November 5, 2015
Missing Out in the Rest of Virginia
Last year, Virginia finally made it back to having as many jobs as before the start of the recession. But since then, statewide job growth has been intermittent and slow – and the regions that were doing poorly before are the ones hurting most today.
Virginia’s southside and southwest regions, which were particularly hard hit by the recession and have yet to recover to where they were in 2007, have seen relatively little change in their jobs situation over the past year.
Southwest Virginia has 14,200 fewer employed residents in the third quarter of this year than in the same months of 2007. Southside has 5,100 fewer employed residents than in 2007.
Meanwhile, central Virginia has 24,500 more employed residents than in 2007. And northern Virginia has 106,500 more.
For there to be real job opportunities throughout Virginia successful rural economic development is important. That means things like strong links to nearby metropolitan areas, high-quality K-12 schools, well-resourced community colleges offering instruction targeted to regional growth opportunities in those regions, access to high-speed communications networks (whether traditional or cellular), preserving the local natural environment to attract tourists and retirees, and providing local entrepreneurs with critical resources such as financial capital and training.
Virginia has been making improvements in expanding access to some of these resources but in other ways Virginia has been reducing its support. Access to high-speed internet is far more common across Virginia than even a few years ago, but some rural areas – especially in southwest Virginia – still lack any high-speed option. Meanwhile, state support for community colleges and public education has been falling. The state’s support for the Virginia Community College System is down 31 percent compared to 2007 levels, after adjusting for rising enrollment and inflation. That means the community colleges have had to either raise tuition sharply or have less money with which to keep the lights on, not to mention offer useful, innovative course offerings.
And state support for K-12 education is down 14.5 percent since 2009, with Virginia’s highest-poverty school divisions – many in the struggling southwest and southside regions of Virginia – facing per-student cuts that are nearly three times deeper than those hitting more well off school divisions. And most of Virginia’s state economic development programs go to already-established companies or large multi-state corporations considering locating in Virginia, rather than providing financial capital and training for local entrepreneurs.
Everyone wants all parts of Virginia to have thriving economies and jobs for local residents. But it won’t happen if the desire isn’t backed by initiatives significant enough to make a real difference. Because otherwise, a lot of Virginians will keep missing out.
–Laura Goren, Senior Policy Analyst