Blueprint Virginia Thinking Long-Term, Not Abbrev.

Published 3:45 pm Thursday, June 20, 2013

FARMVILLE – There's nothing long-term about being governor of Virginia.

Candidates run on sound bites and the winner, on average, has little more than two years of genuine effectiveness in office.

Much of the first year is spent assembling an administration and developing an agenda, while the governor is a mallard with a broken leg during the fourth year.

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Planning, then, is not even abbreviated; it's abbrev.

The Virginia Chamber of Commerce is changing that, when it comes to economic development. The state chamber's Blueprint Virginia aims to give the state's next governor a long-term plan for economic prosperity in the commonwealth.

The Farmville area is already participating in the development of that planning tool.

Barry DuVal, President and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Secretary of Commerce and Trade under Governor Jim Gilmore, keynoted last week's meeting of the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce, which saw 100 people attend from across the region.

“It isn't about what we want Virginia to look like next year,” DuVal said. “We're asking you to think about this question-what do we want Virginia to look like eight years from now, and who's really in charge of Virginia's economic future?”

A four-question survey was provided for each attendee, seeking answers to the following queries:

1) What do you think are Virginia's top three priorities to remain economically competitive?

2) What should be the next governor's top economic priority?

3) What are your top three regional priorities?

4) What additional ideas do you have to improve your region and state's economy?

The feedback from Farmville will be added to the thoughts and ideas gathered across the state, in similar meetings and via the state chamber's website, and presented to either Ken Cuccinelli or Terry McAuliffe in November after the election.

“The two candidates for governor are both aware of this process, they've both individually been in my office and they know that by the end of the summer we'll have over 6,000 businesses participating in this survey,” DuVal said. “…And they know we're developing, for the benefit of the governor-elect, the blueprint for Virginia's economic prosperity. We intend to hand to the governor-elect on November 20-we have a commitment from both candidates for governor to participate in a statewide economic jobs summit where we'll present Blueprint Virginia to the governor-elect. This will help the governor-elect and his administration hit the ground running, come 2014.”

Such long-term thinking is vital to Virginia's future, DuVal believes, and he knows from first-hand experience how limiting a one-term gubernatorial administration can be, coupled with the part-time legislature.

“The General Assembly meets 45 days one year and (they) meet 60 days the next year. It's very difficult for you to have an eight-year strategic plan for the commonwealth,” DuVal continued.

“And governors serve 48 months at a time. It's very difficult for them to think beyond 48 months. I remember being sworn-in as secretary and I had six months to produce an economic development plan to present to the governor and members of the General Assembly,” he explained. “So it's difficult to think beyond 48 months when you can only serve one term.”

Blueprint Virginia is meant to break through the short present tense-the continual stop-starts created by a succession of one-term governors-and march the state farther into a brighter economic future.

“So the question we're asking with Blueprint Virginia is what do you want Virginia to look like eight years from now? What do you think we should look like in education, in workforce, business climate, economic development and what about our national security profile? We certainly have opportunities to become stronger in all of these areas. Energy and health care and quality of life and transportation and technology,” DuVal told a packed Nance Room in the Dorrill Dining Hall on the campus of Longwood University.

A fitting location.

“You will not find a region growing and prospering in Virginia or in the country,” DuVal stressed, “that does not have institutions of higher education because it provides the intellectual capacity for the workforce and that's what jobs depend upon…”

What has been the overwhelming answer the state chamber has been hearing so far?

“It won't surprise you to learn that strengthening the workforce and education is coming in right at the top,” he revealed.

“Your region is going to grow and prosper. Or your region is going to fall away. It's going to soar or it's going to fall away,” DuVal said.

A region's fate depends upon its willingness to invest in the key pillars of success and education and the workforce are number one.

“So a competent workforce and intellectual capacity, are right at the top of the list,” he stressed.

Blueprint Virginia will build on existing regional plans rather than create a substitute for them, embracing regional and industry strategies that exist “and to present to public policy makers a list of priorities for investment in the future,” the state chamber's president and CEO explained.

“I want to get your views,” he told the Farmville gathering, adding that he would not find it rude at all if everyone filled out the survey while he was speaking.

Those views began to be sent immediately, with many in attendance accepting DuVal's invitation to answer the four-question survey before they left the June 10 meeting.

Local chamber officials were excited to host one of the state chamber's regional Blueprint Virginia meetings, board chairman Rucker Snead calling it “a great opportunity for our community to come together for a conversation about our future.

Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Tharpe had told The Herald prior to the meeting that “our voice must be heard in Southside so that we are not overlooked and that our strengths and needs are represented. We are certainly stronger together as a whole than individually stating the same message.”

Evaluating the meeting a day after attending it, Sheri McGuire, executive director of the Longwood Small Business Development, reflected “the Blueprint Virginia presentation highlighted many of the challenges and opportunities that we see in our work at Longwood through our Office of Community and Economic Development and the SBDC. We look forward to being a stakeholder and partner in this statewide effort, and to implementing new solutions that we may learn from other areas of the state and beyond.”

New solutions for a future that is neither abbreviated.

Nor abbrev.