Northam hosts Amazon on “listening tour” stop in St. Paul


Virginia Governor Ralph Northam hosted a roundtable discussion in St. Paul Oct. 21 with officials from Amazon’s second headquarters, located in Arlington. Held at the Oxbow Center of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, the conversation included community and business leaders in Southwest Virginia who spoke about workforce development, economic development, and small business issues.

“Workforce development is a key reason why companies are choosing to locate in Virginia, and we’re proud to work with diverse partners to grow our tech talent pipeline across the Commonwealth,” Northam said. “One of my proudest days in office was last year when I announced Amazon’s decision to call Virginia their second home, and we believe the company’s location here can benefit every part of the state. Southwest Virginia has strong communities, a skilled workforce, and visionary leadership, and I’m pleased to have the opportunity to discuss with local leaders how we can attract more jobs and investment to this important region.”

The event was one stop on an Amazon listening tour that will put human resources executives from the online retail giant in direct contact with representatives from business and government in every Virginia county. As such, the company is making no promises at this point about creating new jobs anywhere in particular. Instead, said Amazon Vice President of People Operations Ardine Williams, the company is interested in hearing what communities are doing that could help Amazon get the best people for its Arlington HQ2 facility and other Virginia operations.

“The listening tour is around the Commonwealth and what we’re interested in is what’s working really well in workforce development,” Williams said. “As we think about staffing our operations in Capital Landing, as we look out over 10 years, it’s 25,000 employees. So, there are kids in school today that we’ll have the opportunity to work with in the future. So, understanding what’s working well is important as we think about policy and as we think about what we’re doing we understand what’s working well.”

Amazon already employs around 10,000 people outside Arlington, Williams said. “We’ll continue to grow in the state. We have a large base of employees in the state outside of National Landing and we’ll continue to grow that base.”

In November 2018, Northam announced that Amazon would invest at least $2.5 billion and create more than 25,000 high-paying jobs to establish their second headquarters in the Crystal City/National Landing area of Arlington. The Commonwealth’s proposal was designed to help grow the tech talent pipeline in all parts of the state, enhance transportation infrastructure, and ensure that the economic benefits of the Amazon project are shared across Virginia.

“After our statewide workforce tour in September, the number one issue in Southwest Virginia is bringing jobs to the area to keep communities together,” said Chief Workforce Advisor Megan Healy. “It is great to show international business leaders the strong workforce and innovation happening in all parts of the states.”

“Bringing Amazon’s HQ2 to Virginia was a huge win for the whole Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “The Governor has been focused on diversifying the economy, and making sure all regions participate in our economic growth. This roundtable is a chance to highlight the human and natural assets of Southwest Virginia, and hear from community leaders about ways we can continue to enhance the economic prosperity of all regions.”

Duane Miller, executive director of the LENOWISCO Planning District told the executives from Amazon that if they chose to create jobs in Southwest Virginia, they would be dealing with local governments that would work across town and county lines to meet their needs. Travis Staton, CEO of the United Way of Southwest Virginia, spoke of a similar cooperative spirit between education and industry in the region. Virginia Coalfields Economic Development Authority Executive Director Jonathan Belcher presented Williams with a thick folder full of information about economic incentives and programs across the region.

The governor’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, asked if the administration and Amazon could be provided with a one-page summary of that information. Streamlining the region’s pitch could make a huge difference, the governor added. “How do you market to northern Virginia companies? Once they see this is God’s country, they’ll want to be here,” Northam said.
Delegate Will Morefield responded that he would make sure Amazon received a one-sheet summary if he had to type it himself.

Evan Feinman, who serves dual roles as Chief Broadband Advisor to the Northam administration and executive director of the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, hailed the work being done by private companies including Point Broadband to help the region achieve the goal of universal broadband coverage within a decade.

Delegate Israel O’Quinn and consultant Mary Trigiani of Spada Inc., spoke of the blossoming partnership between the Southwest Virginia Technology Council and its Northern Virginia counterpart organization, which could help facilitate workforce development initiatives in the tech sector beneficial to both Amazon and Southwest Virginia.

Following the discussion, Northam and Williams sampled the quality of life in Southwest Virginia, going four-wheeling on the Spearhead Trails.

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