This interview featured Stephen Moret, President & CEO, Virginia Economic Development Partnership. JB and Stephen discuss Virginia consistently high ranks as a "top state for business" due to its high-ranking universities, workforce, and business-friendly regulations. Learn more about the Commonwealth's future and its intrinsic link to the Capital Region.
Hosted by JB Holston. Produced by Jenna Klym, Justin Matheson-Turner, Christian Rodriguez, and Nina Sharma. Edited by Christian Rodriguez.
Learn from leaders doing the work across the Capital Region and beyond. These conversations will showcase innovation, as well as history and culture across our region, to bridge the gap between how we got here and where we are going.
About our guest:
Stephen Moret is the President and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Before joining VEDP in January 2017, Moret served as chief executive of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Louisiana Dept. of Economic Development, as well as the LSU Foundation and its real-estate development arm.
At VEDP, he has collaborated with state, regional, and local partners to craft an ambitious vision focused on transformational goals, including accelerating employment growth; enabling every region to grow; and moving back to the top of national business climate rankings. He led Virginia’s successful state-and-local team bid for Amazon’s HQ2 and is launching a world-class, custom workforce program along with the Virginia Community College System.
For seven years, Moret served as secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, transforming it into one of America’s top state economic development agencies. While there, he led business development efforts and built higher ed partnerships that helped secure a variety of projects in urban and rural areas, including software/IT centers, food/agricultural processing facilities, and a few of the largest FDI projects in U.S. history.
Prior to LED, Moret was CEO of BRAC, which he and his team transformed into a nationally competitive, regional EDO. He also served as a consultant with McKinsey & Company; a public policy fellow with the Public Affairs Research Council of La.; and a consultant to Harvard Business School.
Stephen Moret 0:00
And so we were able to really take advantage of all that collaboration with higher education with transportation leaders, and so forth. And we're able to really put together quite a large, state, regional and local team you know, to work on this project.
Nina Sharma 0:21
Welcome to fresh take a candid interview series featuring thought leaders and innovators from across the capital region. These one on one conversations, highlight the incredible work happening in our communities, and showcase both where we are and where we are going as a region.
JB Holston 0:41
Welcome, everyone, my name is Katie Olson. I'm the CEO of the Greater Washington partnership. And my guest today is Steven Moray, the President and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Steven, thanks for joining us.
Stephen Moret 0:53
Hey, JB great, great to be here and excited again, the have you continued to be a big part of the Greater Washington community.
JB Holston 1:01
Thanks very much. I appreciate that. Now that I've been here for half a pandemic, thatI guess that means tenure in some worlds. But it's great to see you for folks who don't know, let me give you a little bit of background about Steven and then we're just gonna jump in. Right to it. Steven, I noticed you, you went to business school at that, that business school on the other side of the country, so amongst your many educational journeys, but Stephen before joining the VDP, in January of 2017, Stephen served as chief executive of the Baton Rouge area Chamber in the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, as well as the LSU foundation and its real estate development arm. And if we have a chance to talk about some of that, Steven, it'd be great because you had some really remarkable accomplishments there, including you led something which we if we if we have a chance to talk about love to hear more about the LED fast start, which the economist called probably the most notable statewide workforce development initiative in America, which is it's coming back it's it's a workforce development year, potentially,
Stephen Moret 2:06
it's still one of the best in the country.
JB Holston 2:09
During his tenure, Louisiana rose to his highest ever position in every national business climate ranking, and then somehow attracted you to Virginia, to the Commonwealth in this region, where you've been reading, leading, among other things, the successful effort to attract Amazon's HQ to and launching a world class custom workforce program along with the Virginia community college system, along and notable careers, Steven and obviously you've done a lot academically as well, I should call you Dr. Moray, I, I don't want to neglect that fact. My friends from academia always tell me. It's great to it's great to have you on Steven, I thought we would start just diving in on a couple of things. And just to start it off on a track that has nothing to do with anything what, what did you What did you think you were going to be when you grew up when you were a kid? And you can say probably this but
Stephen Moret 3:08
You know, one of the things if you talk to people that are involved in economic development, almost no one thought that's I, my earliest memory, I guess of a career nation was that I was very fascinated with the career of Benjamin Franklin, who was kind of he was an inventor, he was involved in business. He's involved in public affairs. And so early on, I just had a lot of interest in doing something creative. But I also had an interest in working at the intersection of the private sector and public sector. And that's been one of the really neat things about doing this work and economic development.
JB Holston 3:43
And how did you if you don't mind? How did you get into economic development? Because obviously, you know, you've got to get an MBA, you've got a PhD, you've got an engineering, undergraduate.
Stephen Moret 3:52
I've had interesting experiences. Yeah, I'm trying to think of the best. The shortest way to tell that story is that I, you know, I had gotten my formal education and engineering in business, I was doing management consulting, I really enjoyed the rigor of the work, I enjoyed working with businesses enjoyed the colleagues, what the one thing I didn't have, at least never felt fully in the private sector was a sense of mission. And that like the intrinsic value of the work, and and certainly making companies more profitable is great. But I really longed for some kind of public impact impact in people's lives. And I had an opportunity someone reached out when the Baton Rouge area Chamber of Commerce was doing a search for new CEO. And they said this is back in 2004. They wanted to turn into more of a regional economic development organization. And they said they might be open to taking a shot on somebody kind of young. And so I reached out and it just was just a wonderful, it's been a wonderful experience. Everything I've done in economic development has been really special, I think in two dimensions. One is having this opportunity to work at the intersection of the public sector and the private sector. And then the work itself having real impact in people's lives. I mean, one of the one of the greatest things you mentioned, the faster training Workforce Recruitment Training Program we created in Louisiana, some of the most rewarding moments that I've had in my career, were visiting with or seeing people on video talking about what it meant to them to get a much better job that was enabled by something that we had done or and helped bring to life. And it's just just thrilling, absolutely wonderful. We have a project we're doing in Southern Virginia right now, with a 700 job delivery van assembly facility. And one of my team members who's organized all the recruitment and training through the Virginia Tech accelerator program sent me a short video of a gentleman who had been incarcerated. And he was talking about how through the skills based hiring approach that we took, wasn't penalized for that he got a shot to work at this company. And today, he has a family, you know, wife, a child, he has a mortgage and just feels like he's now part of, you know, productive part of society. And that, to me, is just the ultimate thrill. So I get to do that every day, at least to some extent.
JB Holston 6:06
Yeah, I hear you, I think, change, meaningful change in people's lives is, is really what it's all about. And you let's talk a little bit about the economic development landscape in the region if we can, because not everybody's necessarily familiar with what groups do what if you could talk a little bit about about how this, how the partnership is related to the state, and then also about how it relates to the other economic development organizations? That'd be helpful.
Stephen Moret 6:34
Yeah, absolutely. So when you think about economic development, economic development, really economies in general develop in regions, right. And so one of the one of the tensions in the United States is that we have all these political jurisdictions, typically localities, like a county or a city, or state lines, let's say, but those lines really, in almost every case, do not define the boundaries of the regional economy. And so when you think about economic development, particularly think about access to amenities, access to talent, access to critical infrastructure, like airports and metro systems, those are really regional questions, regional topics. So regional development, development is a very important kind of lens through which to see economic development. This is also one of the reasons why I was quite enthusiastic from the beginning of the founding of the Greater Washington partnership, that there's a very important role to play because there's no regional government right in the DC metro area. But having a group of business executives that could come together and help steward economic development, competitiveness topics of mutual interest is so valuable. I know you guys have made big impacts to regional mobility and talent pipelines, and more recently working on diversity, equity inclusion. So in Virginia VDP, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership sounds like a 501 C three, but it's actually a special purpose entity of state government, where we're not a state agency, we're what's called an authority. So we're structured more like a port authority or university in that we report to a board of directors. And our mission is to lead economic development activities for the Commonwealth. But when you think about economic development, it's fundamentally a team sport. And so the name of VDP is actually one of the things that attracted me to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, because it recognizes the team nature of what we do. We work with other state agencies, we work with regional economic development groups, we work with localities work with higher education and workforce leaders. Any project that comes to life of any consequence, is almost never the result of the efforts of one organization or one individual. It's many folks contributing together, you know, Amazon HQ to probably the greatest example that right, the team was like 500 people involved, including the greater Washington partnership, VDP, or locality, partners, and many others. And so we work through each of these organizations has a distinct role. There's some things that we handle on our own, and like we lead marketing for Virginia, we manage some of the primary economic development incentive programs, we lead most of the trade development activity for the Commonwealth. We also lead the Virginia town accelerator program I touched on earlier, there's a number of other initiatives, but most of the work we do we really do through these collaborations with other organizations.
JB Holston 9:16
That's great. Thanks for Thanks for that. Steven. And you mentioned it's an authority. So is it is it funded on an annual basis by the legislature?
Stephen Moret 9:27
We are we were each state does a little bit differently. You know, most states don't have this kind of structure. The closest one does probably jobs Ohio, but we are we are funded essentially roughly 100% by the state government of the Commonwealth of Virginia. We do raise funds for special projects. For example, when we did our HQ to bid. We raise funds from a variety of other groups to put together really a substantial package of support that we needed to do that. What a lot of people forget is we actually submitted for three regions. It wasn't just Northern Virginia, we did greater rich Been in Hampton Roads initially. We also raise money from other grants and other sources, but our base budget is state funded.
JB Holston 10:08
Got it? Great. Thanks. And I won't dive into politics too much. But obviously, you know, it looks like we now know at least to the Republican candidate is for for governor. How does who the governor is affect the work one way or the other?
Stephen Moret 10:26
Well, the first thing I would say is, you know, one of the things JB that attracted me to Virginia, other than the fact that I've lived here before, I think it's a great state is this unique structure of VDP. The fact that it's set up as an authority, and part of what that conveys is we are a strictly nonpartisan professional organization. So whoever the governor is, we work with his or her to advance economic development in Virginia. Some things we we continue, because we're charged to them in code, other things we may modify based on what that particular person wants to focus on. In any state, the governor is the single most important economic development leader, he or she sets the tone for the state, in terms of being a pro business state competitive for business, they tend to establish how aggressive the state wants to be in terms of cultivating both expansions of existing companies and attracting new companies to Virginia. And they obviously have a hugely important impact on public policy related to business competitiveness, as well as to the budget associated with economic development efforts. So the governor is our single most important partner, I have a special background here. And then I've served in both contexts, most states, the top economic development official as a direct appointee of the governor. So I did that in Louisiana as Secretary of economic development, here working more on the authority setup, they both have pros and cons. But the big advantage Virginia has with this model is by being nonpartisan, professional organization, we have the ability to attract and retain talent in ways it's much harder for a typical state agency to do in other states that are doing economic development work. That's been a huge advantage for us. And we think over time, we will be able to really leverage that advantage for the benefit of Virginia.
JB Holston 12:09
Yeah, that's great. That's helpful. That's helpful context to understand. Thanks for that. Steven. Let's, let's talk a little bit about about Amazon. You mentioned it. You know, I was I was part of the group trying hard to make sure it didn't happen here. from Colorado, think at the time. That's right. Exactly. Yeah. So some failed at that. So came here instead. But talk a little bit about why you think it was the bid here was successful, what went into to making that that work relative to to other regions in the country?
Stephen Moret 12:41
Oh, wow, that's such a good question. Well, I'd have to answer that from from two dimensions, because got to make sure I don't forget each of them. So one has to do with talent, and the other has to do with collaboration in the team. So ultimately, you know, if you were to ask Amazon, and many people have the basic paraphrase of what they said is they chose Northern Virginia, because we we offered overall the best combination of availability and quality of the talent that's here now, particularly tech talent, like software engineering, and so forth. And the combination of that with new investments in the pipeline of future talent, like in particular, the tech town investment program, and the big expansions underway now with Virginia Tech, and its innovation campus and Alexandria, and the big expansion of the graduate campus of George Mason and Arlington, that those are the things that really Amazon has emphasized both privately and publicly about why they chose the region. I do think, though, that I should, we should also acknowledge that it was an extraordinary collaboration that occurred, I think, a couple of advantages that we had, as we put this together as a team. One is that Virginia is just by history, a very collaborative, collegial place. And so we were able to really take advantage of all that collaboration with higher education with transportation leaders, and so forth. And we're able to really put together quite a large, state, regional and local team, you know, to work on this project, we had roughly 100 people and transportation roughly 100 People in higher education. One of the big advantages as well, in Virginia, the person in my position is an ex officio of the State Higher Ed board. I think the only one in the country, certainly more than two and three, two or three at max. That gave us a huge advantage because we had a running start. And we had this idea of this huge historic investment in computer science education. We had a running start with all the relationships with the university presidents with the various folks involved with administering higher ed at the state level. And really were able to put that that together. And of course, there's so many others, I mean, the fact that the communities, Arlington had done some wonderful work in kind of their land use planning, mixed use development planning, they were the kind of community with the diversity and sort of a progressive orange The company was looking for. We also were extraordinarily fortunate that with the winning site, that JB G Smith, who I think Matt Kelly's on your board, not only that they had taken control of an enormous amount of property, but they had and have and are bringing to life and extremely compelling, mixed use, sort of streetlife just a really exciting vision that was very complementary. With what Amazon wanted to do. I feel like I'm leaving out a lot of key parts, there were a lot of pieces that work together. I also would say, JB, that I thought that the greater Washington partnership played a very important role in this. I think the single most important thing that a lot of people don't realize is that when we were going through the HQ to bid process, which was about 15 months from start to finish, there was a sort of crisis with the funding of the metro. Right. And we were facing a really dire future if the three jurisdictions Maryland, DC and Virginia did not come together. And I think one of the signal one of the really significant achievements of the Greater Washington partnership, I think, since its founding, was the work that it did to help bring those three jurisdictions together with our governor of Virginia and the other two political leaders to adopt a financing solution at a critical moment. I think if that hadn't happened, that could have been a disqualifying factor for us. Additionally, when Amazon asked us to identify a couple of business people that they could meet with to talk about the labor market, in particular, the tech talent labor market, we spent a good bit of time with your predecessor talking about are there perhaps board members or others in the region that could speak to that articulately, maybe talk about other regions in the country and how we compare two of your board members met with Amazon. And it was a really important moment, I think, in helping them understand that when you think about the talent in the region, yes, there's a lot of federal government related, you know, STEM talent. But we're doing amazing things and cloud computing and AI and data science and cyber, its whole range of these fast growth, growth areas. And I think it really helped change how Amazon was looking at Virginia and the DC metro area in terms of the talent and realizing it was bigger and more diverse, and more compelling than they realized. before. I know I'm going to miss out, leave out a number of pieces, but do what I mentioned two other key things. Wonderful, wonderful local partners.
Stephen Moret 17:27
Victor Hoskins, Stephanie lajong, Christina, when buddy riser, Victor's predecessor, Dr. Gordon, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, huge asset. The other thing was the the great transportation work of local, regional and state level that we already had many, many billions of dollars underway and well defined plans. And we're able to build on that, to support the growth of HQ to those are some of the bigger things I'm sorry, I went on for a little bit there.
JB Holston 17:55
No, that's great. Appreciate it. I think, you know, it's it's timely, because it's, you know, it's been a few years now. And I think we've had a pandemic, so it's easy to, for people to forget, you know, certainly my perspective from Colorado was all of that all of that collaboration, which I know isn't necessarily easy to just make happen, look like it was just happening, you know, from from, from places like Colorado, his point of view, where there was a real struggle to sort of get focus and attention and everyone to the table in the right way at the right time. And did not have the ability to make the kind of magnitude of dollar commitments either given the structure of things in Colorado, but but it was that ability to have you know, I think I looked at the files here, there was one letter with 89 heads of higher educational institutions, collectively saying to Amazon, come anywhere, and we're happy. And it just it struck. It struck us from the outside that there that that that collaborative, lean in, tried to make it work for everybody was a pretty unique characteristic.
Stephen Moret 18:59
And JB, there's one other piece of this that a lot of people don't know that's an important, just timing advantage we had, we were wrapping up our first really comprehensive strategic plan for economic development in Virginia, right when we got the the HQ to RFP. And in that plan, there were two big ticket ideas. There were a couple others, but two that were relevant to Amazon. One was that we envision the creation of a tech slash Innovation Campus, inspired in large part by the Cornell Technion campus in New York City. And that had a price tag of 100 plus million. And then we also envision a very large targeted investment and computer science education. So these two things we were working on we were planning on, including in our plan, before we got the HQ to RFP and of course, the big question was, how would we ever get hundreds of millions of dollars to fund these things? And then Amazon comes along and by the way, we'd also realize the tech sector, particularly private sector Tech was our biggest single growth opportunity for Virginia. But the talent pool I plan was going to be the biggest constraint. And those are our sort of two big ideas. So we get the HQ to RFP, where we literally just putting the final touches on these ideas. And we realized, you know what, this is the perfect kind of validation, and enabler of these ideas, and the ultimate got updated and incorporate into that plan. The other thing that was very helpful is that we had a top management consulting firm is working with us on that plan that was literally wrapping up the week that we got the Amazon RFP, and we went to Governor. At the time, Governor McAuliffe, asked him if he would provide, I think it was about a million dollars we asked for he said he would do that, if we could get matching dollars from non state sources, which we did, that really enabled us to very quickly assemble a team so that we could do you know, three World Class proposals with plenty of third party, you know, assistance, and we just kind of had a running start so well, well, I think all of us are really proud of what we did. There was also, you know, definitely some good fortune involved with both the timing of it as well as I think JBG Smith, really important role.
JB Holston 21:01
Yeah, that's great. Well, thanks for that. So flash forward, were a few years later, obviously, getting had to go through the pandemic, but and I know you folks wrote about it in your most recent issue with the magazine, but how would you say it's gone? How would you say the Amazon HQ to effort has gone and how's it been for the region?
Stephen Moret 21:18
JB, I've been involved in a lot of big economic development projects, I've never had a mega project that is going better than Amazon post announcement. I think it's hard to say exactly why. But I think a lot of it is just that they really committed my perception is to delivering and over delivering on everything they committed to do, first of all, look at all the commitments they made in the, you know, the performance agreement we have with them. And by the way, everything is paid post performance. So Amazon has not getting a single penny of incentives from Virginia. Yeah, it's it's coming down the line. But they've met or exceeded everything they formally committed to do. But in addition to that, and of course, all the construction is on schedule, as well, the quality of the design is amazing. As you know, I'm so excited about what they're raising the bar, the Platinum, LEED certification, all that. But in addition to all the all, that they're investing enormous amounts of money in local nonprofits and education in small businesses. So I just think that they have been a model corporate partner above and beyond, you know, what they committed to do. And we're just I think everybody involved is just so proud and grateful for how well you know, this has gone and looking forward to the future.
JB Holston 22:30
Yeah, yeah, I had a chance to talk at length with Jay Carney,a few weeks ago, and one of the things that struck me was just how dedicated they are to trying to do this right to learn all their own historic lessons from elsewhere in how they're approaching it here. And I would concur. I mean, certainly, I think everything we're seeing is that it's had that kind of accelerator effect for the region that that one would hope.
Stephen Moret 22:56
And you know, the other thing I'd say JB is when we got the bid, one thing that we charged a portion of our team to do is to really dive deep into Amazon's existing headquarters in Seattle, to try to understand what some of the challenges were that they faced and how we might think ahead to mitigate those from a talent perspective, from an affordable housing perspective, from a transportation perspective. I think, likewise, Amazon was thinking about some of those things itself. And so one of the one of the big commitments they've made recently, as you're very intimately aware, is the big commitment to affordable housing, investment, the Commonwealth and localities are also making big investments there. Of course, all of us need to do a lot more than we're doing. But at least there's a big commitment to get that right. And to make sure that we're thinking about, you know, not just how do we how do we attract Amazon to Virginia? But how do we support the growth of the whole tech sector? And how do we make sure that the region has the infrastructure in terms of transportation as well as housing to be able to support that growth?
JB Holston 23:52
Yeah, Jay is on our board, full disclosure, but you know, they've just been a terrific partner in the effort to figure out how to tackle these long term problems for the region, as well as possible. I want to talk a little bit about talents. We've worked a lot with them on that. And I know that's, that's a both been and will continue to be a big emphasis for you, folks. But let's talk about recovery from the pandemic first. How quickly do you think things snap back? And and what do you think will be different? And I guess, in particular, on the difference side? Is it going to affect who you recruit or any any changes in sort of the business makeup that you're looking at the cars you think a little bit differently about the work going forward?
Stephen Moret 24:35
So first of all, I'd say, you know, we follow the various forecasts out there pretty closely and I think Moody's Analytics is now pretty much on target. I think, anticipating roughly the middle of next year. 2022 getting back to pre pandemic, you know, employment in the absence of some unanticipated big shock. I think that's about right. They do expect that the the the larger metro was in Virginia like Northern Virginia, Greater Richmond, Hampton Roads will get back quicker. So maybe by the first quarter, whereas the more rural and smaller Metro parts of Virginia might be delayed as much as a year. And I think I think that gap is probably on target. I think in terms of changes, another thing that Moody's expects that I do agree with is that when we do get back to full employment, I think the employment mix is going to be a little different than it was pre pandemic. So we're going to see more jobs and technology and business services, probably fewer jobs in hospitality and non essential retail. What that means is that it's hard to say exactly the number but 10s of 1000s of Virginians will not only not be able to go back to their previous job, they won't be able to go back to their previous occupation. Now, it'll be a small percentage in the scheme of things, but it will be very meaningful for a large number of families. And so a big thing that Virginia has been working on is thinking about expanding re skilling opportunities for folks, you're gonna see a big rollout of the governor's I think, really well designed Community College Program G three, focused on some higher wage associate degree type opportunities. With continued roll of the Fast Forward program, continued expansion of our Virginia town accelerator program, we'll be helping a few 1000 people a year reskill. I think with all those things together, that's really going to help. But people are still struggling, of course, with reopening of schools and availability of childcare, in some cases, health continuing health care concerns. So we're going to have some turbulence for a while. I think in terms of the industry mix. Overall, my biggest takeaway on the how the pandemic has impacted the economy of Virginia and the United States really for that, for that matter, is not so much that it's created major new trends other than certainly an increase in remote work, but more that it's dramatically accelerated trends that were already underway. And the most important one is the digitization of business. And that I think is the biggest legacy is a five to 10 year acceleration of that. So we're seeing just a boom in cloud computing and data centers and E commerce, like everything around that space autonomous systems. It's just gotten a big push on the accelerator. Fortunately, those are areas that Virginia in general and Northern Virginia in particular, are strong, I don't think you're going to see us change that much in terms of what we're going after. I mean, there are going to be some reshoring things, it'll be a little bit different. But the major industry sectors of focus are pretty similar, I think, for us as they as they were before, although we are looking for things that you know, might be a little different than before, I think the biggest question mark, in my mind, and it's going to take, you know, possibly a year or more to really get a handle on this is what's the future of the office, I don't think we're going to see an enormous increase in full time remote work, I think most of the big increase is going to be in hybrid remote, where people are still connected to a physical office that they go into pretty regularly, but maybe work from home or away from the office more frequently than they do otherwise. Well, for those folks, most of them are not going to move across the country if they're still tied to that job. But that is going to mean potentially a shift in the configuration, possibly the amount of office space that companies utilize. I think overall, I definitely would not right off the office, you've got some major companies saying that they're going to go back, I think it'll be a while before we have a really good read. But even even if we see an increase in remote work, where you will see I think some downward pressure is in those non essential retail and restaurant establishments that count on that, that office traffic. So if people are coming in the office now three or four days a week instead of five, clearly there's going to be a downside for them, even if the aggregate amount of office space stays the same.
JB Holston 28:43
Yeah, some of the data we're looking at, does raise concerns for urban cores in potentially DC and Baltimore relative to Northern Virginia may look quite different Fishman to some degree as well. But, you know, you look at the commercial real estate, vacancy project prospects and the knock on effect on small businesses and and other yet, it can be it can be pretty serious. Talking about that, let's talk a little bit about social justice, racial recognizing everything has gone on over the past year, certainly our partner companies have all put that at the forefront of their focus. And you know the word, the word here really has moved toward this idea that inclusion is the new innovation, that you know that if this can be the most inclusive economy, this region, it will be the most attractive economy both for the talent here in town and elsewhere. And therefore the next generation cares a lot more about inclusion than they care about a lot of traditional measures. There's an interesting intersection of that with respect the phenomenon we were just talking about. Steven, you know, if you look at what's happened to bipoc own small businesses over the during the pandemic they just been dealt with Made it. And you know, that has been such a source of wealth creation, income, but also to be wealth creation for for women, but also for a minority. So lots of concern about that area, in particular that phenomenon generally and then, you know, what can be done about it. And again, you know, Virginia as a Commonwealth may may be in a better position relative to some of those risks than some other some other parts of the region.
Stephen Moret 30:30
Yeah, I think, I think one of the things that the pandemic has exposed, as well as just some things that have happened during the pandemic, as you referenced some of these structural historical issues that we've not, I think, fully grappled with as a country. And there's clearly a tremendous amount of positive energy now coming from corporate America, to provide leadership on diversity, equity and inclusion issues. You're seeing that, I would say for the first time for me personally, it was the the HQ to project and there were certainly others before that. But I remember that as almost an inflection point, this is back in kind of 2017 2018, we really started seeing more and more companies talking about di issues, in a really significant way, wanting to know what the localities were doing, wanting to know what the state was doing want to know about the kind of metrics that are existing in a region as they think about where they're going to locate, particularly in the tech sector, I mean, not just there, but I think the tech sector has been kind of a leader, at least in focusing on that topic, maybe not actually achieving it, but making it a big priority for their organizations. And so that that really got me thinking about initially, that was the big catalyst for me thinking about that more and more. And then more recently, some of the issues we talked about, there was the I think you're familiar with the book, the color of law, and in trying to understand better some of these historical things that we don't think of as being really issues of racial justice, but they really are. In Virginia, Governor Northam created, I believe the first Chief Diversity Officer at the cabinet level of any state in the country. So we've had Dr. Janice Underwood, doing some important work there. She's been helping VDP and other state agencies as we think about how we develop our own di plans. In fact, every state agency and authority in Virginia is working on creating its own diversity, equity inclusion plan by I think, the end of next month by July one. That's something we had already been working on. Even before that, we've seen a lot of interest in our employees in this, I'd say, the the path forward for us internally is a little bit clearer than then externally, you know, internally, we're certainly thinking about things like, more proactively recruiting from diverse sources of talent, making that a bigger part of what we do. Thinking about, you know, community groups internally thinking about di training associated things. And there's a whole bunch of other activities, obviously, externally, though, is the part that we really have to think think about a lot more, which is how do we integrate this into the work that we do, and to the companies that we recruit? That's a place we just have a lot more to learn. But I think this is going to be a big focus for us. For years to come. I'll tell you in our in our own staff survey we did recently, we did this every once in a while, and we asked folks to sort of right, what are the topics you think we need to focus on the most? And di was was number one. Now the comments were very positive that people were they feel like we're heading in the right direction. But they really valued that we were heading in the right direction and wanting us to put more and more energy on that, which is exactly what we're working on.
Unknown Speaker 33:35
Yeah, yeah, I think we found the same thing. I think, you know, our companies are finding you can't not lean in on these issues. Now. It's a, it's a, it's an economic opportunity, as well as a moral and political imperative for them. So I think we'll all be, I think it's a great opportunity, I think we'll all be doubling down in our efforts to to make sure this is all more equitable and inclusive, going forward. You know, coming out, I'll move on to the topics. But coming out of higher ed, it's interesting, higher ed, really, as an as a industry has been grappling with this for quite some time. And it's interesting coming out of that back into the commercial sector to see that the commercial sector was a little bit later than higher ed in in addressing some of these things. But it's all to the good that all of us are now addressing at the same time as a priority. Let's talk a little bit about talent. Again, if we might, and you mentioned you referenced some of the programs underway in the Commonwealth. But you're and you also said, you know, one of the lessons of the pandemic is digitization may have been accelerated by five or 10 years. And I would agree, and that's, of course, across all industry sectors. You obviously we've been focused on trying to build a more diverse digital talent pipeline as well. But what what what more do we need to collectively be doing to to address that? Where are the gaps?
Stephen Moret 34:53
And to be clear, do you mean in tech talent in particular?
JB Holston 34:58
Yeah, if we're going To a world where there's much more digitized much more quickly. Now, then there's an argument that the the new world of work that is upon us is going to require fundamentally digital skills for virtually everybody. And if we have to meet that goal that much faster, because the world is now that much more digital. The question really is, you know, are we doing enough? Are there more things we need to do?
Stephen Moret 35:22
Yeah, no, that's a great question. Yeah, I think we're, I'm really proud of what we've done, especially with the Tecton investment program, you know, which is the largest investment into our knowledge and computer science and US history. But all of us musicians, they all of us, but those of us that were most involved in that, as proud of it as we are. We all expect that five years from now we're gonna look back and say, Well, that was cute. Enough, you know, compared to what the demand is, I think one of the realizations for me and you kind of hit on this, I think you use the term digital literacy. I think that's a really, really important idea. And by the way, first of all, I want to acknowledge the great work that you guys have done capital co lab and some other things that the greater Washington partnership is doing in this space. But I think is as much of a leader as we are in Virginia on this topic, I think we're still just scratching the surface. And it's not so much about getting people to major more frequently in computer science, or data science, although that's definitely part of it. We do need more grads, even more than we're currently investing to get in those areas. I think the notion of making digital literacy, a more central sort of cross curriculum, you know, part of what people are learning, I just think is super important. And there's so many folks who've done important work on this in different ways. But when you look at the, the the demand in the labor market, when you certainly for more and more digital skills, digital literacy, at least, when you look at some of the underemployment that many of our bachelor's grads are facing that don't have some level of digital literacy, it just strikes me that that's a really missed missed opportunity. One person in Virginia who's really provided some leadership on this topic is Katherine row, the president of William and Mary, obviously, an institution with a great history of commitment to the liberal arts. And what she has talked about is not sort of an either or, but the notion of kind of integrating digital literacy into their curriculum in a more significant way. And they've been doing some really fascinating work, important work that we're looking forward to learn from, I think the other thing we have to think about is how we introduce students to, to tech, in general, the digital literacy topics earlier in the curriculum. You know, Virginia has been a leader nationally, we're the first state in the country to make computer science required part of the learning curriculum for K through 12. But of course, there's still a lot of work to be done to bring that fully to life. And a lot of great work happening, in fact, some of it funded by the Tecton investment program. But I think part of it is starting earlier, to introduce folks, those topics, to have them prepared to be both interested and skilled to go to the next level, if they want to do that. I think also finding ways that are more digestible ways that adult learners that don't actually have an opportunity to go back to school full time, can still get some kind of targeted program that would help them get to a better place. So there's not one silver bullet, as you know, but you're working on some great stuff with the partnership, I think what we're doing with the Tecton investment program is really helpful. And I think the work that we're doing now with the Virginia office, so we're about to do, I should say with the Virginia Office of Education, economics, we're very in really looking at outcomes and the connection between programs and where people end up is going to help inform that work that we're all going to do going forward.
JB Holston 38:33
Yeah, I think it makes sense that you can do you concur on the need for starting early and having it be a lifetime set of opportunities, you know, one of the Georgia Tech pioneer this notion of university as a service, this idea that, you know, you could subscribe to one of these brands, your lifetime. And, but but I think there's something to that, where if you look at STEM diversity, for example, we're still struggling as a nation with having a more diverse pipeline coming out of the traditional stem channels. And probably it's because, you know, as a former engineering Dean, I can tell you to try to get people interested in doing that. Having had zero exposure to it until really
Stephen Moret 39:12
well, you think about some of those early courses like calculus, I mean, if you don't come out of high school with a pretty high level of math capability, you're not gonna you're not gonna go down one of those tracks. I mean, that's just the reality. So it's not just the universities, we got to be thinking much earlier.
JB Holston 39:27
Yeah, no, there's no question. I think, too, there are back to the digital literacy point. There's lots of ways for people who have sufficient digital skills to get a start up on a career or a next step on a career without necessarily having to have the same sort of deep capability. I think it's incumbent on all of us. And it's great to hear, you know, your project to help quantify outcomes, I think will be will be helpful to the to the dialogue.
Stephen Moret 39:50
I think the other thing is there's going to be innovation in the, in the, you know, in the corporate sector, companies that realize that we don't have to use that prototypical Bachelor's in Computer Science for every person who's doing a tech related job. So I'm thinking about companies like Amazon, and Capital One and Lockheed Martin, some of these folks involved with the partnership that are thinking about it in a more this topic in a more nuanced way, thinking about saying, hey, how do we hire more for, you know, general capabilities or like a piece of what we need, and maybe we can train for the other pieces? And then the the big added advantage of that is you can also build a more diverse pipeline of talent as well.
JB Holston 40:31
Yeah, I think that's exactly right. I think that premium is going to be critical for that diversity. But I think it's also a terrific opportunity for the region, I think the companies that adopt that earlier, are going to have a significant competitive advantage. Steven, if you think about managing your initiative over the last year, during that year, the pandemic, what did you learn about leadership over the course of the last year?
Stephen Moret 40:55
Oh, gosh, well, I think, you know, one of the most important lessons is just the importance of communication. Right? Communication, I think situational awareness, like one of the things we did really early in Virginia, was we had a team to really understand, okay, what is this going to mean? If we have social distancing requirements needed for weeks or months, you know, which industries are going to be most heavily impacted? How's that going to impact unemployment, so forth. So we were doing some really novel, work on that early. We shared all that with other state agencies. And it helped inform some of the things that Virginia did later give great credit to the the administration with Governor Northam and Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Brian barley pulled together an economic crisis, StrikeForce that was meeting I think, weekly or twice a week initially, and still meets periodically, to essentially share kind of situational awareness across industry sectors and healthcare, to education to hospitality, but also how the state was responding and how the state could respond. So some of the pandemic reminded me actually of kind of dealing with disaster issues back when I was in Louisiana with hurricanes and all spells. So all the lessons of kind of disaster recovery, and response were there. But then also, there's just the communication, thinking about staff thinking about how to keep people safe, how to encourage people to keep them supported. And that's a place at least in Virginia give great credit to our governor, Ralph Northam, of course, being a doctor himself, I think it was really natural for him to think about the staff and how to find a way to serve the public, while also helping people to stay to stay safe. I thought that was a really important feature.
JB Holston 42:34
Yeah. Stephen, we're running up, I knew we would run out of time fast before we can blink. But I know we're getting to the bottom of the hour. But if you think about what what keeps you up at night, relative to the prospects for Virginia, what, what, what worries you most or what
Stephen Moret 42:49
I would say maybe my greatest concern today about Virginia is almost the same. It is the same as what it was the first week that I took this job. And that is you've studied change management. First of all change management is you have to have, you have to create a sense of urgency. The biggest challenge we face in Virginia is that things overall are so good. That often, we tend to be a little satisfied with where we are today, right now. And this is a wonderful state. I mean, one of the best places to live, work and do business in that world is one of the best places to raise a family in that world. But as you all know, we have big issues in terms of underperforming and growth, although we're certainly getting a lot better the last couple years, having huge issues with housing affordability, having not a large out migration, but a steady net out migration domestically of talent, where for decades, it had been the other way. So overall, a great place with a positive trajectory. What I would hope to do is to find a way to help help all of us have a little bit more urgency around. Yes, we're top 10 and just about everything, but why not be number one, and everything with all the assets that we have. So that that's the thing that worries me when you know, when we see opportunities, we know we should go after that. We're not getting there as quickly as we could. Yeah,
JB Holston 44:08
It was interesting. We I was talking to one of our colleagues in the northeast, who was talking about some work they had a consultant do and they said one of the things is keeping them awake is that talent will have a lot more freedom of location. And so you how do you make sure that talent feels like the place they're gonna go is attractive for all the reasons that matter to talent today? And certain there's no question. Virginia has a tremendous panoply of assets for that. But I think I think it may be a less top down set of set of decisions on the part of some of the folks who are looking about where to go.
Stephen Moret 44:43
Absolutely. Well, what a pleasure to be with you today. JB appreciate the great work you're doing and we so appreciated the collaboration with you and others on your team and on your board ever since the partnership was formed.
JB Holston 44:55
Great. Well, thanks very much, Stephen. My guest was Dr. Stephen Moret. I did I got The doctor in there and it's it's been great to have the conversation and very much appreciate the partnership and look forward to growing this region to be the most inclusive, equitable and innovative economy in the in the country, as it should be. Thanks very much, Stephen.
Stephen Moret 45:14
Thank you JB take care
Nina Sharma 45:21
Thanks for tuning into fresh take. This episode was produced by Jenna climb, Justin Matheson Turner, Christian Rodriguez and Nina Sharma. If you liked what you heard, share it with your network. For more information and to access all of our podcasts, events and publications, visit Greater Washington partnership.com.