Governor Candidates Join Business and Higher Education Leaders in Supporting Talent, Affordability Initiatives

Stronger Educator-Employer Partnerships and Broad-Based Internship Opportunities are Focus of Workforce Conference Hosted by VBHEC and Virginia Chamber

RICHMOND, VA – Virginia’s two major-party candidates for governor expressed support today for higher education initiatives focusing on talent development and affordable access, two priorities of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) and its Growth4VA program.  Former Governor Terry McAuliffe and former business CEO Glenn Youngkin shared their views on higher education and workforce issues in remarks at the 2021 Virginia Education and Workforce Conference.

The conference at the Greater Richmond Convention Center was jointly hosted by VBHEC, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and the Virginia Talent and Opportunity Partnership.  Besides gubernatorial candidate presentations, the 400 business and education leaders in attendance heard keynote remarks by VBHEC board member and Altria senior vice president Jennifer Hunter and panel discussions addressing business-education partnerships, workforce resilience, and internships and other work-based learning opportunities for students.

Youngkin’s remarks focused on talent development, including alignment of educational programs with workforce needs and increasing internships and other forms of work-based learning included in college curricula.  “I truly believe that the opportunity in front of us is for Virginia to be a national leader in talent pathways and blaze a trail that the entire nation will want to replicate,” Youngkin said.

McAuliffe’s remarks stressed college affordability, including increased student financial aid, workforce credential grants, and expansion of the recently passed “G3” community college student assistance program. “I’m fired up about the opportunities we have here to take Virginia to the next level … and that won’t happen unless we have the best higher education system in the country,” McAuliffe commented.

VBHEC and Growth4VA chair Dennis Treacy, who briefed conference attendees on Growth4VA’s proposal for an $880 million higher education investment in the next biennial state budget, applauded the candidates for governor for offering ambitious visions for Virginia’s leadership on talent development and college affordability.  “We were very pleased to hear both candidates for governor express their support for higher education and the close collaboration between business and education that we have been advocating,” Treacy commented after the meeting. “We look forward to working with our next governor to move this vital agenda forward.”

In keynote remarks, VBHEC board member and Altria executive Jennifer Hunter highlighted multiple strategies to make talent pathways more affordable, including increases in student financial aid, support for HBCUs and other institutions that serve low-income students, and enhanced community college transfer options.  “These ideas and others can break barriers for students and provide upward mobility for Virginians who need to gain access to mentoring, training, and education for well-paid careers – especially those afforded fewer opportunities in the past.”

Victoria Harker, executive vice president/CFO of TENGA, Inc., and a VBHEC board member, led the panel discussion on ways to scale up work-based learning opportunities as part of standard college curricula.  “We have been losing talent to other states after graduation; one of the key strategies for reversing that trend is to have pathways that connect students with Virginia-based employers while they are still in college,” she said.

Virginia State University President Makola Abdullah, chair of the Council of Presidents and a VBHEC board member, said, “Today’s conference showed there is a broad consensus among Virginia leaders in business, education, and government that if we work as partners to align educational initiatives, workforce needs, and state investments, we can catapult Virginia into a position of national leadership on talent development and providing economic opportunity to all.” Abdullah spoke during the panel session on fostering greater connectivity between higher education and employers.

Other VBHEC board members addressing the conference included Clifford B. Fleet, president/CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Delbert Parks, vice president and site executive for Micron Technology Virginia, Chancellor Donna Price-Henry of UVA-Wise, and Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands.

Today’s conference followed last week’s announcement of Growth4VA’s $880 million investment proposal, which was highlighted in a Sunday newspaper column by Treacy and VBHEC board member Mehul Sanghani. Growth4VA earlier released detailed policy recommendations supporting its four strategic goals – Talent, Affordability, Innovation, and Opportunity – and polling data showing that large majorities of Virginians support major investments in Virginia’s top-ranked higher education system.

To learn more about Growth4VA click here.



Growth4VA is a campaign of the Virginia Business Higher Education Council