Keynote Remarks by
Nancy Howell Agee
President and CEO, Carilion Clinic and
Chair, Virginia Business Council
Virginia FREE Annual Luncheon
December 18, 2017
Thank you, Jim, for your kind introduction. And thank you for inviting me to speak at today’s luncheon. You know, I am a born and bred Virginian. In fact, I was born in one of the hospitals I now lead.
So, like you, I have a deep and abiding love for our Commonwealth and want Virginia to be the very best place it can be to live, love, work, pray, play and raise a family.
Over the past several years, the Roanoke region has grown and changed – in many ways quite dramatically. So, if you haven’t been to Roanoke in a while, you haven’t been to Roanoke:
We’ve become a mecca for the outdoors and craft beer.
Passenger rail service returned this fall after a nearly 40-year hiatus.
The health sciences and technology sector is growing rapidly – in October we broke ground on a 90 million dollar biomedical expansion of the Virginia Tech Carilion partnership.
Governor McAuliffe has nicknamed the Commonwealth the “Brain State” and I’m proud to say Virginia Tech Carilion is leading that effort.
Closer to home, my thirty-year-old son just moved back to the area – not to New York, Chicago or Washington, D.C. – because, “Mom, Roanoke’s hot!”
Our economic resurgence has gained national recognition, with articles like the one in Politico that talked about our transformation from “trains to brains.”
I’m excited about our region and the Commonwealth’s future.
I’m proud to partner with so many other business leaders from across the Commonwealth to drive positive change and economic prosperity.
Although Carilion is a not-for-profit , economic issues like education, employment and income are among the strongest predictors of good health.
And with responsibility for 13,000 employees and providers of healthcare for nearly 1 million Virginias, I think about the business climate and economic development a lot.
Virginia FREE Celebrates 30 Years
Virginia FREE has had a significant role in improving Virginia’s business climate. Today, Virginia FREE is celebrating a 30-year anniversary.
So, let’s look back 30 years:
My cousin-in-law, Gerald Baliles was two years into his term as Governor;
Chuck Robb had just been elected to the U.S. Senate, and
Long-time U.S. Congressman from Danville, Dan Daniel, was laid to rest.
My husband, a state legislator at the time, joked that Republicans could hold their meetings in a phone booth.
Also, 30 years ago:
A statewide decision on the ballot was a referendum on pari-mutuel betting; and
Tim Kaine was still giving law school lectures and, perhaps, wasn’t even thinking about a career in politics.
Who could have guessed then that Bill Howell would be Speaker and earn Virginia FREE’s highest award this past year?
In 1988, Virginia FREE was founded by the Virginia Business Council.
The Virginia Business Council was (and is) the top executives from the largest businesses in Virginia, working together for the purpose of protecting and strengthening Virginia’s prosperous business environment.
The Council discovered it could do a better job if we had some important tools – tools like:
Non-partisan information to elect pro-business legislators;
Rankings so we can judge elected officials’ pro-business performance;
Bill scoring to identify the legislation that will have the greatest impact on businesses, and
Accountable standards of governing excellence.
That’s the valuable work Virginia FREE does.
Importance of Dialogue in Today’s Political Environment
Today, Virginia FREE is engaging political and business leaders throughout the Commonwealth in constructive dialogue about our economic future.
You know, I can’t emphasize enough how important dialogue is. Regrettably, today’s political environment is increasingly polarizing and civil discourse is eroding, particularly at the national level. Making the effort to have constructive dialogue and find common goals is enormously important.
A healthy two-party system is essential in our democracy, and when it devolves to a refusal to engage, it gets us nowhere. And, it’s bad for business!
It’s said that you “can’t hate someone whose story you know,” so, thank you, Virginia FREE for being a convener and building a bridge between Virginia’s business and political communities so we can share our stories and move our Commonwealth forward.
A Powerful Coalition
Virginia FREE’s members and those of the Virginia Business Council represent a powerful force for economic prosperity.
And business’ influence is considerable.
Virginia FREE’s invisible hand can be found on a wide range of projects across the state.
I suspect you influenced the passage of the 2.4 billion dollar bond package to build a 21st century research infrastructure – the largest research-oriented capital investment in the Commonwealth’s history.
The Virginia Tech Carilion biomedical expansion was included in that.
Thank you VA Free…Governor McAuliffe…and our Commonwealth legislators for supporting the bond package!
GO! Virginia is another example of a business-led, bi-partisan initiative that Virginia FREE helped support.
Virginia FREE has earned praise from elected officials on both sides of the aisle for commitment to thoughtful, reasoned and independent advocacy, constructive dialogue, and for bringing together Virginia’s business and political communities to find solutions to the challenges facing our Commonwealth.
And, our economic climate is getting better.
Our latest ranking by Forbes released just two weeks ago echoes that assessment. In its annual “Best States for Business” list, Virginia moved up to 5th place.
We’re still not No. 1, as we were in 2013 — North Carolina now occupies that spot.
And while we’re doing better, our Achilles heel may be two things:
First, the cost of doing business in Virginia. Labor, energy and taxes cost more in Virginia than they do in 28 other states.
Second, we rank Number One in per capita federal spending. That’s a two-edged sword.
Federal military and defense spending account for nearly a third of our state’s economic activity. And that makes us especially vulnerable to federal discretionary spending like sequestration.
That’s why efforts to diversify our economy are so important. That’s what we’re working on in Roanoke and there are other great examples across the Commonwealth. We can do more!!
I’m quite aware that the best luncheon speakers are those who follow the “3 B’s principle:”
Be brief, be honest, and be seated.
I’ll close by saying that together business and political leaders can make a difference.
For three decades, Virginia FREE has been a beacon of reason for Virginians on both sides of the aisle. Our work gives me hope for a better, stronger Virginia.
Congratulations on 30 years of good work! I’m looking forward to the next 30 years!
Thank you for inviting me to be with you today to celebrate this important milestone. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you!
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