The August VSRA General Membership meeting was held at the Ted Constant Convocation, ODU on Tuesday, August 16, 2022. The guest speaker was Governor Glenn Youngkin. We broke all records for the largest attendance in VSRA’s history with more than 220 of our VSRA members attending.
Governor Youngkin began with a description of how he walks out of his residence and sees the capital building with the American Flag and the Great Flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia flying over the top of the building. This makes him catch his breath because he has the privilege to work for the people of the Commonwealth.
Governor Youngkin emphasized the importance of what the ship repair industry does for Hampton Roads and thanked all VSRA’s members in the room for their support solidifying and reinforcing these great capabilities. He stated that he was stunned by the 60,000 people that are employed by the industry with a payroll of $3 billion and the $8 billion economic contribution that is represented. At the end of the day, the Nation depends on what the ship repair industry does. He expressed his gratitude to “The Strength Behind the Fleet."
Governor Youngkin recognized our silent heroes that are ensuring our Navy and commercial fleets are operating at maximum capabilities stating that “it’s no easy feat.” Amazed by the broad infrastructure between Newport News Ship Building and all the ship repairers that exist across Hampton Roads, he said the capability is truly one of a kind and is at the heart of the Commonwealth’s future.
Governor Youngkin went on to say that since the 80’s, we’ve gone from a 600-ship fleet to a 300-ship fleet with China out building us and outcompeting us. In his discussions with senior representatives, they all recognize how many ships that we need. We not only need to build more than 300 ships, but there is a necessity of upgrading and repairing our current ships. For this to come to fruition, we must have a workforce to do it, and the workforce is our biggest challenge today.
Governor Youngkin continued stating that since 2020, Virginia has seen 200,000 people leave the workforce and only 100,000 of those have returned, leaving 100,000 workers that need to get back to work. We recognize that there needs to be an investment made in the future workforce by giving Virginians multiple pathways to find opportunities. Governor Youngkin believes that the K-12 Curriculum and the Maritime Trade Training Program intersects most with the aspirations and opportunities that the ship repair industry offers.
Governor Youngkin stated that over the last six years the Commonwealth has recognized the need of investing in the K-12 Program, however, they have not seen the commitment that it truly needs. There has been a commitment with $1.5 million in funding to support the expansion and funding of the Marine Trade Training Centers with over 2,100 Virginians completing the courses and 91% of them still employed. We need to add a zero to that 2,100 to keep up with the demand of the industry not only over the next five years but continuing over the next twenty.
Governor Youngkin said that the workforce is there, we just need to grab it! Each year, 15,000 service members separate from the military in our region. The question is, how do we keep them in Virginia? Congress must make it economically feasible for these individuals to stay in Virginia by making certificates and license for jobs easily transferable for the spouse and changing the retirement tax so that retirees aren’t penalized to be in Virginia. They started the process when veterans retire from the Military by no longer having them pay taxes up to $40k of their retirement. This is a workforce they MUST keep here!
Governor Youngkin spoke of how Skillbridge has successfully been integrated with the MTT program, but we still need to find ways to continue the growth of skilled trade training. The Hampton Roads Strong Program provides another $2.5 million in funding to train an additional 650 Virginians. The reality is that we have an 8,000-person gap to fill by 2025. The demands of the Hampton Roads trades are growing.
Governor Youngkin sees that the priority of industry is in education, to include an involvement of state and local governments to do something very different. This is a chance to chart a new path forward. He is committed to go to work with the legislators to make sure that they are continuing to pass legislation to make it easier to attain credentials and certificates needed by working with the community colleges and K-12 curriculum and education departments. We must provide pathways for the next generation of Virginians so they can have the honor of taking care of this national treasure of our maritime and defense industry.
Governor Youngkin stated that while there are people working in the defense manufacturing industry, there has been no strategy, and this has been a mistake. There has been a desire to diversify our economy which has sent the wrong signal that we did not want the defense industry in Virginia, and this could be no further from the truth. His team has been working with Congressional Representatives and Senators across the Commonwealth to clearly communicate that Virginia is ready, willing, and able. He said that they are going to work to win more of the national defense complexes to be housed in Virginia, and there are going to be more opportunities and abilities to develop more capabilities. He closed his presentation with stating that together we can create what is going to be recognized as the very best ship construction, ship repair and marine industry in the world.
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