Governor Bob McDonnell arrived at Steel Dynamics at noon on Wednesday. Steel Dynamics Vice President and General Manager Joe Crawford and Charles Hunter Chair of the Roanoke Economic Development Authority and Dennis Cronk CEO of Poe & Cronk Real Estate Group greeted the governor.
Vice-Mayor David Trinkle introduced Governor McDonnell and touted Roanoke’s two exiting Enterprise Zones. Trinkle said, “as a small business owner himself I was able to take advantage of a grant.”
Other officials attending included Delegate Onzlee Ware, Council member Ray Ferris, City Manager Chris Morrill, and Rob Ledger Director of Economic Development.
McDonnell started by saying, “I have three priorities … jobs, jobs, jobs.” He remarked that though the state “has a little bit of a budget surplus – but we have a ways to go … the commercial real estate industry being largely flat we need creative ways to identify new and innovative ways to cut cost and find new markets.”
He plans to “cut down on the tax burden , strengthen right-to-work laws … and reduce government bureaucracy.” McDonnell stressed the need for government to be more helpful and friendly by partnering with the private sector. He thanked Delegate Onzlee Ware for his help in the General Assembly in that regard.
With $75 million more dollars in the Governor’s Opportunity Fund the governor plans to entice businesses to Virginia with tax credits. He will open trade offices in places like Holland, Germany and the U.K. He expects to announce business relocations in a few months. In April McDonnell will be going to India and China. “You’ve got to be where the customers are to find these new markets,” said McDonnell.
Roanoke was the first city to create Enterprise Zones. In recent years it has been converted from a tax incentive program to a cash grant program.
McDonnell expects the town hall to produce ideas for reducing the number boards and commissions resulting in a more efficient streamlined smaller government.
Crawford reiterated McDonnell’s remarks about expanding markets in China and India. “It’s getting more difficult to compete … we need to sell more steel,” said Crawford.
Governor Bob McDonnell hit Roanoke first Wednesday night in the first of eight town hall meetings that will conclude in Bristol on August 31. Roanoke liquor stores could be first on the list for privatization of the 332 state run liquor stores operated by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Virginians will get to speak directly with the governor. “It’s your government, and we want to know how we can make it work better for you,” says McDonnell.
“One of our ideas is to make government smaller and simpler while providing an immediate infusion of new revenue for transportation by privatizing Virginia’s state-run ABC stores,” said McDonnell. His philosophy is that state government must be focused on core priorities instead of services that should rightly be provided by the private sector offering Virginians more choice and convenience.
Besides using the expected $400 million plus proceeds for critical transportation needs he expects to keep the state’s general fund coffers full with the state’s share of store sales including licenses.
McDonnell is launching the ‘Virginia Speaks’ statewide town hall tour as a tool to garner input. Dennis Cronk expects privatization of the ABC stores to meet resistance by lawmakers and does not think, “it is a done deal.”
The interim report of the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring will be issued by September 15th.
Wednesday night’s town hall meeting at the Roanoke County’s Administration building on Bernard Drive is expected to fill to capacity. The capacity for the room was inked in a new policy adopted by the Board of Supervisors on July 27. Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Joe “Butch” Church said in an e-mail that “he expects that the  limit will have to be enforced. He said he had no idea what the size of the crowd might be. Church didn’t say if the governor had to pay a $70 deposit for use of the room.
Thomas Ryder a Roanoke County teacher hoped to get in the room. “We have seen state per-pupil support drop from $5277 (a level that ranked us 36th amount the states) to the current $4548,” said Ryder.
The 16% cut in state support for public education has the highest impact on poor rural and urban divisions, undercutting workforce development, and ensuring that the existing patterns of poverty and unemployment persist according to Ryder.
He urged other teachers to attend to press McDonnell saying, “the Governor shares our goal of a high quality teacher in every classroom; however, unlike state workers, Virginia’s teachers are seeing no bonus, and many are facing pay cuts or loss of employment. When we compare the salary of the average teacher to that of the average wage earner, Virginia ranks 48th. This investment in the teaching profession will not ensure that our children have great teachers.”