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New state commerce secretary outlines initiatives at Stafford salute to business

Virginia secretary of commerce Maurice Jones had a clear message for the Stafford County business leaders assembled at the regional airport’s new terminal Friday: “We have work to do.”

The recently appointed member of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s cabinet spoke at the Stafford 2014 “Salute to Business” about the five things localities can do to help Virginia remain the top state to do business.

“By a lot of metrics the Commonwealth is doing great, and business is at the forefront of that,” he said. “But we have to work to create an environment for Virginia to remain the best place to do business.”

For Jones the five initiatives include infrastructure, energy, entrepreneurism, workforce development and tourism.

Workforce development is the keystone of his plan.

“If we do nothing else, it needs to be workforce development,” he said. “We can only attract business and fill the positions we’ll need in the future by attracting new talent and making sure that talent is prepared.”

Jones said a gap persists between high school and the associate’s degree for those seeking professional certifications.

“Every welder with a certificate could get a job in Virginia today,” he said. “We cannot tell people the only way is to get an undergraduate degree. There are good, middle-class jobs awaiting our folks who can get apprenticeships, certifications and credentials.”

To do that, the business community, Virginia Employment Commission and community college system will need to come together, he said.

Another point in Jones’ plan—infrastructure—doesn’t just mean roads. He wants localities to support multiple modes of transportation.

“It’s fitting we’re meeting in the airport terminal today,” he said. “I hear from businesses who say they need an economical flight between Virginia and New York to move their business here.”

Infrastructure also means broadband, he said, which is a challenge in rural areas around Virginia, where they experience less than 25 percent penetration of broadband Internet.

Keeping energy costs low is key to drawing manufacturers back, according to Jones.

The next prong in his business plan is entrepreneurism.

He said his office is contemplating a “world-class business competition,” offering significant start-up funds to businesses that open in Virginia.

Tourism also fits into his Virginia business plan. He cited the industry as a “huge supporter of business.”

The Fredericksburg region, in particular, has a huge role in the state’s economy, he said in an interview after the talk.

He said what sets the region apart is its high employment in the private sector, while the rest of Virginia is disproportionately employed in the public sector.

Jones added that its location and quality of life are key as he pitches localities to businesses in other states and overseas.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976