How Virginia’s Secretary of Trade and Commerce is helping promote workforce talent, valuable public-private partnerships, and a competitive Greater Washington region

“If you’re a company in Virginia or a prospective founder, or you’re someone who wants to move a company to Virginia, my goal is to get to yes. I want to figure out how we get to yes, in a way that’s a win-win.” — Caren Merrick, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade  

Caren Merrick, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade joined Chris Lloyd in a discussion about Virginia business opportunities and growth.

WASHINGTON – The Greater Washington Board of Trade’s Regional Policy Leadership Series was honored to have Caren Merrick, Virginia Secretary for Commerce and Trade, join regional professionals on Wednesday, Oct. 26, for a webinar focused on how she and her team are helping grow business ventures in Northern Virginia along with the Greater Washington area.  

The discussion between Secretary Merrick and moderator Chris Lloyd, of McGuireWoods Consulting LLC, focused on growing Virginia’s workforce talent, economic mobility in the region, how Virginia is looking to grow small business opportunities along with recruiting global companies to Northern Virginia, and how public-private partnerships can keep the region as one of the fastest growing in the nation.  

“Our goal is to take Virginia to the next level. And so how do we do that? Well, the first thing that we need to do is understand what businesses are looking for. When they are either they’re already here in Virginia, or they are thinking about relocating or opening up (factory) plants. And so, what are they looking for? They’re looking for sites that are ready, they’re looking for an area where their employees want to live and work,” said Merrick.  

The Regional Policy Leadership Series webinar also covered a variety of questions that pertained to economic initiatives and technology industry focuses that impact the Northern Virginia region. 

Secretary Merrick acknowledged how important it is to see companies like Boeing and Raytheon move to Northern Virginia. And that it is important that the region not lose its status as a hotbed for technology businesses that bring tech talent needed to drive growth in the region. 

A way to do this in the Northern Virginia area is by looking at housing, and how the state can create more affordable housing and workforce housing for people coming to the state. And that businesses working with Virginia to create housing is a vital part of making sure the best talent can live, along with work, in the state of Virginia.  

“We are open to a variety of bold ideas on how we help solve the housing shortage. And we have the Governor’s housing conference coming up in November. We want to unveil a few more ideas on how we solve the housing shortage … There may be a much bigger role for businesses to fulfill in not only workforce talent pipeline, but also in workforce housing,” said Merrick about the Governor speaking at the upcoming conference.  

An engaging conversation sparked by McGuireWoods Consulting, Chris Lloyd, shared how Secretary Merrick and Virginia are supportive of working with both D.C. and Maryland to establish collaboration for regional business opportunities that can benefit the entire Greater Washington area.  

“I’ve met with a lot of the business leaders and the economic development experts, and there’s a lot of opportunity to collaborate. I would like to see us collaborate in that way to form, perhaps, a Research Triangle Park. Like what they have in North Carolina. Or dig into the biosciences together as a region and pursue that,” said Merrick. “I know there are organizations that are wanting to do this type of collaboration regionally, with quantum computing or hydrogen technologies. And so, I think that the Greater Washington Board of Trade is very well positioned to bring together and convene the right group of people to help solve these problems together, or to tackle opportunities to bring certain types of industries to our region where everyone is going to benefit.” 

Secretary Merrick challenged guests who attended the Regional Policy Leadership Series to think about what it would be like if businesses could work closer with states and local governments to promote economic opportunities. And that public-private partnership and working together, will help create a more impactful business community in Virginia and the Greater Washington area.  

“I have a challenge for everyone here. What would become possible for us if we worked together more closely to solve these problems? What would become possible for your business and for Northern Virginia? If you got a group of your colleagues in a room or group of your fellow business leaders in a room and you said let’s whiteboard how to solve these problems? Let’s imagine the government isn’t even going to get that involved,” said Merrick. “What would become possible if we took the initiative and the leadership and the ownership to solve some of these problems? Not to say that you’re not already doing that. But what would become possible if you did it on a whole new level? Because right now, for the next three and a half years, you have a highly skilled team of this is people who understand the shoes that you walk in, and who want to work with you to solve problems and to build whole new ways of doing things that will far outlast the four-year term that we have.” 

Secretary Merrick heads into her second year under Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration and is a business leader with over 25 years of experience launching growth companies and reinventing businesses in Virginia. She was the founding CEO of the Virginia Ready Initiative, a public-private partnership co-founded by Governor Glenn Youngkin and First Lady Suzanne in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Her background in working between public-private partnerships in this region showed us great insight into how Virginia is working to grow business opportunities and allow our audience to really engage about a variety of topics that impact the Greater Washington region’s business environment.  

View the whole discussion with Secretary Merrick here.  

This Regional Policy Leadership Series was presented by webinar was presented by McGuireWoods Consulting LLC and McGuireWoods. Supporting Sponsors of the event are Comcast, Holland & Knight, and G.S. Proctor & Associates, INC. Thank you for supporting the Greater Washington Board of Trade and our region’s business community. 

Broader Questions and Answers from Secretary Merrick’s discussion with the Greater Washington Board of Trade and McGuireWoods Consulting: 

Q: Data centers are obviously very important to Northern Virginia’s economy. What kind of activity level are you seeing what’s the administration doing to keep that growth going, particularly when you see other regions Atlanta, Phoenix, Chicago, and others starting to grab some of that growth? 

A: Data centers are very, very important in Northern Virginia to us. And you may have read that there are some energy issues. Remember, I was talking about energy a few minutes ago, and how important it is to companies and Dominion Energy announced that they were having some forecasting issues. And so, we’re on that we’re meeting almost daily with a data center representative or Dominion Energy or often both to resolve that problem. 

Q: How is the state adjusting some of its thinking about talent in a remote or a hybrid work environment? How is the state looking at it from an incentives perspective? And what are some of the ways that the state can be involved in getting people back to work? The governor speaks about the reduction in workforce participation in the state. And that’s been a major challenge holding Virginia back to from getting to as many jobs as we had pre-COVID. Can you talk about some of those topics a little bit? 

A: There is a labor shortage across the country, every state is feeling it. However, Virginia’s labor force participation rate is at historic lows, and there are competing states, the ones I mentioned earlier, are the ones that we pay very close attention to. We have an economic data book that’s that thick. I mean, we measure and compare ourselves constantly on a variety of metrics. Take North Carolina, for example, their labor force participation rate is lower than Virginia. But they have not only filled all the jobs that were lost during COVID. But they’ve exceeded that we still haven’t filled all of those, those jobs that were lost. So, we have 300,000 open jobs in Virginia. We have 100,000 More Virginians working than we did on inauguration day. So, we’re heading in the right direction. And we’re delighted about that. 

Q: What can you share with us what the administration is doing to help other businesses relocate to the region? And what is the state and particularly your office doing to increase and maintain Virginia’s economic competitiveness? 

A: Governor Younkin is a high-growth-minded businessman. And so our goal is to take Virginia to the next level. And so how do we do that? Well, the first thing that we need to do is understand what businesses are looking for. When they are either they’re already here in Virginia, or they are thinking about relocating or opening up plants. And so, what are they looking for, they’re looking for sites that are ready, they’re looking for an area where their employees want to live and work. They’re looking for a business environment where they can flourish. That is friendly, tax-friendly for them. And they’re looking, I believe, for a state government that helps them get to yes, a state government that helps make it easier to do business here in Virginia. And so, we have been investing in sites we have $150 million just this year that was passed in the budget for us to develop sites for businesses to relocate to we’re also looking at Northern Virginia, in terms of what are its assets and amplifying those and investing in those. And so, we know we have amazing universities in Northern Virginia, and we are working closely with them on a variety of measures to help them train Virginians for in-demand jobs. So we would like to see the outcome and education be a job. And we’re working very closely with universities to achieve that. And one other thing that we are working on, particularly in northern Virginia is a challenge. And that has to do with housing, that we have had out-migration from Northern Virginia, we think that they’re that a large part of that is the cost of housing. So, you’ll see the governor making some announcements in the near term, particularly in the next legislative session, to help Virginia increase its supply of accessible housing of affordable housing and more abundant housing.