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Gov. Northam Emphasizes Importance of Bringing Economic Opportunity to Rural Virginia at Virginia Rural Center Summit

Staunton, Va. Oct. 22, 2018 – No doubt, it was good to announce last week that Virginia’s unemployment rate dropped to a decade-low 2.9 percent, Governor Ralph Northam told more than 200 attendees gathered today in Staunton, Va. for the annual Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity, presented by the Virginia Rural Center.

But with that success comes challenges. Namely, Gov. Northam, who grew up on the rural Eastern Shore said, that figure represents the entire state and the unemployment rate is nowhere near that low in rural Virginia.

“Plain and simple, we need more jobs, more high paying jobs, in rural Virginia,” said Gov. Northam.
“It was not that long ago that Virginia was the number one state in this country of ours in which to do business,” Gov. Northam said. “This year we are at fourth. If we all collectively work together we can be back to number one.”

That collective work, in many ways, starts at the summit, an annual gathering of the Commonwealth’s administration, elected officials, community leaders, educators and businesses to discuss challenges and solutions for growing rural Virginia’s economy.

“Have we made progress?” Northam asked. “Yes, we’ve made progress.”

More than 4,500 new jobs have been created and $1.13 billion in new capital invested in rural Virginia since Gov. Northam took office earlier this year.

But to keep moving forward, Gov. Northam called on summit attendees to ensure rural Virginia continues to look at new, creative ways to make doing business in rural Virginia attractive, to train people to do the very jobs that are available, bring universal broadband access to all Virginians and continue to focus on the importance of access to health care in the Commonwealth’s most rural regions.

“Step number one as we move forward and we diversify the economy, we have to talk about workforce development,” Gov. Northam said.

He highlighted specifically the G3 program – which stands for get skilled, get a job, and give back – partnership between the state’s community college system and businesses to help students get the skills they need for the jobs available now in cybersecurity, computer programming, clean energy, health care and other high-need areas.

“We have to work very hard to train our youth for these 21st century jobs and also retrain individuals that are no longer in industries that used to be present in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Gov. Northam said.

High-tech jobs require high-speed internet access, Gov. Northam said, noting that his administration continues to develop a plan to get universal broadband to all Virginians.

“In 2018, there is no way that a business can grow and there is no way you can attract new business to Virginia if we don’t have universal access to broadband,” Gov. Northam said. “We are working on that very hard. It’s going to have to be a partnership between the business community and the public sector.”

With the 2019 General Assembly session coming up, Gov. Northam called on legislators attending the summit to consider funding for broadband when they begin budget work.

You often hear people say they grew up in rural Virginia, but they live, work, and raise their families elsewhere, Gov. Northam said.

It’s time to change that.

“Rural Virginia is coming back,” Gov. Northam said. “You can’t keep us down. We are hard working, we’re genuine people, and I just think there is a lot of promise.”

The Governor’s Summit on Rural Prosperity also included panels on economic development and workforce development, along with in-depth discussions on rural broadband and an update on the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan.

Featured speakers included Stephen Moret, President & CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and many members of the Governor’s cabinet.

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