YOU HAVE TO LOVE VIRGINIA Start with food, wine and oysters

Posted on 09/29/2015 | About Virginia

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was in Toronto with a tourism delegation last week passionately touting all the wonderful things Virginia has to offer. At an evening reception the spotlight was on Virginia wines, seafood and craft brews. I sampled all – all were worth the hype! Earlier in an exclusive interview, the Governor told Travel Industry Today some of his plans for tourism, job creation and for boosting the economy of Virginia.  
Tourism revenue The Governor had announced earlier in the week that tourism revenue in 2014 was up 4.1 percent to US$22.4 billion. In 2014, tourism in Virginia supported 216,949 jobs, which comprised 7.1 percent of the state's total private employment, making the travel industry the fifth largest private employer in Virginia. The tourism industry also provided more than $1.5 billion in state and local revenue, an increase of 5.6 percent compared to 2013.

Referring to these figures, McAuliffe said, "Promoting tourism in the Commonwealth is a key component of my administration's efforts to build a new Virginia economy.” He’s not shy about his accomplishments and he enthusiastically lists them, “Virginia is a very unique place. I just announced last week 4.5 percent unemployment - the lowest we’ve had in eight years. We have more workers now than ever. I’ve brought in about $7.8 billion in capital since I’ve been governor – shattered every governor’s record.” The governor didn’t mention it but Carnival Cruise Lines returned to Virginia this after a layoff of a couple of years. Carnival resumed sailing seasonally from Norfolk in the spring and fall of 2015.

Department of Defense The reason Virginia is doing “great” says McAuliffe, is that it is the number one recipient of Department of Defense salaries of all 50 states. Virginia has the largest naval base in the world, they have about 20 military installations including the Pentagon, the CIA, Quantico and Langley Air Force Base.

“They’re spending money and it’s great!” He says. Focus on youth The recently launched Governor’s Council on Youth Entrepreneurship is an initiative to motivate young people in all sectors to pursue business opportunities and encourage resourcefulness and creativity.

We asked the Governor what motivated this and whether he had the buy-in of the business community. “My whole emphasis is to preserve our assets and protect them, but we have to do business differently - cyber security, data analytics, we have more data centres than any state in America, we have more tech workers than any state in America, and young people are filling those jobs.” “I’m very good at sales - but I’ve got to have a workforce – so I’ve got to encourage young folks to get interested in these new entrepreneurial businesses of the 21st century,” he said.

And did the business community buy-in? “Yeah! Everybody in! They get it.” McAuliffe says he talks about this every day - the need to build a new Virginia economy. It doesn’t happen overnight “In the past we haven’t had to worry about this,” he says. “Last year Virginia received $58.8 billion from the Department of Defense just in Northern Virginia – but growth rate is still low because its going to take a couple of years to work through. The $7.8 billion I brought in – you’re not going to see that for a couple of years. “So I think people have realized this, and the business community has all bought in.” Travelling Man “I travel the globe – I think was probably the most internationally travelled Governor last year – went to China twice, Korea, Japan, seven European countries. I’m here for two days, I was in California last week for three days. In November I’m heading to India and probably Oman and Kuwait. “My job is to create jobs. That’s why I ran for governor – forget all the other stuff.” Food, wine, beer and history Aside from everything else, McAuliffe says, culinary tourism is on the rise. “We’ve really taken craft beer to the next level, we’ve taken our wine to the next level – this is all good – oysters – you happen to have a governor who likes all this stuff.” With a grin he says, “You know I hate to do these parties at the mansion – 10 o’clock in the morning you have to drink beer! It’s not easy – but I gotta do it – it’s my job as governor.” More seriously he says, “That’s how you get tourism going. We did $22.4 billion last year – 40 million visitors to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Think of that. We have such historical assets. “We have 28 miles of beachfront. We have mountains like no other state – the Blue Ridge.” (No argument here - I drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains regularly – they are breathtaking.) “Between the Blue Ridge and the beach is Mount Vernon – George Washington’s home; Monticello – Thomas Jefferson’s home; our (Virginia) Capital, designed by Thomas Jefferson; the statue of George Washington standing in our capital by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon - it is believed to be the only statue done while he was alive. “No other state has any of that!” The governor can, and does, list Virginia’s assets at breakneck speed – he clearly loves doing so. “There’s colonial Williamsburg, and Jamestown where the Virginia Company settlers came in 1607 and established an English colony. “We just celebrated the 150th anniversary of the ending of the Civil War – the sesquicentennial – thousands of people came – you know where we ended up – Appomattox. You could walk into the room where General Lee surrendered to General Grant- the chair the couch are just the way they were 150 years ago. You can’t get that anywhere else.” He on a roll and barely pauses for breath. “Then you can hop on a car and go down to Bristol, Virginia – the birthplace of country music and then you can go on a 200 mile crooked road to all of our Music Venues and have craft beers, dancing, singing, doing what you and I like to do.” He finishes with a flourish - generously including me in the fun and frolic. Getting there There are 24 daily flights to Virginia from four airports throughout Canada. Washington Dulles International Airport is the number one destination for Porter Airlines Canadians represent Virginia’s largest international market and eighty percent of them visiting Virginia drive here. A large number just drive through, or stop briefly. We asked the Governor how he can get them to stop and stay awhile. “Do what we’re doing right here. Meeting with folks. We had an event last night in Montreal with 100 plus people – we have 110 people here tonight, getting tourism folks to write about us and talk about us. Because I think once people realize what we have in Virginia – we’ve got great golf courses – some of the best in the world, we’ve got great shopping, we’ve got a very temperate climate and we’ve got the history. “The more people learn about what Virginia has to offer – the more likely they are to stay and take some time to enjoy it.” In terms of increasing the ‘fly’ component as opposed to drive, McAuliffe is pragmatic. There was an Increase in lift last year. He had met with the Porter CEO Robert DeLuce earlier in the day to attempt to persuade them to increase the number of flights to Virginia. Currently Virginia is the number one destination for Porter Airlines and of course Air Canada also flies into Washington National. “It’s interesting because the value of your dollar has made it a little more difficult – but people are still going to drive. Maybe the low cost of gas has helped.” He relates an anecdote about flying to Virginia. “You’ll get a kick out of this.” He says. “When I was over in China and I would ask people whether they had been to Virginia and they said ‘No’ but many said they’d been to Washington. ‘Where did you land’ I asked, and the answer was Dulles. That’s 26 miles into Virginia – they didn’t know that. “It was driving me crazy. So on the 14 ½ hour flight back home –I was thinking about it and I said you know what – I bet you there’s no sign.” When his flight landed he insisted on being driven out the regular Dulles exit that passengers use. “We drive out – big sign - ‘Welcome to the Washington Metropolitan Region.’ “I said to my troopers – ‘let’s go to Regan National.’ No signage at all! “So I called my secretary of Transportation Aubrey Lane and I say, ‘Aubrey, I’m giving you 30 days. I want the biggest sign that can be made that says “Welcome to Virginia. Virginia is for Lovers” “I want them at every airport I want them at every major entrance to the Commonwealth of Virginia. And I’m giving you thirty days to do it.’ If they couldn’t do it - I was ready to do it myself. To get a stepladder and put ‘em up. “You land at Dulles now – you pull out - there’s a sign as big as that building,” he gestures to a large office building, “Welcome to Virginia. Virginia is for Lovers.” It’s basic stuff, says McAuliffe, “but it’s been like that for 50 years. Now when you arrive there’s a giant sign - Welcome to Virginia.” At the reception later, the Governor welcomed the gathered partners and media and draws a laugh with, “You drink our wine, you eat our oysters – that’s why we say that Virginia is for lovers!” “You’ve got a choice of 50 states to visit,” Governor McAuliffe told guests, “but let’s be honest, there is no choice. We’ve got 28 miles of oceanfront beaches, we’ve got the Blue Ridge Mountains, we’ve got great history, the beach, shopping, climate… we’ve got it all.” Governor McAuliffe was accompanied on his trip to Canada by Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones; Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, Todd Haymore; president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation, Rita McClenny and director of international marketing, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Heidi Johannesen.