Virtual Virginia Economic Summit and Forum on World Trade focuses on economic recovery


House of Delegates members walk past the south portico at around 8:30 p.m. at the end of the veto session at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The House members were meeting outside under a tent instead of in the House Chamber in order to practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For the first time in its 11-year history, the Virginia Economic Summit and Forum on World Trade was held virtually, focused on economic resiliency in the commonwealth and the future of international trade.

The virtual event, held Friday, was presented by the Virginia Chamber and Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP).

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. unemployment rate has suffered. But in Virginia, based on state data, the monthly unemployment rate has not been as extreme. In fact, construction and essential retail, such as pharmacies and grocery stores, have seen an upward employment rate in the commonwealth amid the pandemic.

Currently, the commonwealth is down more than 243,000 jobs. That figure, however, does not include people who have lost second jobs, are making less money, or are working part-time in what was previously a full-time role, due to the economic impacts of the health crisis.

Financial services company Moody’s Analytics estimates that Virginia won’t return to pre-pandemic employment numbers until 2023. Some sectors, such as tourism, local retail, restaurants, and hospitality, are likely to experience even longer-lasting negative effects.

Conversely, VEDP President & CEO Stephen Moret says Virginia has seen what could prove to be a permanent increase in telework, although some may operate in a hybrid model moving forward.

“While we’ve faced some big public health challenges and economic setbacks this year, we’re going to have a big opportunity in 2021 to recover from the public health crisis, as well as position Virginia for a healthy economic recovery,” Moret said. “We have been able to recover a significant amount of the jobs that we initially lost.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of Virginians impacted by COVID-19 from an employment standpoint increased by 364,000 from January to August.

“There’s several hundred thousand people in Virginia that are in a more difficult position, from an employment perspective, today than they were prior to the pandemic,” Moret said. “The impacts, the employment impacts, the economic impacts of the pandemic have not been equal. They’ve not been equal by geography, they’ve also not been equal by different types of people across Virginia.”

An analysis by VEDP shows that the change in American unemployment has differed little during the pandemic for those making more than $40 per hour. But for workers earning less than $20 per hour, the employment rate in April was just 69.1 percent of its pre-pandemic figure.

Moreover, VEDP’s analysis notes that, of Virginia’s workers earning less than $20 per hour, only 22 percent have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, and 55 percent are women.

“This really is shaping up to be, in Virginia, as in the country as a whole, kind of a case-shape recovery, where those in a certain population are doing quite well, while others are not,” Moret said. “With the potential for widespread access to vaccines, we now can start to really think about, ‘How do we get everybody back to work? How do we get our economy back to full strength?'”

Moret says many of the sectors that have been lifted as a result of the coronavirus health crisis are areas in which Virginia is already well-positioned for economic leadership in post-pandemic America. These sectors include cloud computing, data centers, autonomous systems, e-commerce, food and beverage processing, commercial trucks, delivery vehicles, logistics, and broadband investment.

“The single biggest factor that’s been shifting business during the pandemic is an acceleration of the digitization of business, and that really plays to the strong areas of strength for the commonwealth,” Moret said.

VEDP predicts there will soon be tens of thousands of Virginians who will need to be reskilled, either because they are unable to return to their previous job or even their previous career.

“That’s going to mean a very important role for the community college system, as well as other workforce development initiatives in Virginia,” Moret said.

According to VEDP, one of the biggest drivers to help accelerate the commonwealth’s post-pandemic economic recovery will be international trade.

(Courtesy: VEDP)

Virginia Commerce and Trade Secretary Brian Ball and Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Bettina Ring, together with VEDP and partners, created an international trade plan, with the goal of increasing the commonwealth’s exports by 50 percent by 2035, creating an additional 150,000 jobs.

“It would be a dramatic improvement, and we’d go from trailing much of the south to really being one of the leading states for exports in the country,” Moret said. “Many of that outcome can be created in the next two to three years, as we’re working to drive recovery in Virginia.”

According to a Friday release, more than 700 business and economic development leaders from across the state participating in this virtual summit and forum.

“While the challenges of the global pandemic continue to impact our businesses, families, and communities, we must stay resilient and return stronger than before,” Virginia Chamber President & CEO Barry DuVal said. “By supporting initiatives that promote economic growth and international trade we will not only bring more well-paying jobs to Virginia, but also build on our strong foundation as the best state for business in an increasingly competitive national landscape.”

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