Making business more attractive

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier

Welcome to Virginia Business.  Our first issue of 2016 launches a new design.  We’ve given the magazine’s cover a new look and opened up more space inside our pages for photos and graphics.  We’re expanding coverage in real estate, higher education and tourism. Notably, our content is always about business in Virginia.  Coming in March, we’ll publish our 361st issue — celebrating 30 years as Virginia’s source for business intelligence.

Making business more attractive is a lofty goal, but it’s important. Most of us spend at least a third of our lives at work — probably more than we spend with family or, for that matter, more than the time we spend sleeping!

For all the hours put in at the office, you’d think business must be mighty attractive.  Still, many think of work as a necessary evil.  Let’s face it; the business community has a branding problem.  Don’t like politics?  Blame it on money donated by business.  Concerned about the environment? Blame it on pollution caused by business.  Don’t like the media? Blame it on the business interests of newspapers and television.  Don’t like your boss?  Blame it on business — his business.

Let’s see if we can rescript this narrative.  Business interests engage our politicians in creating a more robust economy.  Businesses plant more trees than they harvest.  The media keeps us informed, an essential ingredient for democracy.  Don’t like your boss?  Maybe he or she was just having a bad day.

Nevertheless, changing a glass-half-empty narrative to glass-half-full falls a little short on the complex emotions that people associate with business.  Emotional connections, positive and negative, are the stuff that brands are made of.  The bigger the business, the more likely there is to be a negative emotional bias — monolithic institutions are rarely seen as warm and cuddly.  Smaller businesses generally have more favorable perceptions.

When it comes to business and politics working together to create a more robust economy, this relationship seems to have become a bit unhinged lately.  So much more money is flowing into politics from super-PACS and other special interest groups, that candidates may no longer see business interests as important.  For example, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce supported Marketplace Virginia, a private-sector, managed-care approach to Medicaid expansion, but the proposal was defeated in  highly partisan voting.

As a whole, the business community is working to forge some large alliances around economic growth.  In addition to supporting Marketplace Virginia, the state chamber has crafted Blueprint Virginia, a wide-ranging set of suggested reforms. Topics include workforce development, education, transportation, economic development, manufacturing, energy and health care.

A second initiative, called GO Virginia (GO stands for growth and opportunity) has been launched by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council and the Council on Virginia’s Future.  The intent of GO Virginia is to foster private-sector growth, job creation and career readiness.

When the General Assembly convenes this month, it would do well to incorporate ideas from both of these groups into the state’s budget.  After all, the business of government is to move our state forward.  It has been widely noted that Virginia has slipped considerably in its ranking as a top state for business. Regaining economic competitiveness should be a top legislative priority.

The business community does much to make a good life better, providing jobs and a safe working environment where people and their families can grow and prosper.  When you think of it that way, the brand called business is actually pretty attractive.  Let’s keep it that way.

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