The go-to guy

Haymore has worked to boost state’s economy under three governors

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Haymore says party politics go away when working on
economic development. Photo by Mark Rhodes

Todd Haymore recalls his father giving him a piece of advice at an early age.

“He said, ‘Todd, you are never going to be the smartest person in the room … but you can be the hardest-working person in the room,’ ” says the Danville-area native, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade.

That commitment to hard work has paid off for Haymore, 47, who has served as a top state official in the administrations of three governors.

Haymore left a career as an executive at Richmond-based Universal Leaf Tobacco Corp. in 2007 to become commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services under then-Gov. Tim Kaine, now a Democratic U.S. senator.

Since then, Haymore has served as the state’s secretary of agriculture and forestry in the cabinets of former Govs. Bob McDonnell (a Republican) and Terry McAuliffe (a Democrat). Last year he succeeded Maurice Jones as McAuliffe’s secretary of commerce and trade.

Haymore says his efforts to improve Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries were continuous throughout the three administrations.

“What we tried to start under Kaine, we actually got to do under McDonnell, and we got to finish what I consider the build-out under McAuliffe,” Haymore says, adding Basil Gooden, his successor as secretary of agriculture and forestry, “gets to take it to another level.”

Haymore’s current post has brought him different responsibilities. He’s tasked with elevating the commonwealth’s economic development efforts and overseeing 13 agencies and two organizations. That group includes the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), a state authority that recruits new businesses and helps existing companies expand.

At the end of last year, the commonwealth had more than 300 active economic development projects in the pipeline. Haymore anticipates another 10 to 12 projects will be announced by March 31. The commonwealth has seen $14.3 billion in new private sector investment since McAuliffe took office. The governor hopes that number will increase to $20 billion by the end of his term, Haymore says.

VEDP came under intense scrutiny last year. A state watchdog agency, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, issued a scathing report in November highlighting VEDP management problems it said could make the state vulnerable to fraud.

McAuliffe and Republican legislative leaders have unveiled conflicting proposals for correcting VEDP. The governor’s plan would make the secretary of commerce and trade the permanent chairman of VEDP’s board.  House Republicans have introduced their own overhaul plan that would reduce the size of the 24-member board and require members to have experience in business.  Under this plan the board chair would not be a member of the governor’s cabinet.

While Haymore worked in private industry before becoming a state official, he was no stranger to the public-sector arena. His father, H.F. Haymore Jr., served as a Pittsylvania County circuit court clerk for more than 30 years.

While an undergraduate at the University of Richmond, Haymore served as an intern for former state Sen. Onico Barker. (Haymore graduated from UR in 1991 and earned an MBA from VCU in 2004.)
After graduating from UR, he became a legislative assistant and communications director to then-U.S. Rep. L.F. Payne, D-5th District.  

Where is Haymore headed after his current appointment ends in 2018? He doesn’t know for sure but thinks he may go back to the private sector.  “We’ll figure out the future when it gets here,” he says. “I am loving — loving — being commerce and trade secretary and learning all the things that I didn’t know about and trying to fill all of those missions that the governor has laid out for us.”

Virginia Business editors interviewed Haymore in December at the state Capitol.

Virginia Business:  What has it been like to work for three different administrations?
Haymore:  It’s been incredibly fun.  I’ve said to people publicly and privately I’ll be indebted to Tim Kaine, Bob McDonnell and Terry McAuliffe for the rest of my life for the opportunities that they’ve given me.
[When Kaine initially asked him to serve as commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, Haymore rejected the offer.]

Thankfully, he called me back … I called my friend Whitt Clement [a former state delegate and cabinet member who now is a partner at Hunton & Williams in Richmond]. I said, “Governor Kaine and Chief of Staff Bill Leighty called me back, even though I’ve said, no.” Whitt started laughing … and he said, “They’ve got you, buddy boy… You can tell a governor ‘no’ once, but if you tell a governor ‘no’ twice you better find another state to live in.”

I was 37 at the time, and I was thinking more about where I was in the private sector … and the life that I was living.  I was traveling around the world.  I was enjoying an incredible career at Universal.  They had been really good to me … It was a tough decision, but I’m really glad that I did [take the job]. 

VB: Have you thought about running for office?
Haymore:   Have I thought about it?  Sure … When [then-U.S. Rep.] Robert Hurt announced he was retiring, there was a big push by a number of very kind people in both parties. [They] reached out to me and asked me if I was interested in running for the fifth congressional seat since it was home, and I had worked as a staffperson for Congressman Payne and knew Robert very well. We grew up together in Pittsylvania County.

I was honored, and I thought about it.  It was about this time last year … because I spent some of the time on Christmas break talking to people about that and taking phone calls and a few meetings. 
It’s just not a priority.  I’ve got young kids, three young [girls]. There are times when I don’t feel like I’m being a good [father and husband] because I’m gone so much, and my hours are so unpredictable and to think about the hours that members of the Senate or the House of Delegates or congressmen put in.

I’m honored that there have been those discussions and outreach, but right now, I think it’s safe to say, I don’t have any plans to run for anything.

VB:  Virginia has been a major agricultural exporter to Cuba.  What impact do you think the Trump administration is going to have on the state’s exports?
Haymore:   It’s going to be interesting.  Having spent some time with [Trump] over the last few years, because of the winery that he purchased in Charlottesville and having worked directly with his son, Eric, I’ve gotten the opportunity to have some business discussions with Trump and his son.

I view him as somebody who understands that we live in a globalized society, and the movement of products and goods around the world is key to our economic prosperity here at home.  I hope that the Trump administration will help businesses here in America continue to move their products around the world because more than 90 percent of the world’s customers are outside of the United States of America.  … 

The more products we move in the global marketplace from Virginia, the more opportunities that are here for our companies and to hopefully help them to expand and reinvest more capital here.
[In regards] to Cuba, I think, it’s to be determined.  We know that Trump businesses had looked at potentially doing something in Cuba when the embargo was over, and there was the ability for U.S. companies to invest in Cuba, and then … we’ve heard [Trump say] maybe something a little bit different. 

I’d like to think that [with Trump taking office] that we’ll see a continued opening of the relationship with Cuba so that more of our products [are sold there], more of our businesses can invest there.

VB:  Governor McAuliffe has introduced a proposal to reform the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Does it have a chance of being passed in the Republican legislature?
Haymore:   Word for word, as we’re introducing it?  Probably not.  This is going to be just like any other major piece of legislation.  There’ll be compromises.  I think the safe thing to predict is: There will be a VEDP reform package that will emerge from the General Assembly this year, that will be signed into law, at some point in 2017, by Governor McAuliffe. 

VEDP is an outstanding organization … Great people there, and they are fulfilling their mission.  … but that doesn’t mean there can’t be more accountability and oversight put in place to make sure that it is running as effectively and efficiently as possible.

We think we’ve put together a very thoughtful package, one that retains a lot of authority that the board currently has, including the ability to hire and fire the CEO.

The only clear authority that I [now] have, as secretary of commerce and trade acting on behalf of the governor, is the approval of the Commonwealth Opportunity Funds [or COF, financial incentives for companies that create new jobs and investment in the commonwealth] …

If VEDP chose to not deal with the secretary of commerce and trade on anything but the COF process or those incentives, they could do it.  That would be, obviously, a weird situation …
I firmly believe that they should remain an authority so they can move at the speed of business. They need to be different than a traditional state agency … But I think from the standpoint of being a good steward of taxpayer dollars, there should be more accountability up through the secretary to the governor ... 

I’ve said to several members of the General Assembly, “If you all want to criticize me or criticize the governor about VEDP’s action you should have the right to do that.”  Right now it’s hard to point that finger at a governor or secretary and say, “Why are you letting this happen?” 

I do believe, based on the conversations we’ve had with the Senate and House members, and dialogue with staff, there will be a reform package.  It just remains to be seen what it is.  I feel strongly about that.  We all recognize that we need it because VEDP is far too important for the state of Virginia not to have a good reputation and a good working relationship with the General Assembly, with the executive branch. 

VB: If you were chairman of the VEDP board what would you do differently?
Haymore:   If I was chairman, it would [be my] responsibility [to make] sure that VEDP was doing everything that they were supposed to do as far as being the stewards of taxpayer dollars but also implementing the strategic plan for economic growth and prosperity of the commonwealth.

[An arrangement making a cabinet member chairman of the VEDP board] is very similar to the Commonwealth Transportation Board.  Secretary [Aubrey] Layne, or whoever the transportation secretary is, is the standing chairman of the Commonwealth Transportation Board.  We didn’t invent this.  This is where you’re borrowing from another model that seems to be working fairly well.

I have no desire, [and] I don’t think the governor has any desire to micromanage the day-to-day operations of VEDP.  That’s not what that standing chairmanship is about, but it does establish that clear accountability to the executive branch for millions and millions of dollars that are being spent or used as incentives to make Virginia have economic prosperity … Anyone who wants to say that that setup would destabilize the board or politicize it, I just don’t think that’s the case. 

VB:  You’re from Southern Virginia, which has been struggling [economically] for a number of years.  Has that influenced your concerns about creating jobs?
Haymore: There’s no doubt that growing up where I grew up and then watching what happened to that part of the state in the mid- to late-‘90s and early 2000s has shaped me. I had friends who I went to high school [and grade school] with who lost jobs, who had to scramble for a while.  In some cases, they had to move to other places, and that stays with you.  That would stay with me even if I was still at Universal Leaf Tobacco or if I was in the private sector elsewhere.  [You] just don’t want that to happen. 

Fortunately … that area of the state is coming back.  We just did our sixth economic development announcement in Martinsville-Henry County this year.  I think Danville, Pittsylvania County has had four, and they’re diversifying their economy, becoming more known for some advanced manufacturing. Even agriculture, the tobacco industry, has made a rebound there because of the investments that [JTI Leaf Services] has made in Danville …

Obviously, Southwest Virginia is still having some struggles, and we’ve got some projects that we’re working on in that region that I hope [come to fruition]. I can assure you the governor thinks about those regions every day … the Shenandoah Valley, Southwest, Southside, the [Northern] Neck and the [Eastern] Shore …

VB:  Is there anything that we didn’t ask you that you want to add?
Haymore: I love what I’m doing.  As you can tell, I’m passionate about economic development, global trade because I think those things are going to help Virginia continue to be one of the best states in America.

I really do believe that we are in a position to capitalize on these new opportunities whether they are cyber, bio, more advanced manufacturing. We are so blessed as Virginians, not only because we live here and the incredible history [Virginia has], but all the natural assets that we have.

I learned that, in helping support the governor and VEDP with the recruitment of Stone, Deschutes and Ballast Point [breweries] … Those companies were really, really interested in quality of life.  Every project is always about workforce, human talent, the capital coming in that way, but we’re hearing more and more about companies that want to be in a place where there’s maybe less traffic [and] a little slower lifestyle. …

The governor always talks about how he’s always fired up. I’m always optimistic about where things are even when times are tough.  We’ve all had times where we’ve had to trim budgets during [the past three administrations]. Even when times are tough and when you’re down, make those strategic investments so when you come out, it’s almost like buying stock when it’s low.  You buy it when it’s low because you know it’s going to go up again.

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