Economic Development “Reset” Needed in Virginia

John O. "Dubby" Wynne wants to overhaul Virginia's outmoded approach to economic development.
John O. “Dubby” Wynne wants to overhaul Virginia’s outmoded approach to economic development. Photo credit: Pilotonline

It’s time for a “fundamental reset” for the way Virginia’s colleges and universities think about economic development, John O. “Dubby” Wynne told the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) board yesterday. Wynne, former CEO of Norfolk-based Landmark Communications, is a driving force behind the Virginia Go initiative.

“For the first time in decades, Virginia’s economy is not doing very well,” said Wynne. The problem runs deeper than federal budget sequestration’s hit to military spending or managerial issues at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Virginia needs to address major structural problems, he said.

One of those problems is the mismatch between jobs and skills in the state. Wynne quoted a figure widely used by Governor Terry McAuliffe, that 150,000 jobs in the IT sector alone are going unfilled; tens of thousands of those are in the cyber-security field. With skills shortages of that magnitude, it won’t be easy recruiting outside corporate investment, Virginia’s traditional economic development strength.

“If outside people see that you can’t take care of your existing businesses,” said Wynne, “the chances of them coming here are small.”

Since retiring from Landmark, Wynne has immersed himself in state and regional economic-development efforts. He serves as vice chairman on the state-appointed Council on Virginia’s Future and is a member of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council. He worked with Dominion CEO Tom Farrell to create the Go Virginia initiative, which has received state dollars this year to spur regional and public-private collaboration to spark economic growth.

Virginia needs to produce people who can participate in the knowledge economy, and the state’s higher ed system is critical to making that happen, Wynne said. It’s an open question, though, how well the state’s colleges and universities can make economic development part of their mission. There are so many stakeholders with a voice, he said, that “it’s very hard to get movement with any kind of market speed.” Higher ed needs “to get a serious discussion going to say that it’s OK to be involved in economic development.”

Aside from workforce development, Wynne cited two strategies for Virginia higher ed to pursue. One is to do a better job of getting intellectual property out of the labs and into the market. Other states have found ways to do this; so should Virginia. He would like to see more incubators and accelerators in university communities.

The other strategy is to identify industry clusters where Virginia has particular strengths and to help create a workforce with the skills those clusters need. Collaboration is the key. As an example, he cited a 40-firm cyber-security cluster in Hampton Roads. Local educational institutions need to develop “a new model” — possibly including more “self-paced” courses — in which local industry is much more involved. Already, three cities in the region are collaborating with a regional community foundation to raise money to build the cluster. Said Wynne: “Companies will move to places helping them grow.”

“If you put all your money in the present and none in the future,” he concluded, “you won’t have a future.”

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13 responses to “Economic Development “Reset” Needed in Virginia”

  1. If we could just make a shift in our energy economy, that would help move us in the right direction. Jobs related to energy efficiency are expected to grow from the current nationwide level of 830,000 to over 1.9 million by 2050. This could create thousands of long-term jobs for people in the building trades. This would have far greater impact on the state economy than the pipeline jobs that last for 8-10 months or power plant construction jobs that are just a few months long for each trade. This sector also attracts many high-tech and innovative companies as well. Imagine if the Hampton Roads-Newport News-Chesapeake area was to actively pursue this and helped the military bases and statewide federal facilities reduce their energy costs by millions of dollars with no upfront expenditures. What if Virginia could position itself as the lowest cost occupancy zone for federal installations?

    Industries with increasing price trends such as universities, hospitals, and local governments could also reduce their costs in this way.

    One hundred of the top global companies have committed themselves to powering all of their facilities with renewable power by 2030-2050, depending on the company. They will not locate in areas where this is not an easy opportunity. New data centers are our major source of load growth in Virginia. With our meager plans for renewable development, the data centers would soak up most of the solar that is planned in the next few years with little room for other facilities.

    More energy efficiency and renewable development would not only create significantly more jobs than the conventional path we are on, using the new technologies would also lower the cost of electricity for everyone, making the business climate more favorable.

    When New York embarked on its REV program to create a modern energy system for the state it attracted substantial new investment in innovative companies and an influx of talented professionals drawn to the R&D funds and market opportunities.

    Virginia can be a center for that type of activity in the Southeast with the right types of policies and an adjustment of the role of the utilities.

    1. TomH or anyone here, do you know what is happening on energy efficiency in the DC area? Generally that area with its higher concentration of institutions and government is more amenable to commercial-customer energy efficiency /curtailable load initiatives than Richmond or Hampton Roads or ROVA. BR had a nice feature about three years ago on a startup reaching out to DC clients from a home base in Alexandria — any followup?

      1. I met someone who is on the Governor’s Energy Efficiency Council but they said that very little coordinated action came from that group.

        I just attended the governor’s Executive Order 57 Task Force group that was convened to consider ways of reducing carbon emissions from the electricity sector while promoting jobs and economic development. A majority of the speakers mentioned how beneficial and inexpensive energy efficiency would be in accomplishing that.

        I noted that it would be difficult to promote it in Virginia without developing new rules for paying utilities. Under current regulations, utilities would be hurt by anything that would lower their revenues and they would oppose it. I did read an article on the Rocky Mountain Institute’s website several months ago that described a building in NOVA that underwent an energy retrofit with very positive results.

        Richmond is filled with government buildings, universities, and hospitals that would all benefit from energy efficiency projects that could save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars per year, maybe without any upfront investment required.

        As we have discussed before, energy efficiency and renewables (maybe some CHP) could perhaps avoid the need to build the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line.

  2. Taking away dollars from higher education may or may not be the answer. The problem is getting Americans into it. Most of the CS and engineering majors I have met are mostly Asian or other countries. The problem is getting tougher STEM classes.
    Forget teaching to tests and teach these kids to think. Stop dumbing down these tests. Stop basically telling kids their snowflakes, how to deal with failure and keep at it.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Virginia’s biggest problem is that it’s workforce is not educated to 21st century economic demands.

    It’s not just higher Ed and many of the good paying jobs in the economy do not require higher ed – at least the kind that too many are pursuing.

    it’s been characterized as STEM but it’s not STEM – it’s the skill characteristics that are required for STEM:

    Most employers want workers who are able to reason and solve problems using some math, science, or technology knowledge.

    Key STEM skills include:

    Analytical skills to research a topic, develop a project plan and timeline, and draw conclusions from research results.

    Science skills to break down a complex scientific system into smaller parts, recognize cause and effect relationships, and defend opinions using facts.
    Mathematic skills for calculations and measurements.

    Attention to detail to follow a standard blueprint, record data accurately, or write instructions.

    Technical skills to troubleshoot the source of a problem, repair a machine or debug an operating system, and computer capabilities to stay current on appropriate software and equipment.

    Communication and cooperation skills to listen to customer needs or interact with project partners.

    Creative abilities to solve problems and develop new ideas.

    Leadership skills to lead projects or help customers.

    Organization skills to keep track of lots of different information.

    K-12 in the many states in the US , much of the South and Midwest, including Virginia has never evolved from the very basic 20th century skills suited to scripted work – both blue collar and white collar to 21st century w0rk standards where the job, more and more requires continuously thinking and flexibility as companies are increasingly required to be nimble and adaptable.

    fewer and fewer jobs are of the “turn the crank” type.

    Give most of Virginia’s Community Colleges credit -they KNOW the modern workforce requirements and many of their courses actually teach the mechanics of the work itself – that being 21st century “work”.

    K-12 in Va pretty much does not teach STEM SKILLS… they barely get a third of their classes just to the point where they are capable of entry level college and even then a good number simply avoid the more rigorous courses that require STEM-like analytical problem solving skills. Kids need to not only be able to read an understand things like technical manuals – they need to be able to articulate themselves the concepts in those manuals.

    A good auto technician these days needs to be able to run sophisticated diagnostic equipment AND to understand the diagnostic outputs – for hundreds of vehicle models.

    Ditto, electricians, HVAC , home entertainment, security, networked devices, etc, etc..

    you cannot do these jobs with just a basic education.

    the knowledge economy literally requires workers to be “knowledgeable” about the work itself … and sad to say – those who think the path to a job is a K-12 degree light on science and math , to a 4yr college degree – also light on math and science are just not connected to the realities of the 21st century job requirements.

    Schools that have robotic teams classes are getting on to the right idea but these classes typically are the cream of the crop in the schools… not the rest of the student population that still runs screaming from things like Math and Science!

    No one likes to find out when they hit college or even community college that they don’t have what it takes to do the stuff required for good jobs. It’s a real shock to find out – you can’t do the coursework because you lack core competencies… to read and understand and master the material – needed to get the job.

    Next time you see a police car – look inside – there’s usually a laptop along with an array of other connected devices, antennas, etc..

    no, I’m not talking about the law enforcement guy – he needs to understand and use that equipment – I’m talking about the guys and gals that develop that hardware and software that gets put in that car.

    they have to understand a dozen or more allied disciplines in the hardware and software but in addition – they need to understand how the police actually do their work – so that the hardware/software become valuable tools and not useless stuff that can’t really be used in a practical way.

    this kind of thing is throughout the economy.

    you don’t just write a cellphone app.. you have to understand that that app goes on dozens of different hardware and software platforms – and you have to understand how the network works.. and finally how people who use the apps – use them to get work done….

    You cannot begin to do that job if you are weak in the fundamentals of language, math and science… and never got a solid grounding in it – when you were in K-12. If you did not – you’re going to be playing catch-up the rest of your life!!!!

    We blame govt and our institutions. The problem is us. We’re lazy and expect someone to show us how to do the work.. like we used to do in the 20th century… that dog don’t hunt anymore… you’ve got to take personal responsibility to do what it takes to get the job done… that’s something a lot of Americans seem unwilling to do.. and expect the govt to produce “easy” good paying jobs…

    No Can Do.. no matter who is promising that..

    In this world today – there is absolutely no excuse for not learning. – the internet is literally all the libraries and instruction videos in the world – once you get past K-5.

    K-5 is where you get on that train with the help of a competent instructor and if you’re not on that train when it leaves – life is a struggle – not only for the low income – but increasingly so for folks who thought they would “deserve” a good job.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Here’s an excerpt from an Editorial in the Roanoke Times that is far more eloquent and succinct than my blather:

    ” The Roanoke Times

    Whenever movers-and-shakers gather to talk about the Virginia economy and why it’s growth rate is now so low, they can easily come up with a long list of reasons but don’t always agree on what to do about them.

    Do we need to cut corporate taxes? Do we need to cut regulations? Those are usually the preferred Republican solutions. Do we need to invest in infrastructure and higher education? Those are usually the preferred Democratic solutions — although to be fair these are not either-or questions. Last year our Democratic governor proposed cutting the state’s corporate tax rate, and lots of Republicans say we need to invest in better highways; it’s just figuring out how to pay for them that’s the problem.

    There’s one thing, though, that everyone — and we do mean everyone — always winds up agreeing on: There’s a glaring — and growing — mismatch between the skills that Virginia workers have and the skills that the jobs being created require.

    Report after report documents this. George Mason University produced a study in 2015. So did the state’s community college system and the National Skills Coalition. A report by Old Dominion University — commissioned by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce — said the same thing in 2016. So did the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia. Entire forests have been chainsawed to stumps to produce the paper to make the same point. A simple high school diploma is no longer sufficient for success in today’s economy — and certainly not tomorrow’s.

    That’s not to say everyone needs a four-year college degree. They don’t. In fact, the biggest demand for jobs is in what the jargon calls “middle skills” jobs — skilled jobs that don’t require a college degree but do require some skills that a regular high school education doesn’t impart.”

    the rest at:

    and the problem is – we still have no shortage of folks including here in BR that say this skills gap proves we need more money for higher ed. This is coming from folks who characterize themselves as fiscal conservatives and deride K-12 wanting “mo” money!

    we need to actually deal with the issue!

  5. I agree about the value of training and learning. But not everyone is going to be an IT expert. We still have a need for people who are good with their hands and can think on their feet.

    The repetitive factory jobs have gone overseas or have been replaced by robots, but people who excel in a craft are still valuable. We have pushed a higher percentage of our young people into college and they are no better prepared for the workforce, just deeper in debt.

    We need to create a pathway for more jobs that require particular skills and provide the proper training and apprenticeship programs. A significant segment of our population needs the opportunity to make a living wage at something other than a minimum wage service job.

    The energy efficiency jobs provide that pathway. Jobs in regenerative agriculture providing healthy local food can also do that. But there are obstacles there too. Difficulty gaining affordable access to land, the necessary equipment, working capital, etc. Apprenticeship programs are also developing for this and are attracting many college graduates.

  6. Mr. John Wynne is absolutely right Virginia desperately needs a new economic development vision and plan.
    Virginia has the economy most dependent on federal spending and that gravy train is coming to a junction in the road if not to a stop. This has been the case for decades and with the expanded federal government spending the Commonwealth has been able to ignore the future and keep plodding down the same path.
    When I served as Secretary of Education under Governor John Dalton this was a top we saw in a distance. Among other initiatives Govern Dalton encouraged community colleges to be more career oriented and universities to be more research focused. In fact, Dalton put money in the 1982 budget at the request University of Virginia President Frank Hereford to kick start the Southern Universities Research Association (SURA) which ended up as the Thomas Jefferson Laboratory.
    Hereford, knowing that Virginia higher education research was way behind the curve, proposed a Virginia Research Triangle including Virginia Tech, William and Mary, VCU and U. VA which he titled the Center for Information Technology. With the growing technology development in government and Northern Virginia the state took the idea from Hereford and relocated it in Northern Virginia and designated it as Govern Robb’s shining achievement.
    When the proposal got to the General Assembly the legislature stripped the CIT of all faculty position and relocated those to George Mason University to begin a new School of Information Technology and Engineering which has been very successful. But the CIT was never addressed the issue Hereford had identified which exists today which is Virginia is simply not competitive in the research arena the driving force for economic development then and today.
    As was the case in 1982 North Carolina, Maryland, Tennessee and Georgia universities have the resources to dramatically spend more on research than Virginia’s institutions. And today Virginia research universities are still way behind those other states in being competitive for federal and private investments in research which drives economic
    And today not only is Virginia behind the neighboring states in research that will drive economic development but we have other problems. Not only is federal spending driving the economy in Eastern Virginia but federal spending is a major factor in the economies of Southern and Southwest Virginia. If one took Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Federal backed college loans etc. away there would be a total collapse of the economy of those areas. And now with a crisis brewing in the coal fields it will get worse.
    What is surprising to me is that nothing has changed since 1990 when I wrote the book “The Interactive University: A Source of American Revitalization” including here in Virginia. This book was translated into Chinese and Japanese as they then as now are focused on how to improve there economies.
    Mr. Wynne is absolute right and Virginia must step up or more and more counties will become like those in the coal fields today.

  7. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Maybe it’s time to re-institute the apprentice system of training that was found in many nation’s economies for years. Perhaps the model is a public-private partnership where schools (high schools, community colleges, technical colleges and four-year colleges) partner with businesses in need of trained workers. In the beginning, the apprentice or apprentice candidate takes mostly classes with a little on-the-job experience. Over time, the individual spends less time in school and more time on the job. The exact training path would likely vary by the job and field of endeavor.

    Since some of the training would on-the-job instruction, it would seem a person could get her/his degree or certificate in a shorter time; thus, saving money. Depending on the arrangements and specific performance by the individual, the affected company might have a duty to hire the apprentice and the apprentice a duty to work for the company for a reasonable period of time.

    And as to Larry’s comment on remedial education, the affected school system, as a condition of receiving state aid, should be required to reimburse the college for at least part of the costs of the remedial courses for all high school graduates attending the college. High level concept; details to be developed.

  8. LarrytheG Avatar

    agree… to repeat one passage in the Roanoke article:

    ” That’s not to say everyone needs a four-year college degree. They don’t. In fact, the biggest demand for jobs is in what the jargon calls “middle skills” jobs — skilled jobs that don’t require a college degree but do require some skills that a regular high school education doesn’t impart.”

    and that’s the thing – you don’t need to 4 yr general purpose degree… you can take a slice as long as it’s one that exists in the economy – and then you can, over time add slices… to your repertoire.

    we’re teaching kids wrong on this.. we’re telling them they have to have the whole ball of wax or it’s no good… so many get discouraged.. especially when they’re not talented across the spectrum at their entry into the workplace.

    A LOT of this is driven by 20th century mentalities about college and the belief that it’s the yellow brick path… and that’s not the reality in the 21st century economy but it totally drives our thinking about 4yr institutions and the belief that the state (taxpayers) MUST fund them to be “affordable”.

    we’ve gone down a rathole on this kind of thinking.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” If one took Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Federal backed college loans etc. away there would be a total collapse of the economy of those areas. And now with a crisis brewing in the coal fields it will get worse.”

    it is the awful truth.. but more than just standard SS …SSD

    and jwgilley may not agree but look at the maps – in the next comment.

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