Job Growth in the Ninth District

Southwest Virginia is open for business. That’s the message I heard in November, as several companies announced expansions or new operations around the Ninth District.

In Montgomery County, the tech company 1901 Group, founded by a Virginia Tech alumnus, plans to add 580 jobs at its Blacksburg operations center over the next three years. The company provides cloud-based information technology (IT) services, and federal contracts make up much of its business. According to the Roanoke Times, 1901 Group’s CEO Sonu Singh advocates for bringing the tech industry to rural areas.

In Bluefield, AMRPEMCO, which produces electrical and power distribution equipment, will expand its manufacturing operation, purchase new equipment, and add 75 new jobs.

In Lebanon, the Maryland-based TDEC opened a data entry service office, hiring twelve people and planning to hire more.

These announcements are only the latest economic expansions in the Ninth District. Other major investments revealed earlier this year included 212 new jobs in Henry County with the arrival of Press Glass and a $248 million manufacturing upgrade by WestRock in Covington and Alleghany County.

Employers recognize the assets we have: a low cost of living, a high quality of life, institutions of higher learning, and transportation accessibility, among others. As a result, they want to stay here and base their operations in our area.

Recent job expansions here also reflect what is taking place at the national level, with unemployment across the country at historic lows and businesses feeling confident about their prospects.

These positive economic trends were stimulated at least in part by tax cuts and regulatory restraint by the Federal Government. As I travel across the Ninth District, I have heard business owners attribute some of their success to these policy choices.

How do we keep the good news on jobs coming?

One answer is to prepare for the future. While people need the right jobs, jobs also need the right people. The economy of our era increasingly depends upon technology, so prospective employees need the skills suitable for them to thrive. These skills primarily come through education, which brings us to the Southwest Virginia link to a national news story.

When the tech giant Amazon announced locations for new headquarters facilities, it opted for New York City and Arlington County’s Crystal City. But as part of the agreement for Amazon to set up shop in Crystal City, Virginia Tech will launch an Innovation Campus nearby to promote technology education and research.

As part of its orientation in this direction, Virginia Tech will also increase enrollment at the Blacksburg campus by 2,000 students in fields such as computer science and software engineering. More students, and more staff to support them, will drive economic growth.

More importantly in the long term, as these students graduate, Southwest Virginia will have a pool of jobseekers prepared for the emerging economy.

The earlier items in this column showed that employers are ready to invest in our communities. When more of our people have the job skills they seek, the pull to our area becomes that much greater.

I hope that many of these students will stay in our area to build the economy of the future. Virginia Tech is leading the way forward, and its example shows how our institutions of higher learning contribute to our economy.

Technology jobs will not be the only jobs, of course, and four-year degrees are not the only way to gain job training. To that end, Congress passed earlier this year the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act to improve these educational opportunities.

As I noted in a column earlier this year, and as AMRPEMCO’s expansion in Bluefield affirms, the manufacturing sector is enjoying a resurgence nationally and in our area. But manufacturing jobs have evolved over the years, and better career and technical education will help applicants for these jobs be prepared.

Positive jobs news benefits more than the employees and employers of those businesses. It means new jobs for suppliers and small businesses serving the community. And of course, it means more money for lots of families, and more that can be spent in our community. I hope the latest spate of good news will continue.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.