Lawmakers pledge to ‘get things done for our region’ at pre-session legislation forum

Local lawmakers met Tuesday for a forum hosted by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce to share what they anticipate the upcoming General Assembly session will bring.

The annual legislative forum, held at the Williamsburg Regional Library, took place about a week ahead of the General Assembly’s upcoming short session, which begins Jan. 11. State senators Tommy Norment and Monty Mason and state delegates Amanda Batten, A.C. Cordoza and Mike Mullin shared their insight with local business and community leaders on what they anticipate the upcoming year will be like — both locally and at the state level.

“Normally I’m very effusive in my optimism about what we can accomplish in a session in the General Assembly but my enthusiasm is always tampered by reality,” said Norment, R-James City. “I’m not setting my expectations too high for what the 2023 session of the General Assembly will accomplish. I had some touchstones as to why I have that perspective. Not the least of which is that 2023 is going to be a very important and very contentious election cycle.”

The question-and-answer-style conversation was moderated by Mindy Carlin, founder and co-owner of Access Point Public Affairs. Discussions centered around topics related mainly to the local economy. Ideas were shared on subjects such as workforce retention, education, economic strength, technology infrastructure development, tourism, affordable housing and mental health — all topics included in the Chamber’s top priorities for the legislative session.

In Virginia, every other year is considered a short session. The long sessions, like 2022, are when the General Assembly has to vote on a biennial budget. The short session is typically seen as a time to vote on amendments to that budget. However, the General Assembly may also introduce legislation on other matters during the short session.

“We’re going to do what we can,” said Cordoza, R-Fort Monroe. “I know our group, our area, especially in Hampton Roads, we have a strong group and we’re going to work together to get things done for our region, but it’s not going to be a super eventful legislative year.”

The Historic Triangle was in a recovery phase last year as the region continued to bounce back from the effects of the COVID pandemic. Small businesses across Greater Williamsburg felt the impacts of the pandemic, many experiencing employment and retention challenges.

“I look at the Hampton Roads area and the challenges and opportunities that we face here,” said Batten, R-Norge. “We obviously have a mismatch in some areas as far as what employers are looking for vs. what the potential employee pool has to offer. We have a lot of potential. We have a lot of military members who are frequently retiring out of the Hampton Roads region, and theoretically, those would be great employees to bring into our Virginia workforce.”

The legislators cited the need to diversify the region with new development. Mason stressed the importance of continuing to mitigate the impact of economic effects caused by the pandemic.

“We know there was an extraordinary impact on small businesses,” said Mason, D-Williamsburg. “We know there was an extraordinary impact on restaurants, lodging and tourism that we’re still feeling the brunt of today.”

The future regional sports complex was highlighted as an example of development through collaboration as an effort to diversify the region. The facility, a joint effort by Williamsburg, James City County and York County, aims to bring sports tourism to the area by attracting traveling sports teams and tournaments to the Historic Triangle.

Mullin, D-Newport News, also described how Gov. Glenn Youngkin has proposed over $100 million in new investment for business-ready sites.

“In 2016, Virginia has lost about 55,000 direct jobs and about $124 billion in capital investment for lack of prepared sites,” Mullin said.

Norment cited the acres sitting near the Williamsburg Pottery with access to routes 199 and to 264 as a place that’s ripe for business development. “It’s got every utility that is running to it,” he said. “So there are opportunities that are out there.”

Lawmakers also praised efforts to further get the word out about Greater Williamsburg. Increased funding from the localities has enabled the Historic Triangle to boost its advertising presence in areas like Boston and New York for the first time in a decade in a half, Mullin said.

“So you’re really seeing Williamsburg in the area that you haven’t before and I really think that’s part of the reason why we’ve had such success this year,” Mullen said. “Heads in beds is an important thing, and it benefits all of us. So with that greater advertising comes greater success for our whole area.”

Dominic Catacora, 757-798-9833, dominic.catacora@virginiamedia.com