Q: Virginia undoubtedly benefits from its proximity to the US federal government. How is the state economy faring, and what are the assets that help set Virginia apart?
A: Our economy is booming. I recently announced that our unemployment rate has dropped to 3.8%; when I became governor it was 5.4%, and it has now gone to 3.8% in two years, which is the biggest drop in the state has seen in 32 years. We’ve got so many assets: there’s cyber security, helped by the fact that we’ve got more data centres than any state in the US. We have the most technology workers [in the US], and because we are close to the federal government we have defence, military and intelligence assets, which I think separates us from the rest.
Q: What is it about the state that makes it particularly business friendly and attractive as a base to set up a foreign company?
A: For one, we have the deepest port on the east coast, the Port of Virginia, so for companies that want to come to the US as well as import or export, that’s extremely attractive. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, the new, bigger ships, called neo-Panamax ships, are coming through and really adding to growth. Right now on the east coast the only port they come to is ours because we have the depth and the capacity.
We’ve also got Dulles International Airport so we have the transportation. We are a very low-tax state, we have very low energy costs, and you can get to 50% of the US population in a 10-hour drive from Virginia. So there you have it: a central location, low taxes, and a very strong workforce because of our education system. The University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and our K-12, our early education system, is always ranked as one of the top in the country.
Q: Are you concerned at all about the anti-free trade and protectionist rhetoric coming from the US presidential election campaign, and do you think this could end up hurting Virginia’s FDI prospects and its image as a foreign business destination?
I’ve been [vocal in support of] trade agreements as a governor. I’m probably the most travelled and international governor in the US. I have taken 18 trade missions in two years since I’ve been governor and have six more coming up.
Ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside the US, so if you want to get business, you’ve got to go out and bring that business in. You’ve got to [show that] as a nation we are open for free trade. So yes, we are in the process of a presidential election, and when you go through that process a lot of rhetoric comes out. We understand, however – and governors understand – that you’ve got to grow your economy, and you can only do that with international business.
I think most people around the globe understand that a lot of politics goes on in a presidential year, but I can say from Virginia’s perspective, we are open. And if we have a fair trade agreement, which is what we all want, where everybody gets a trade agreement and the protections are there – labour protections, environmental protections – I’ll compete against anybody in the globe.