Electricians, HVAC technicians, plumbers, welders and other specialty trades are good jobs that will stay local, and haven’t gotten enough attention. With a booming construction industry, an influx of new residents in Northern Virginia and the future Amazon Virginia headquarters coming, our tradesmen have been hard pressed to keep up with the demand for their work.
We need to promote “earn to learn” opportunities to experienced and young workers. Our apprenticeship programs in local high schools are early paths to steady, well paid jobs with unlimited potential to grow business. Coupling apprenticeship and on the job training with project management, marketing, and communications skills can gin our local output of skilled, hard working tradesmen and entrepreneurs.
Richmond needs to hear that trades jobs are what good local, rural jobs look like in Virginia—not just computer coders and Uber drivers. We need to make industry and educational partnerships, like this one at Lord Fairfax Community College enticing and easy to start. The 18th District can jump start Virginia’s dynamic rural economy with a smart push here through our community colleges, high schools, and local companies.
Our farmers are passionate about working the land and raising high quality livestock and poultry, while consumers increasingly demand (and pay a premium) for healthy farming practices. Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry bringing in $70 billion dollars a year and a sizable income for the 18th District too. We also have the 3rd largest port on the East Coast and 47% of the U.S. population within a day’s drive from Virginia. These are the ingredients for a game-changing approach to agribusiness built on high value products and an advanced supply chain.
Agriculture in our districts takes many forms: from smart greenhouses in Culpeper to humanely raised livestock and poultry, world class equestrian sports to high grade lumber and forestry operations. We can promote these top notch producers by making procurement processes in Richmond favorable to Virginia producers. That means making it easy for school systems to buy from farms right next door, not on the other side of the country. In addition to the larger cow-calf and row crop operations that dominate the landscape, we have small consumer-driven farm models that drive us locally.
We need to bolster the programs that have been key to scaling innovation for farm operations like a robust Cooperative Extension, coordinated marketing efforts, promoting food hubs, and developing local markets for quality production. We also need to partner creatively with distributors and buyers to get the highest value for our local ag products in East Coast consumer markets.
We should be looking for ways to ensure Virginia is the place where small businesses, not just Fortune 500s, can thrive. In Fauquier county, 85% of the Chamber of Commerce members have fewer than five employees. Prioritizing better high speed internet access at the state level is key to empowering and growing our local, small businesses. Educating Virginia’s future workforce in new fields like data analytics and cybersecurity, in addition to highlighting local growth areas like tourism, should be a priority in Richmond.
Virginia is known for our business friendly atmosphere, but we should also improve our ranks as a great place to work. That starts by enforcing employment laws that are already on the books and ensuring companies are classifying employees properly--not cheating people out of wages. We should also pass equal pay for equal work legislation and prohibit non-compete agreements that limit Virginians’ employment opportunities.
Community & Conservation
No idea how much a medical procedure might cost? Worried about whether that blood work might leave you with a bill that will take a year to pay off? You’re not alone. Most patients, let alone medical professionals, have no sense of how much their healthcare will cost until they are paying off the deductible or the whole cost after the fact. This isn’t right, and it’s no way to run a market. We need to know how much a procedure will cost before we authorize it. We should insist on this basic level of transparency from insurers and health companies. There’s nothing else in your life that you buy without looking at the price tag—it’s not right that you’re having to make blind decisions when it comes to you and your family’s health.
We’re used to long drives here, but there’s a difference between having a medical provider in town and having to go 40 miles for urgent care or a specialist. Opening a medical practice is a risk, especially for a solo practitioner—we need to look for ways to lower that risk so we have more healthcare choices closer to home. We should explore ways to have more local healthcare professionals or expand suburban practices to rural areas, and employ telehealth and patient portal technology. Richmond can’t just focus on rural hospital closures, we need to look for ways to attract more front line medical professionals to small towns and keep them here too.
We all know teachers who go far and beyond the call of duty, running extracurricular clubs and sports, staying late to tutor, looking out for a lonely kid or challenging the rising star. We need to keep our best educational warriors and attract talented new ones to our rural districts—this means competitive teacher pay, especially in a higher cost of living place like ours. It’s a shame that Virginia ranks flat out worst in the U.S. when it comes to our teacher pay gap. Even with a recent pay increase, we’re losing teachers every year to the states and school districts that compensate teachers better.
Parents (and grandparents) are our first and ongoing life teachers and supporting them is critical to a strong Virginia. Keeping an eye out for the places and people that make our towns great for families, is something I do and will drive at in Richmond. As a mom and 4-H leader, I notice the extra care of libraries, deputies, firefights, counselors, and extension agents put in to make our counties thrive. We need to support their admirable service.
Counties to our east are a daily reminder of the havoc that unplanned suburban sprawl can have on the region. Maintaining the rural character of the district isn’t just about preserving the natural beauty around us. Dedicated conservation efforts are key to keeping the water we drink, rivers we fish, and land where we grow our families, crops, and livestock safe and healthy for the future. Whether it’s the Rappahannock or the Shenandoah, our river health and the best management practices that improve it, are commitments Richmond must make to our Commonwealth.
Internet & Workforce
Where was the internet invented? Virginia, of course. To this day 70% of the world’s internet traffic runs through Northern Virginia. And yet, significant parts of our district lack reliable internet access. With broadband deserts across Fauquier, Warren, Culpeper, and Rappahannock, we’re losing opportunities for people to run their businesses, telecommute, apply for jobs, further their education, and access healthcare and other vital online services.
I’ve spent a decade in cybersecurity and technology, and I know that when you have a long running problem like this, it pays to take a fresh look and evaluate how we’re tackling it. Great effort has already gone into getting reliable internet access to our schools, libraries, and county resources. Now we need to extend broadband to that proverbial last mile (or five.)
I will be your dedicated advocate in Richmond for finishing the job. This will take a combination of navigating the state bureaucracy, concerted work with the telecoms and electric co-ops, exploring new technologies like road adhering fiber, and persistence.
Good jobs come in a number of shapes and sizes, we need to expose our youth and entry level workers to job paths earlier and in a more concerted way. High school seniors shouldn’t be wondering what’s next. They should have years of exposure to local professionals, skilled trade workers, business opportunities, new industries, and ways to serve their community. We need the curriculum flexibility—and that means retooling some of Virginia’s Standard of Learning exams—to give students a more dynamic look at the future educational and work environment. Our apprenticeship and technical training paths should be available earlier without lowering our standards for basic educational attainment. We need representation that will take a wider view of preparing students with all types of capabilities and interests to prosper in a future economy.
Renewable energy isn’t about tree hugging; it’s about jobs and our country’s future energy needs and green initiatives are a top priority of the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce. By 2020, China--currently the world’s worst polluter--will produce 30% of its energy from renewable sources like solar and wind. Now’s the time for Virginia to seize the opportunity to lead in what is becoming an economic driver and energy sector game-changer.
The renewable energy sector employs 800,000 Americans, roughly the same size as the U.S. telecom industry. Whether it’s engineering more efficient wind turbines and solar panels, or installing them, renewable energy is the sector for good rural Virginia jobs. It’s also where we are seeing a high demand for technicians, HVAC specialists, electricians and other tradespeople.
To make this happen in the 18th District, we need leadership that will advocate for Virginians and is not afraid to push our state energy company towards an innovative business model. We need to use the Commonwealth’s buying power through state colleges, universities, and other state facility contracts to insist on energy efficient operations and renewable targets. We can use Virginia’s buying power to expand the market for solar and other renewable technologies while driving down prices for consumers and spurring new business.