Go Virginia approved over $7 million in new state spending on 10 new projects at a meeting on Tuesday as a top Republican lawmaker questioned whether the state is getting good bang for its buck on workforce training programs.
Go Virginia was set up in 2016 with the goal of creating high-paying jobs with input from the business community. Its 24 board members include businessman, lawmakers, and representatives from the executive branch.
The projects funded on Tuesday included several startup funds, community college workforce training programs (including an agricultural drone certificate program at Mountain Empire Community College in Southwest Virginia), and a new sewer line on the Eastern Shore that the group said was necessary to build future industrial sites there.
But when the board considered providing $110,000 for a cybersecurity certification proposal from the University of Mary Washington, Republican House Appropriations Chair Chris Jones questioned whether that and other workforce training programs were financially sustainable and replicable across the state.
“I have a low tolerance [for] wanting to give money for a wonderful idea that’s not going to be populated and socialized across the Commonwealth,” Jones said.
Jones said he’d heard of many dupliciative state programs while working on developing the planned tech talent pipeline designed to feed big employers like Amazon.
“You could take five of them--they’ve been saying the exact same thing and not talking to each other,” Jones said.
Other board members of the board agreed, but said the state needed to act with a sense of urgency to keep up economic growth.
“The rewards are only going to go those that have the workforce to work in those areas,” said Benjamin J. Davenport Jr., who serves as the board’s vice chairman.
Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said his office would begin an inventory of cybersecurity programs as a first step. He said GoVirginia's model of bringing businessmen to the table gave the board new insights.
“What these businessman bring is this entrepreneurship, this different thinking that you don’t always get in government,” Layne said.
The board includes several businessmen who’ve given generously to state politicians. The board’s chair, John O. “Dubby” Wynne, is a former media executive who has given over $1.6 million to state politicians from both parties since 2002, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell also sits on the board, and has contributed over $800,000 to Virginia political campaigns.