Roanoke Regional Chamber joins more than 600 organizations in urging Congressional approval of USMCA

The Roanoke Regional Chamber joined the US Chamber of Commerce and more than 600 organizations in urging Congressional approval of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Below is the letter that was sent to Congress today. Click here to read more.


On behalf of the undersigned business and agriculture organizations and chambers of commerce from across the United States, we are writing to urge you to support the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. USMCA is critical to our economic future because it will preserve and strengthen U.S. trade ties to Canada and Mexico.

More than 12 million American jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico. U.S. manufacturers export more made-in-America manufactured goods to our North American neighbors than they do to the next 11 largest export markets combined, and the two countries account for nearly one-third of U.S. agricultural exports. They are also the top two export destinations for U.S. small and medium-size businesses, more than 120,000 of which sell their goods and services to Canada and Mexico.

Approval of USMCA will ensure U.S. manufacturers, farmers, and service providers can continue to access the Canadian and Mexican markets. The new pact guarantees that virtually all U.S. exports will enter these markets tariff-free. 

USMCA will also modernize North American trade rules. For example, when NAFTA was negotiated a quarter century ago, there was no e-commerce; consequently, the agreement did not address this sector. USMCA’s digital trade chapter sets a new, high standard, as the agreement does in areas from intellectual property protection to trade in services.

By creating a level playing field for trade in North America, USMCA will help U.S. companies and the workers they employ compete in our top two export markets. The case for the agreement’s approval is strong. We urge Congress to approve USMCA as soon as possible.

CNBC names Virginia America’s Top State for Business in 2019

CNBC released its annual “America’s Top States for Business” rankings, with Virginia at the top of the list. Contributing factors include workforce, economy, infrastructure, cost of doing business, quality of life, education, technology & innovation, business friendliness, access to capital, and cost of living. Below is CNBC’s full report (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/09/virginia-is-americas-top-state-for-business-in-2019.html):

Amazon had it right: Virginia is America’s Top State for Business in 2019 KEY POINTS

  • Virginia is America’s 2019 Top State for Business in CNBC’s 13th annual study.
  • Its world-class workforce, high-performing education system and business-friendly regulations propel Virginia to the top spot.
  • Amazon chose Virginia for its new second headquarters based on many of the same factors.
  • Defense spending, which is rising, accounts for nearly 12% of Virginia’s economy — more than any other state.

In a year marked by historic economic development deals and marred by a damaging trade war, Virginia lands at the top of CNBC’s 2019 ranking of America’s Top States for Business.

This is the Old Dominion’s fourth win in the 13 years since the study began. In fact, Virginia was CNBC’s inaugural Top State in 2007. But this is its first win since 2011. That year began a five-year leveling off in defense spending — a key part of the economy in Virginia. Defense spending accounts for nearly 12% of the Commonwealth’s GDP, more than any other state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Now the Pentagon’s budget is back in a big way, rising to $686 billion for fiscal year 2019. In the state where the Pentagon is located, that is welcome news.

But Virginia’s success involves much more than the military. The state offers the best workforce in the country, reveals our 2019 study. Nearly 38% of adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, placing Virginia in the top 10 for educational attainment. And per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia has the nation’s fourth highest concentration of crucial science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) employees, making up 9% of the workforce in 2018. All of this in a right-to-work state with a minimal union presence — something companies prize.

That workforce was a key factor in Virginia’s biggest economic development win in recent memory: Amazon’s decision to locate a portion of its coveted HQ2 project in Arlington, announced late last year. The retailer promises to ultimately hire 25,000 people for Virginia’s part of the facility and to spend $2.5 billion.

“We were really excited by Virginia, what it had to offer,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president for public policy and part of the core site selection team, in an interview with CNBC. “Probably the most important thing was the attraction of this place to talent, and particularly tech talent.”

Workforce is the most important category in the CNBC study.

Huseman also pointed to Virginia’s focus on education, which he said was unique among the bids. Virginia Tech University plans to open a new “innovation campus” adjacent to the site.

In the CNBC study, Virginia ties with Massachusetts for first place in the Education category, with solid state support and strong test scores to show for it.

“They listened and really heard our needs about talent and infrastructure and education,” Huseman said. Our methodology scores the states in 10 categories, weighted based on how frequently states cite them in their economic development marketing materials, for a total of 2,500 points. Virginia scores 1,610 points to take the 2019 Top States crown. This year’s categories and point totals are:

  • Workforce – 450 points
  • Economy – 375 points
  • Infrastructure – 350 points
  • Cost of Doing Business – 350 points
  • Quality of Life – 325 points
  • Education – 175 points
  • Technology & Innovation – 175 points
  • Business Friendliness – 175 points
  • Access to Capital – 75 points
  • Cost of Living – 50 points

Amazon originally planned to build an identical-sized facility in Queens, New York, but it pulled out after public opposition to the project surfaced. In Virginia, what little opposition there was has been much more muted, which business leaders attribute to a more cooperative spirit.

“Government officials, business officials, local citizens groups — people talk to each other a lot,” said Matthew Kelly, CEO of JBG Smith, the real estate investment trust that owns most of the real estate where Amazon plans to set up shop.

Indeed, Virginia rises to third place in our Business Friendliness category, up from fifth place a year ago and earning an A grade. Last year Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed into law a bipartisan program to cut business regulations by 25% within three years.

Other major companies headquartered in the Old Dominion include General DynamicsCapital One Financial and Altria Group.

“When businesses large and small want to call Virginia home, that is a one-two punch for our economy that can’t be beat,” said Northam in his annual State of the Commonwealth address on Jan. 9.

But it is Northam’s own past that has raised concerns about another aspect of Virginia’s business climate: inclusiveness.

Northam faced widespread calls to resign in February after his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced showing one person in blackface and another in Ku Klux Klan robes. Northam has denied that either of the individuals is him, but a subsequent investigation was inconclusive. He refused to resign, calling the incident an opportunity to heal the state’s fractious racial past and promising to devote the rest of his term to racial equality.

Since then, his administration points to a number of initiatives, including setting a goal to eliminate the racial disparity in the state’s infant mortality rate by 2025, a program to reinstate suspended driver’s licenses that began this month, and setting employment equity targets for state agencies. Northam also established a commission to examine racial inequities in state laws.

The CNBC study measures inclusiveness based on antidiscrimination laws as part of a state’s Quality of Life score. Virginia ties with California for 17th place with a grade of C+. The state does have strong legal protections against most forms of discrimination, but no explicit prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Another weak spot in the Top State is costs. Those smart workers command big salaries, and wage costs in Virginia are the 10th highest in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state finishes 35th for Cost of Doing Business and 32nd for Cost of Living — and that is before Amazon comes to town.

The contenders

Texas finishes second in the rankings following its fourth Top States win in 2018. The state is still a business leviathan that has never finished outside the top five in our study. But Texas is no match for declining oil prices, which sap the state of its economic lifeblood. Crude oil prices are down roughly 20% from their peak last fall. Also hurting Texas is the trade war, which is sapping exports and imports.

North Carolina finishes third in this year’s rankings, thanks to a supremely well-rounded economy that we rate the best overall. While economic growth was moderate at 2.9% last year, other measures of economic strength are solid. The housing market is healthy, with prices rising nearly 7% last year, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Foreclosure activity is down, and fewer than 10 percent of mortgages are underwater, claims RealtyTrac/Attom Data Solutions.

Finishing fourth is Utah — another perennial favorite in the rankings. The Beehive State’s economy is buzzing. State GDP rose 4.3% in 2018. That is the second highest growth rate in the nation. The Silicon Slopes technology region keeps growing, attracting prized STEM workers to the Wasatch Front. But the state continues to lag in Education, with the nation’s largest class sizes and the second smallest per-pupil spending.

Rounding out the top five is Washington State. It had America’s fastest-growing economy last year, at 5.7%. But that growth is taking its toll. Longstanding infrastructure problems are worsening. The state falls to No. 39 in the category from No. 31 last year, earning a dismal C-. Nearly one quarter of the state’s roads are in less than acceptable condition, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data.

On the fast track

This year’s most improved state is Kansas, rising 16 spots to No. 19 overall. Two years after state legislators ended an experiment in extreme supply-side economics, including deep tax cuts championed by then-Gov. Sam Brownback, state finances have improved. Kansas is running a surplus now, and services are being restored.

“We are returning to our roots as a very progressive, thoughtful, forward-looking state,” Gov. Laura Kelly told CNBC in an interview.

Kelly, a Democrat, won the governorship last year in part due to the backlash over the state’s economic woes. But nonpartisan state budget forecasters warn that repealing the tax cuts alone will not solve Kansas’ problems. In fact, forecasts call for revenues to begin declining as soon as next year. Even Kelly has acknowledged that the state’s finances need to be overhauled.

Other states that better themselves in 2019 include North Dakota, rising 12 spots to No. 17 overall, with solid improvements in Workforce, Economy and Education. No. 3 North Carolina vaults into the top five from ninth place last year, thanks to solid improvement in Economy. Nebraska also rises six places, to No. 8 overall, on the back of an improving economy. As a farm state, Nebraska is particularly vulnerable to the trade war. But it has weathered the storm for now.

The year’s biggest decline belongs to Michigan, which falls 13 spots to No. 24 overall. A cooling housing market is hurting the state’s economy, falling road quality is hurting the state’s infrastructure, and the state’s workforce development efforts are falling short.

Other decliners include California, falling seven spots to No. 32. The Golden State’s economy is still among the fastest growing in the country, but the housing market has cooled considerably. Idaho (No. 18) falls seven places as well. There, the economy is cranking along and the housing market is on fire. But that growth is leading to rising costs.

Massachusetts (No. 14) and Pennsylvania (No. 28) each dropped five spots. Massachusetts slips in Workforce, Economy and Infrastructure. Pennsylvania’s Workforce ranking plunges to 31 from 13. The state’s unemployment rate — 3.9% in May — is now roughly in line with the national average. That means fewer available workers.

State laggards

If there are top states, there must be bottom states, and this year’s also-rans will be familiar to any longtime followers of this study.

West Virginia improves slightly to No. 45 from No. 48 this year. But the state still turns in a dismal performance in areas like Technology & Innovation and Business Friendliness.

Louisiana slips two spots to No. 46. The state is heavily dependent on energy, and falling prices hurt.

Similar story for Alaska (No. 47), though the state rises from last place one year ago. The state’s budget picture has improved considerably, following an overhaul of state finances, and the housing market has improved. But it is not enough to overcome the state’s many other woes, including high costs and poor infrastructure.

Right behind is Mississippi, with an economy that’s barely breathing. The state ranked No.48 due also to persistent quality-of-life issues, most notably poor health.

Hawaii falls two spots to No. 49 on this year’s list, perpetually hampered by high costs and poor infrastructure. But the Aloha state regains its No. 1 rank in Quality of Life after a brief stumble last year when it fell to second place because of high crime.

Rhode Island rounds out our 2019 rankings — the fifth time in 13 years that the Ocean State has finished last. The state is mounting an ambitious program to fix its crumbling infrastructure once and for all, funded by tolls on interstate trucks. Officials point to $1.5 billion in road work over the past three years, and 180 bridges repaired or replaced. But the improvements are not showing up in the numbers yet, at least relative to other states. Simply put, Rhode Island was so far gone that any comeback effort will take time.

Warner & Kaine Request Funding for I-81 Upgrades

Nelly Decker (Warner) 202 228 6884
Katie Stuntz (Kaine) 202 355 3761

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today requested additional funding for vital improvements to Interstate 81 (I-81) that would enhance safety and reduce traffic congestion.

In a pair of letters to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the Senators emphasized I-81’s crucial role in commerce along the East Coast and stressed the need for federal dollars to tackle necessary repairs to the highway. The Senators also encouraged DOT to approve an application from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for federal grant funding to improve I-81, reduce congestion, and address safety problems along the route.

“While improvements have been made in past years to keep up with the growth, I-81 continues to experience heavy congestion and dangerous conditions, which have degraded the corridor,” the Senators wrote in the letter of support to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. “The proposal put forth by VDOT will undoubtedly transform and improve the lives of many Virginians who travel the interstate every day. Furthermore, upgrades and repairs will improve the safety of those traveling through the Commonwealth.”

The Senators also encouraged the leaders of the EPW Committee to include robust funding for high-priority interstate improvement projects such as I-81 in the next surface transportation bill.

“As you continue to draft the surface transportation reauthorization bill, we urge you to include as much funding as possible for major, high priority interstate improvements projects such as I-81 in Virginia,” the Senators wrote to the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Robust funding through formula programs, as well as additional competitive grant programs like BUILD and INFRA, will be necessary to achieve funding goals for this, and other major projects that involve improvements to hundreds of miles of major interstate arteries.”

More than one-third of all trucks that drive through Virginia and approximately half of the Commonwealth’s value of goods are transported along I-81. In the last decade, I-81 has experienced significant traffic growth, with travel expected to continue increasing along the interstate. Increased I-81 traffic causes severe travel delays and puts travelers at risk, including the drivers involved in the more than 2,000 crashes that happen annually along the route.

A recent study by VDOT that found an unmet need of about $4 billion in improvements along the interstate – only half of which is expected to be covered by the increased truck registration fees and gas tax increases approved by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been longtime advocates of robust financing for the Commonwealth’s infrastructure. In May, the Senators introduced legislation to provide critical safety reforms and strengthen oversight of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Additionally, earlier this year, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, create jobs, and generate economic stimulus.


Chamber Hosts Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross

It was our honor to host Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross today for a roundtable discussion of the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) and other issues of importance to the business community.

A special thank you to Congressman Ben Cline and Congressman Morgan Griffith for joining us.

I-81 Needs Federal Funding to Complement State Investment

The following op-ed was published in the Roanoke Times on Friday, June 7.

I-81 Needs Federal Funding to Complement State Investment

By Joyce Waugh, president and CEO, Roanoke Regional Chamber

Thursday, May 23 marked Virginia’s inaugural “Celebrate Transportation Day,” and this year, we have much to celebrate though the job is not yet finished.

A 2018 General Assembly resolution, patroned by Senator John Edwards and Delegate Chris Head, established this annual transportation celebration in Virginia. Recognizing the importance that a quality transportation network plays in our economy, the resolution reads:

WHEREAS, ease of transportation is a significant factor for people deciding where to live and raise a family, where to start a business, or where to travel for leisure; enhancing transportation assets boosts the economy in both the short term and the long term by creating jobs, increasing economic competitiveness, and improving quality of life.

This was the message we brought to the General Assembly in 2019 as we strongly and persistently advocated for I-81 improvements.Today, we celebrate transportation as Governor Northam visits Salem for a bill signing ceremony for the I-81 legislation.

After months of studying the unique challenges along I-81, developing targeted solutions to make the corridor safer and more reliable, and considering a variety of financing options, legislation was passed in April to fund the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan.

The bipartisan package approved by the General Assembly includes a mix of statewide and regional funding measures that will generate approximately $150 million annually to support needed improvements to I-81.

This is worth celebrating – not only the legislation, but also the leaders in our community, broader region and in Richmond who made it happen.

To Governor Northam, Secretary Valentine, the legislators who patroned bills to improve I-81 (Delegates Austin and Landes and Senators Edwards, Carrico, Obenshain, and Hanger), and those who supported its passage – we thank you for making this issue a priority.

And thank you to Virginia’s Blue Ridge and our broader community, for your active engagement throughout the study and legislative process. Every call, meeting, email and letter made a difference, especially when it appeared the General Assembly session was going to end without a solution for I-81.

This year, we celebrate the leadership of our elected leaders, the advocacy of our business community, and the impact this investment will have on our region’s economic vitality.

Next, our goal is to celebrate a federal infrastructure package that complements the investment we’ve made at the state level.

The legislation passed this year will address $2.2 billion in improvements for I-81; however, the Commonwealth Transportation Board identified approximately $4 billion of needed improvements along Virginia’s 325 mile stretch of I-81 between Bristol and Winchester.

Federal funding is necessary to fully fund I-81 improvements.

The Roanoke Regional Chamber stands behind the group of legislators along the I-81 corridor who recently urged Senators Warner and Kaine and Representatives Griffith, Cline, and Wexton to help secure federal funding for I-81.

In a letter dated May 8, the legislators pointed to Virginia’s recent investment in I-81 and called on the federal government to share in the responsibility of funding outdated infrastructure, citing the interstate’s role in the “economic interest of the nation.”

The letter was co-signed by Virginia Delegates Austin, Landes, Wilt, Pillion, LaRock, Collins, Kilgore, Campbell, Rasoul, and Hurst and Senators Chafin, Carrico, Deeds, Hanger, Obenshain, and Edwards. We thank them for continuing to lead in I-81 advocacy.

The idea that potholes aren’t partisan has been around for a while. For years, bipartisan support for infrastructure investment has been steadily increasing, and leaders and voters in state houses and localities have been rolling up their sleeves, making tough, important choices, and rebuilding and modernizing transportation systems.

Our infrastructure doesn’t exist in isolation. Infrastructure – literally – unites the United States of America. No state, city, or county alone can tackle the enormous and growing backlog of projects of regional and national importance.

May 13-20, 2019 was Annual Infrastructure Week – a national week of advocacy and education that brings together business, labor, and elected leaders to spotlight the need to revitalize, modernize, and invest in infrastructure.

Improving I-81 is a priority for the Roanoke Regional Chamber. The corridor carries $312 billion in goods annually and connects 25 colleges and universities, 21 cities, and 13 counties. Investment in our transportation infrastructure is investment in economic opportunity and our region’s future.

In light of the recent Celebrate Transportation Day in Virginia and national Infrastructure Week, we applaud the leadership of the General Assembly in funding I-81 improvements, and we embrace the opportunity to continue transportation advocacy at the federal level.

Virginia Chamber hosts conference on energy & infrastructure in Roanoke

Nicole Bunce

Virginia Chamber Draws Attention to Sound Infrastructure and Reliable Energy Needs in Roanoke Conference 

Earlier this afternoon, the Virginia Chamber concluded its two-day conference during which world-class panelists discussed statewide investments in workforce development and job growth, infrastructure’s role in economic development for rural Virginia, and the importance of affordable, reliable energy.

For the first time in conference history, the event was hosted in Roanoke to foster broader discussions with leaders from all areas of the state and create a renewed focus on the important role rural Virginia plays in energy and infrastructure improvements.

“We are thrilled that the Virginia Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual infrastructure and energy conference in the Roanoke Region and we were pleased to serve as a participating host,” said Roanoke Chamber President & CEO Joyce Waugh. “A reliable transportation system is critical to our region’s economic well-being as well as connecting our residents and companies with the rest of the Commonwealth and customers. In addition, our region relies on affordable energy to fuel our cars, heat our homes, and power our businesses. Continued investments in these two key areas will drive business development and economic growth as we strengthen our business climate to encourage investment and well-paying jobs, boost our education systems, and expand cultural opportunities in Virginia’s Blue Ridge and southwest Virginia.”

The conference also included keynote remarks from leaders in both the business and higher education communities. Morning remarks on Thursday were provided by Nick Akins, Chairman, President & CEO, American Electric Power, and the conference was concluded with remarks from Dr. Tim Sands, President, Virginia Tech.

“Throughout this conference we heard from elected officials and industry experts about how a robust infrastructure network and access to affordable, reliable energy can kickstart economic growth and job creation. Infrastructure extends beyond just roads and bridges, and our panelists shared how sustainable investments in healthcare, education, and manufacturing can drive business development in southwest Virginia and other rural areas of the Commonwealth,” expressed Virginia Chamber President & CEO Barry DuVal. “As we strive to return Virginia to the best state in the nation for business, I urge policy makers and business leaders to take what we learned from our conference and advocate for commonsense, sustainable policies that will improve our infrastructure and energy networks for the foreseeable future,” DuVal concluded.

For more information visit: https://www.vachamber.com/event/2019-virginia-conference-on-energy-infrastructure/