A second, more nuanced victory for Virginia
In July, Virginia retained its place as CNBC’s Top State for Business, becoming the first state to achieve the honor twice in a row and five times in all. And yet, the commonwealth feels worlds away from July 2019, the last time the cable business news network released its rankings.
Two years ago, Northern Virginia economic development officials and Gov. Ralph Northam were taking a victory lap after landing Amazon.com Inc.’s East Coast HQ2 in Arlington in late 2018, a multibillion-dollar billion project expected to bring more than 25,000 jobs.
This time, the reasons behind the honor are more nuanced. CNBC weighted its rankings toward the cost of doing business, also taking inclusiveness and public health measures into consideration, acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020’s nationwide racial justice-focused protests.
Northam, who had his own racial reckoning in February 2019 after a blackface photo on his medical school yearbook pages came to light, has focused the remainder of his term on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion — legalizing marijuana, increasing the state’s minimum wage and overhauling the state’s procurement process to make sure woman- and minority-owned businesses receive equal opportunities to bid and win state contracts.
“Our success is a blueprint for creating a vibrant economic climate in the post-pandemic world — and proves that when you lift everyone up, when you treat people right, and when you celebrate diversity, it’s also good for business,” Northam said in a statement about the CNBC ranking.
There are lingering concerns among CEOs, chambers, business owners and others about the fate of Virginia’s right-to-work law, which is still in place but less secure under Democratic control of the General Assembly and the Executive Mansion. But for now, Virginia is still considered tops for business in the nation, with a highly educated workforce and initiatives in place to train future employees in high-tech and renewable energy jobs, including for the state’s burgeoning wind farm industry.
Also on the way are four casinos, which were approved last November by voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth and are likely to be completed by 2023. The gaming resorts are expected to bring more than $1 billion in total annual revenue, and may be joined by the ONE Casino + Resort in Richmond, which is the subject of a local referendum in November. If passed, it would be the nation’s only Black-owned casino.