New VEDP Chief Brings Workforce Training Credibility

Steven Moret, Louisiana's economic development and workforce training guru
Steven Moret married economic development and workforce training in Louisiana. Photo credit: The Advocate

Steven Moret, an economic development executive from Louisiana, has been selected to run the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) on the strength of his track record of attracting private investment to Louisiana by building one of the most respected workforce training programs in the country.

The VEDP board approved the hire in a special meeting yesterday against the backdrop of a devastating report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), which charged that VEDP suffered from “systemic deficiencies” in administration and management.

Moret, selected from among six finalists after a nationwide search, will receive a base salary of 340,000 with benefits and, he would be eligible for an annual incentive bonus up to 15% tied to performance. He has strong family connections to Virginia. His mother lives in Richmond, and his in-laws are planning to move to the city.

Among all of Virginia’s economic development programs, VEDP is the most important. VEDP itself administers a $27 million budget, and it is influential in dispensing tens of millions of dollars more in incentives through the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund.

In an interview with Virginia Business, VEDP Chairman Dan Clemente explained the board’s rationale behind the pick:

Clemente said that hiring a new, highly qualified leader will help shepherd through changes resulting from JLARC’s review. Saying that he had consulted with legislative leaders before calling Monday’s meeting, Clemente noted that Moret was hired to head up Louisiana’s economic development efforts in 2009 under conditions similar to those facing VEDP today. “He came in and straightened that out and brought in billions in new capital investment, “ Clemente said.

What really impressed him, Clemente added, is that Moret traveled to Georgia to study its workforce development initiative, developing a similar model in Louisiana called FastStart. “He hired the No. 2 guy in Georgia and brought him to Louisiana to make the program work,” Clemente said. “He’s good at executing ideas.”

Clemente said Moret —who was not present at Monday’s meeting — has read JLARC’s 132-page report. “He looked at it and said, ‘Dan, this is all administrative. I can take care of it. ’” Clemente said Moret wanted to come to Virginia because “ ‘your location draws Fortune 500 companies, and that creates a lot of opportunities for me.’ ”

Bacon’s bottom line: Moret seems like a promising choice for the job, and it will be interesting to see where he takes VEDP. An experienced executive should be able to address the managerial issues raised by JLARC. Of greater import will be his ability to connect corporate recruitment with workforce development.

The number one driver behind corporate investment today is gaining access to a skilled workforce. As we have blogged on Bacon’s Rebellion repeatedly, tens of thousands of jobs across the state are going unfilled because of the inability of existing employers to find employees with the necessary qualifications. Needless to say, staffing is an issue to out-of-state company considering an investment in Virginia as well. The skills gap tells us that a massive disconnect has developed between the workforce, employers and the educational/ training institutions that impart needed skills.

Since 1965, the Virginia Jobs Investment Program (VJIP) has provided training to companies creating new jobs. That program has undergone considerable bureaucratic turmoil over the past 20 years, shuffling in whole or in part between the old Department of Economic Development, the Department of Business Assistance, the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity, and then back to VEDP, according to a 2014 VEDP presentation.

Between 2010 and 2014, the program shrank from 16 operational and support personnel to six. In other words, while Louisiana was building a best-in-class workforce development initiative, it appears that Virginia was decimating its own program.

From a philosophical perspective, investment incentives such as special subsidies and tax breaks smack of corporate welfare. The beneficiaries are corporations, often highly profitable ones. There is no moral justification for such transfer payments, only the practical justification of bribing an out-of-state company to locate in Virginia. By contrast, workforce training benefits both the corporation and the employees benefiting from the training. While some such skills imparted in highly tailored training programs may be company-specific, employees often acquire skills they can apply elsewhere. Viewed another way, workforce training is an investment in Virginians, not out-of-state corporations with no demonstrated long-term commitment to the state.

Given a choice between bribing companies with subsidies and tax breaks or subsidizing their workforce training, I would choose training in a heartbeat. Indeed, if one of Mr. Moret’s priorities is to recreate his Louisiana workforce-training success here in Virginia, I would suggest that the General Assembly could provide him with all the money he needs from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund.

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One response to “New VEDP Chief Brings Workforce Training Credibility”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think I might argue that Economic Development and Workforce Training are two different things with different funding issues and different goals for facility and staffing.

    Not arguing that economic development would not benefit from being able to make an educational facility and staffing commitment to a new prospect but Community colleges also typically are already using their existing committed resources to meet existing needs of existing companies.. in their region.

    Perhaps the ED budget SHOULD also include multi-year funding for workforce training… and perhaps that would help seal the deal – even better than one-time incentives and tax-credits

    … however – it’s never one size-fits-all when it comes to economic development and a bigger problem in my view in Virginia is the multitude of different programs that are not working in a coordinated and holistic way to begin with – e.g. the Tobacco Indemnity Fund.

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