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Virginia’s Economic Restoration Plan & its Impact on the Lynchburg Region

James Black

The COVID – 19 pandemic has devastated the nation’s economy, and The Commonwealth of Virginia has faced incredible challenges, including in the state’s economic sector. In a presentation to the Alliance’s board of directors, VEDP President & CEO Mr. Stephen Moret revealed that Virginia had been ranked the number one state in the country for business, and the lowest unemployment rate (2.4 percent) in over a decade according to CNBC’s 2019 business rankings.

While the pandemic has brought incredible economic challenges, Virginia’s monthly unemployment rate has remained below the national average. Among regions that have had their monthly unemployment rates in the commonwealth include the greater Richmond, Fredericksburg, Northern Shenandoah Valley, Northern Virginia areas, and the Lynchburg region as well. Unsurprisingly, the industries impacted the most by the pandemic include hospitality, tourism, and non – essential retail.  Research shows that females between the ages of 18-35 in Virginia account for the largest demographic living in poverty and making less than 40 dollars per hour, a group that along with minority communities has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Additional analytic data provided by VEDP shows that Virginia’s economic recovery may allow the state’s quarterly employment levels to return to pre-pandemic levels by the midpoint of next year, or June or July of 2022. This growth will largely be fueled by growth in the state’s urban crescent, which includes Richmond and the populous Washington D.C. suburbs in the northern part of the state. Comparatively speaking, economic growth in the more rural areas of the commonwealth is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels of employment until the midpoint of 2023.

Previously mentioned sectors such as tourism, hospitality, restaurants, and local retail are expected to lag behind other economic sectors in the state’s economic recovery, and it's important to note that many of these sectors also include small businesses. Some of the individuals previously working in these sectors will have to be reskilled and work in a different job, as many of them will not be able to return to the job they had before the start of the pandemic. “The individuals in the low wage category lost more than 30 percent of unemployment, and they still have a long way to go to get back,” explained Moret, referring to women and minorities in lower-wage categories seeking to return to pre-pandemic employment levels.

Shifts in the pandemic, such as the digitization of businesses, will help the commonwealth of Virginia be well-positioned for economic leadership in a post-pandemic nation. Some unique areas highlighted by VEDP for economic restoration include capture manufacturing reshoring and new supply chain opportunities, the aforementioned digitizing of businesses (greater emphasis on cloud computing, software, and data centers), re-skilling Virginia’s workforce to adapt to new and different kinds of jobs for post – COVID career opportunities, and capitalizing on remote work opportunities, including telework. Of these factors, teleworking may have the greatest impact on economic recovery and development for smaller communities, particularly as greater access to broadband and internet services is being prioritized, including the Lynchburg region.

“Most of the increase in remote work will come in the form of hybrid remote work,” according to Moret, where individuals will be expected to spend a certain amount of time working in the office each week but will spend the remainder of their workweek working from home. He also highlighted the importance of Virginia’s first international trade agreement, which will help Virginia businesses by making them more competitive in the international market. This increased level of competitiveness may help encourage more employers to come to the state, which could help bring more jobs to the Lynchburg region, particularly if they can offer telework as an employment option. Together, these incentives will help people from all demographics across the Lynchburg region achieve the economic vitality and well-being they deserve.

JAMES is a communications intern at the Lynchburg regional business alliance and is studying an M.A. in Promotion and Video Content (Strategic Communications) at Liberty University