Despite the wackiness

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Bernie Niemeier, photo by Mark Rhodes

Cooler December days are here.  Winter may have taken some time arriving, but altogether 2017 has flown by fast — with quite a few surprises.

Who would’ve thought just over 12 months ago that Dee Cee could become even more dysfunctional?  Perhaps that’s really no big change. With one party controlling all of the branches of government, one might expect more legislation to pass but that assumes the Republicans are one party, something they arguably haven’t been for quite some time.

In Virginia, who would’ve thought just a few weeks ago that the commonwealth’s voting would turn out as it did?  Democrats winning statewide offices in Virginia isn’t unusual. However, their margin of victory and the huge loss of seats in the seemingly unstoppable Republican majority in the House of Delegates were big surprises, not just for Virginians, but for the nation at large.

For the rise of all things Trump in Dee Cee to be bookended just 12 months later by an electoral backlash in Virginia — a once-reliably red state now being called a blue state — who would’ve predicted that?

Indeed, the politics of the past year have been unusual, sometimes even bizarre.  Republican Delegate Bob Marshall —  Prince William’s arch-conservative, 25-year incumbent — was upended by transgender, first-time Democratic candidate Danica Roem, who won by 8 percentage points.

For those who may have forgotten, Marshall proposed a bill in 2013 to study having Virginia print its own currency.  What was he expecting, another Civil War? 

Marshall was perhaps best known for sponsoring a failed “bathroom bill,” aimed at preventing transgender people like Roem from using restrooms that don’t correspond with the gender on their birth certificates.  He also has proposed bills opposing abortion and same-sex marriage. A Virginia ban on same-sex marriage sponsored by Marshall was struck down in federal court.  Some have called Roem’s win poetic justice.  Surprises happen, but be cautious; they don’t always last.

Despite the wackiness of this year’s politics, Virginia moves on — especially when it comes to business.

September’s unemployment rate was 3.7 percent; down from 4.1 percent a year earlier and now the lowest unemployment in the post-recession period since 2008.

In October, the Port of Virginia reached an all-time high for container volume at 265,490 TEUs (20-foot-equivalent units), an increase of 11 percent from the previous year.  And, the port is moving this cargo profitably, something that hasn’t always been the case.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) is completing its first year under the leadership of a new board and its new president and CEO, Stephen Moret.  VEDP is getting its house in order to further accelerate economic growth.

GO Virginia (Growth & Opportunity for Virginia) has approved plans submitted by nine regional boards.  An initial round of grants to start funding the plans is set to begin before the end of this year, with a second round of competitive grants to be awarded in early 2018.

Virginia’s business growth is definitely happening in sectors beyond grape growing, craft beer and trendy restaurants.  The final selection of a second Amazon headquarters location is still to come. Many states have offered their best sites, at least three markets in Virginia among them.  The recent announcement of Facebook locating a data center in Henrico County shows that Virginia is truly a player in the new data-driven economy.

Our location, a deep-channel port (soon to get deeper) and our business-friendly environment all serve the commonwealth well.  Looking forward, improvements to transportation infrastructure, workforce development and more competitive business incentives can accelerate this process.

When it comes to the wackiness of politics, no state stands alone.  Virginia’s best hope is that cooler heads continue to prevail and support ongoing growth of our economic competitiveness.

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