Youngkin visits region, meets with business leaders

Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently visited Abingdon for a listening session among business leaders and the public. From left are Sen. Todd Pillion, Sen. Travis Hackworth, Del. Jed Arnold, Del. Israel O’Quinn, Youngkin and moderator Beth Rhinehart, president and CEO of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce. Photos by A.J. Kaufman

By A.J. Kaufman, Managing Editor

On the first day of spring, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin journeyed around the Appalachian Highlands — from Wise to Cedar Bluff to Abingdon. Youngkin ended his busy day with a listening session at the Southwest Virginia Education Center regarding economic development opportunities.

As part of the gathering of about 100 local business leaders and interested attendees in Abingdon, the topic of unleashing growth across Southwest Virginia loomed large, among a broad range of issues.

The governor was joined on stage by representatives from across the region, including State Sen. Todd Pillion, a Republican representing Washington County and the City of Bristol, Va. Pillion claimed no governor he’s served with has paid more attention to Southwest Virginia.

“Certainly, we appreciate all the time and effort that you spend here in Southwest Virginia,” Pillion said, then added, “Governor Youngkin actually listens to us and takes our suggestions and input.”

Youngkin, in return, boasted of his relationship with colleagues on the podium, including Sen. Travis Hackworth and Dels. Jed Arnold, Terry Kilgore and Israel O’Quinn.

Along with a “back to basics” approach to economic development, the group discussed salient issues the Business Journal has covered, including passenger rail, various infrastructure improvements, nuclear energy, Southwest Virginia’s potential inland port and more.

The 57-year-old Republican exuded optimism when responding to a question about promoting regional economic growth. After recapping the “tough spot” the commonwealth was in when he took office, Youngkin noted how small businesses suffered as people disappeared from the workforce.

The governor spoke of progress on tax relief, streamlining regulations, public safety, behavioral health and education.

“We want to make sure that students have multiple pathways all across the commonwealth to chase their dreams,” Youngkin said of schooling. “Whether that’s to go to one of our great institutions of higher learning, go to a community college or get a credential and go straight to work. I’ve seen some great businesses today that just want to hire everybody they can…This has all translated into real economic growth. We have the largest workforce in the history of the commonwealth. The basics work. We just have to continue to stay focused on them. And then we have to go find opportunities…”

The former business executive said this region’s delegation focuses on the right issues and noted that manufacturing is moving back to the United States, and it needs to be grabbed.

“We’ve done some really great work on getting together in pursuing an all of the above, all-American strategy on energy,” Youngkin said. “We’ve got to make sure we embrace, yes, wind and solar, we embrace natural gas; there’s clean burning coal that is totally changing…There’s new technologies, like hydrogen, that we can use. And of course, there’s the recognition that nuclear power will be a really big part of our future with the small modular reactors. The small modular reactor world is gonna need manufacturing; it’s gonna need a supply chain. There’s a great opportunity for us to build toward that supply chain in a place where there’s a great workforce, and on top of that, there’s a super demand that will be built across the mid-Atlantic with Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina all at the front end of this power revolution.”

Beth Rhinehart moderated the afternoon discourse. The panel expressed gratitude to the Bristol Chamber of Commerce President and CEO for serving on the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, deeming Rhinehart a “fierce advocate” for rail and ensuring it ends at the correct spot in Blacksburg before “moving the train down the tracks to Bristol.”

To applause from the crowd, Pillion called the potential inland port a game changer for Virginia and East Tennessee. Millions of dollars in the budget have been allocated to the subject, and the state senator believes this shows the delegation’s commitment.

“That is something that’s been talked about for years, and finally, we are putting our money where our mouth is,” Pillion concluded.

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