may know, the European Union has finally loosened its travel rules, particularly for Canada, New Zealand and Japan. But not for the United States. Why? As of June 15, the E.U. had recorded only 15 new cases of COVID 19 infection per 100,000 for the previous two weeks. The U.S. recorded a whopping 145 cases per 100,000 for the same period. Continue reading

Amidst Recession, Some Companies Are Still Investing

Sweet! The Hershey Company is investing $135 million to expand candy production in Augusta County.

by James A. Bacon

Tired of reading about COVID-19 and the culture wars? I’m sure tired of writing about them. For a change of pace, let’s focus on something positive. While the coronavirus-related shutdown continues to depress employment in Virginia — and crowd out good economic news — Virginia has landed a slew of economic development projects in the past month. Here’s a list.

ASGN Incorporated
June 15, 2020
ASGN Incorporated, a Fortune 1000 IT provider, will invest $12.4 million to move its corporate headquarters from Calabasa, California, to Henrico County and grow operations in Virginia Beach, Roanoke and other Virginia communities. The company expects to add 700 jobs.

S23 Holdings
June 16, 2020
S23 Holding LLC, a ship repair company, will invest $64.4 million to establish a corporate and industrial campus for ship repair, manufacturing, and pier rehabilitation in Newport news. The project is expected to create 332 jobs. Continue reading

Housing Grants Just a COVID Relief Rounding Error

By Steve Haner

Will $50 million be enough? Will that get all the Virginians who have fallen behind due to COVID-19 square on their rent or mortgage payments? Or is that amount, in a relief program now fleshed out by the Northam Administration, merely a start?

There is a hint on the program’s web page, now available. “Financial assistance is a one-time payment with opportunity for renewal based on availability of funding and the household’s need for additional assistance and continued eligibility.” A Senate committee was told last week that Governor Ralph Northam is considering spending hundreds of millions more for the same purpose.

This first $50 million is just the latest way that the billions of federal dollars flowing into Virginia as COVID-19 relief will be used. Within that operation, it is a  rounding error. On June 23, primary day, the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee met virtually to be briefed, among other things, on how the four waves of federal assistance have been or will be spent.

The usual suspects of the Capitol Hill press corps may not have been there (or to be exact, may not have been monitoring the Zoom conference.) The primary results and the Phase 3 announcement held their attention. A week later the unreported reports are still worth reviewing and links to them follow below.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne, in his presentation, estimated that Virginia has received more than $28 billion in direct aid – $6.5 billion direct to the state and local governments, $14.4 billion to state businesses in the Payroll Protection Program and $7.3 billion pledged to municipal liquidity facility loans to cover revenue losses.  Continue reading

The ACP Wins One But The War Drags On

By Peter Galuszka

The $8.5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline has won a significant legal victory but the war is far from over.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, has ruled in favor of project operated by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy saying that its 42-inch pipeline can cross under the Appalachian Trail in the George Washington National Forest.

The Court ruled that the pipeline can pass 600 feet underneath the trail and that the U.S. Forest Service has the right to allow a right of way. The Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled that the Forest Service had no such authority.

Dissenting, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wrote that the U.S. Minerals Leasing Act does give the federal government the right to regulate federal land, including trails. Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority ruling, said that plans to bury the pipeline under the Appalachian Trail represent an easement which is not the same as “land.”

The project still faces eight other permitting issues involving the Forest Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Continue reading

Our Gutsy Governor

By Peter Galuszka

On June 24, 2015, Nikki Haley, a Republican who was South Carolina’s first non-white governor, called for the removal of a Confederate flag that had been flying over the state’s capitol grounds for years.

“This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” she said. Her action came a few days after an avowed white supremacist walked into an African-American church and opened fire, killing church members attending a service.

I was watching the news on TV when she made her gutsy move. I was deeply impressed.

And now, Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is governor of Virginia, has taken a similarly gutsy move. He has ordered that the state-owned statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee be removed from its stand on Monument Avenue in Richmond. It has been there for about 130 years, erected by white supremacists with deep sentiment for their romantic myths of Southern history.

“I believe in a Virginia that learns lessons from our past and we all know that our country needs that example right now,” Northam said. Continue reading

The Real Danger with ANTIFA

By Peter Galuszka

Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..

But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.

First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”

That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it. Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

Strategies for Growing the Rural Population

Source: “Rural Population Loss and Strategies for Recovery,” Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond

In a recent article, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond highlighted strategies for bolstering the population of rural counties in the Fifth Federal Reserve District. Some ideas will prove familiar to readers of Bacon’s Rebellion, such as identifying amenities that will attract retirees and second-home buyers. But the article makes some suggestions we haven’t heard before.

Population growth, or at least population stability, is critical for the economic health of Virginia’s rural counties. A shrinking workforce makes it more difficult to attract outside employers, a shriveling population makes it harder to support health services and retail amenities, and a declining tax base undermines the ability to pay for government functions. Population stagnation and/or decline is a problem across the five states of the 5th district, and Virginia is no exception. (Virginia’s rural counties actually saw a small net in-migration, but that was more than offset by “natural” decrease of deaths exceeding births.)

To my mind, the most fascinating strategy is focusing on people’s personal ties to family, friends and communities. One study used 300 interviews in 21 towns at rural high school reunions to learn why some attended decided to return to the rural community where they grew up. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screwing Workers On Safety and Liability

A GRTC bus driver in better times

By Peter Galuszka

At 4:30 a.m. on April 27, about 100 workers of the Greater Richmond Transit Company — half of the total – failed to show up for work.

Worried about the health of its membership, Local 1220 of the International Amalgamated Transit Union demanded additional safety measures such as full personal protection equipment, time and a half hazardous pay, limits on the numbers of passenger and testing.

GRTC management threatened to fire workers who stayed away from work but agreed to talk. A resolution may come at a May 19 board meeting.

Indeed, stories are showing up throughout Virginia and across the country as workers most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 often have the least protection and no guarantees their employers will provide testing, hospitalization and sick pay.

In Timberville near Harrisonburg, workers at a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant worry that they are required to work at less than six feet –- considered safe distancing –- from each other. In Norfolk, non-union workers at a General Dynamics ship facility were required to do electrical work until they refused, citing exposure threats and a death. Continue reading