Finishing Strong: My Plan to Build on Virginia’s Economic Momentum

Last night, I was honored to deliver my third State of the Commonwealth Speech. It was an opportunity to reflect on the last three years and celebrate the accomplishments we have achieved to make Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family. But while we’ve made significant progress, our work is not done.

When I took office, Virginia was at a crossroads. For many years, we had benefited from federal spending that created millions of jobs and brought billions in economic activity to our Commonwealth. But as other states began to recover from the Great Recession, sequestration and defense cuts cost Virginia $9.8 billion and 154,000 jobs between 2011 and 2013. When I took office our unemployment rate was up to 5.4 percent. We were facing an economic identity crisis and had a choice to make. We could sit back and watch our over-reliance on federal spending continue to hamper our growth, or we could work together to build a new Virginia economy.

We needed an economy that grows no matter what happens in Washington, Beijing or the rest of the world. And we needed a plan to get there. We had to create an infrastructure that could compete in the global marketplace of the 21st Century and encourage job creators in cutting edge fields.

We made tremendous strides forward on transportation, undertaking significant projects across the Commonwealth and reforming how transportation projects are chosen to best serve the taxpayer and grow the economy.

In addition to creating the physical infrastructure for the 21st century, we set the foundation for a workforce of the future by laying the groundwork for a transformative shift in our education system.

We also understood that we needed to foster the right economic climate to attract job creators. That meant building a more inclusive Commonwealth that welcomed people from every walk of life and stood up for the rights of every Virginian from Abingdon to Arlington.

Two of my proudest accomplishments as Governor have been making Virginia the first state in the nation to effectively end veteran homelessness, and restoring the voting rights of 127,000 Virginians who had served their time and earned a second chance.

This session, I have also proposed a comprehensive package to fight mental health and opioid epidemic in Virginia. These investments and policy changes will strengthen our response system and confront our growing substance abuse epidemic.

As in years past, we again face the threat of legislation that targets the health of women and the rights of LGBT citizens. We have seen in that North Carolina and others, attacks on equality and women’s health care rights don’t just embarrass the states that engage in them — they kill jobs.

Our efforts to create a new Virginia economy and build a more open and welcoming climate have paid off. We’ve helped close 853 new economic development deals worth $14.23 billion and created 167,100 net new jobs. Our unemployment rate has dropped to 4.2 percent, a full 1.2 percent lower than when I took office.

I’ll continue that momentum to finish strong this year. If we take this opportunity to work together, I know we will emerge with a stronger, more resilient economy that works for all Virginians.