I. Promote the Trades & Expand Technical Training
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.
II. Boost Virginia Agriculture and Local Farms
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.
III. Empower Small Businesses & Working Families
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.