The Big Redesign – Virginia Business
Work-life balance becomes an economic factor
February 27, 2022
As we enter Year 3 of the COVID-19 pandemic, the overwhelming question has become less: “When will we get back to normal?” and more, “What do we want ‘normal’ to look like?”
A year ago, as COVID-19 vaccines became more widely available, many of us thought life in 2022 would be much more like 2019. But so far, that’s not the case, for many reasons.
Some people have not been vaccinated – and that has strained hospitals when new variants of coronavirus have spread. Additionally, parents of young children exposed to COVID have been caught between a rock and a hard place, forced to stay home or try to work remotely while the kids are busy.
In Virginia, as in other parts of the country, the economy has started to rebound in most sectors, with an unemployment rate of 3.2% and 4.26 million people working at the end of 2021.
But a different problem developed: the “Great Resignation”. The labor shortage has particularly affected the service and hospitality industries, but other sectors have also been affected, including health care, education and law.
In Virginia, the labor force participation rate hit a low of 63% in December 2021, reflecting the proportion of the civilian population ages 16 and older who are employed or actively seeking work, a significant drop from the start of 2020 , when the labor force participation rate was consistently above 66%.
Even for people who don’t quit their jobs, there is a mood swing. C-suites are buzzing with higher salary demands, bonuses and flexible hours for employees, as well as making remote work a permanent feature. Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are also changing the culture of many workplaces.
Despite inflation hitting a 40-year high in January, Virginia’s economy is largely very healthy — as CNBC recognized in July 2021 when it awarded Virginia its second straight coronation as as the best state in the country for business. The following pages are filled with major new economic development deals, from Wythe County’s glove-making plant to Dominion Energy Inc’s $9.8 billion offshore wind farm.
Even tourism is up, along with the traditionally strong federal contracting and trade sectors. Manufacturing opportunities are also emerging, and Governor Glenn Youngkin is putting more emphasis on preparing more industrial sites for businesses to move in quickly. Major transportation projects are also underway, including the largest project in state history: the $3.8 billion Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel Expansion. Even in economic trouble, St. Petersburg is emerging as a pharmaceutical hub, poised to make a real difference in the nationwide availability of generic drugs.
Meanwhile, universities across the state are beginning to construct new campuses and buildings to train future computer science and computer engineering professionals to take jobs at Amazon.com Inc.’s headquarters in Arlington and in other state technology companies. Leaders in southwest Virginia, which has struggled economically for decades, are making major strides in attracting tech and manufacturing companies.
Construction and commercial real estate, accounting, finance, insurance and other industries are also represented, both in articles and in this year’s up-to-date Big Book listings and charts. But you’ll also see glimpses of tension – hospitals are still struggling to deal with COVID-19 patients and law firms with bigger caseloads and fewer junior lawyers, symptoms of the national overhaul of the work-life balance.
As Elizabeth Chu, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority’s first chief transformation officer, who is included in this issue’s “On the Move” article, recently said, “Employees and talent just do a lot more. pay attention to companies and where they decide to work in. I think it’s a generational change, but I also think it’s a broader change.