Virginia's new governor keeps focus on jobs and technology

McDonnell outlines programs for growth despite deep budget cuts

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has promised to make job creation in the state “job No. 1.”

During an address this morning to some 450 Northern Virginia technology executives, educators and state and local officials, including his secretary of technology, Jim Duffey. McDonnell noted that the commonwealth currently has a 6.9 percent unemployment rate, which is below the national average but the highest in almost 25 years.

“It’s hard to believe that just three years ago we had a 2.9 percent unemployment rate statewide and about 1.9 percent here in Northern Virginia, almost negligible,” he said. “We’ve got an awful lot to do.”

He called Northern Virginia “the economic engine of the state” with tremendous revenue generated by the technology community and some 200,000 information technology workers.

“What we need to do is make sure we create the right climate in Virginia, provide the right tools, the right incentives to be able to compete with neighboring states and other countries,” he said.

Citing a state budget that already has been trimmed by $7 billion and the need to find another $2 billion in cuts, McDonnell said, “Long-term, we’re not going to tax our way out of this problem and we’re not going to just do it through simple arithmetic of addition and subtraction. We’ve got to have multiplication. We’ve got to be able to grow, which means we’ve got to invest now in the future.”

Speaking at a Northern Virginia Technology Council breakfast, McDonnell, a Republican, said he is planning to double the size of the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, which is used to attract companies to the state.

He also said newly proposed legislation would establish a special research grant program to attract biotech companies. “We’ve got some [biotech] projects here in Northern Virginia and in Richmond, but we’re not in the ballpark with Massachusetts and some other places. We’ve got to be able to do better,” he said.

The governor also has proposed a $3 million budget amendment to create a bio-science wet lab, “which is something that has to be done if you’re going to be able to attract biotech business.”

He also wants $2 million to revive the business incubator program, “something that worked well before funds were discontinued," he said. "We will need to start that back up to be able to provide some incentives for small-business entrepreneurs to be able to get started.”

McDonnell said he also wants $5 million to create several megasites that will attract companies thinking of relocating to Virginia, as well as green zones for companies involved in wind and solar power.

Finally, McDonnell said he wants to reform the Virginia Information Technology Agency, which he called a top priority for Duffey.

“One, the CIO must report directly to the governor through the secretary of technology. That’s something we have recommended,” he said.

McDonnell called the Information Technology Investment Board, the ITIB, “not completely functional” because it has “too much of a bureaucratic chain of command.”

“We need to be able to have that group essentially in an advisory capacity and not [be] a decision-making chain-of-command group,” he said. “It just impairs the ability to make quick decisions.”

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