Democratic Senate hopeful launches tour of region with business roundtable
By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- U.S. Senate candidate and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine talked to area business leaders on Friday about issues he would address if elected in November.
Kaine met at Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury with representatives from manufacturing firms, banks and local businesses. The Democratic Party hopeful, who is seeking the seat held by U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, kicked off a tour of the Shenandoah Valley at the retirement community in Frederick County.
Kaine is seeking the Democratic nomination for the November election. His likely opponent in that race is former state governor and U.S. Sen. George Allen. Webb is not running for re-election.
Local leaders and Kaine discussed the economy, training and education of the work force, health care reform and the cost to businesses and employees. They also touched on immigration reform.
Winchester City Councilman Art Major, owner of Gear Clean Inc., expressed concern that he cannot find skilled workers to fill positions. Dillon "Dee" Gibbs, plant manager for Kraft Foods, echoed Major, who also criticized people who support cutting unemployment benefits but don't want to fund training even in basic skills.
Major noted a loss in funding caused the demise of a work force training program that helped people learn skills that could lead them into high-paying jobs.
Kaine had set goals for his two-day tour of the valley.
"I want to share my ideas about how to take an American economy that's recovering, but not recovering fast enough, and accelerate recovery, so I have some ideas about that and they're largely Virginia lessons," Kaine said after the meeting. "If you build a talent economy then you're going to have a strong economy. That's what Virginia has done, and we need to do that more nationally. But it's also important for me to hear the ideas of the business leaders here."
Kaine's tour includes visits to manufacturing plants and other business other valley cities -- Harrisonburg, Blacksburg, Roanoke and Staunton.
"To take the ideas of the business leaders of these communities with me that will make my message stronger, and it'll be good lessons I can take with me after Election Day," Kaine said.
As Kaine explained, the state can build its economy on a talented work force, and Virginia has done so in recent decades. Kaine pointed out that Virginia has had an unemployment rate below the national average. Moreover, the jobless rate in the Shenandoah Valley falls below that of the state average, he said.
But Kaine warned the nation's success could falter if it slips further among other countries in keeping its work force educated.
The former governor also stressed fiscal responsibility and said government must make cuts and investments when needed. However, a government also may need to raise taxes and revenues to build the economy, he said.
The U.S. Senate needs to work together, according to Kaine, who recalled that during his four years as governor he worked with a Republican House of Delegates.
While the Northern Shenandoah Valley has experienced economic setbacks, such as the closing of manufacturing facilities and businesses, Kaine said the valley has strengths in the agriculture and forestry industry, which remains No. 1 in Virginia in terms of the percentage of the gross domestic product.
"This has been a traditional ag and forestry area, from, you know, apples in Winchester, poultry farms in the valley, forestry down closer to Roanoke and Blacksburg, and so there are still wonderful new opportunities for those areas," Kaine said. "In the alternative energy area there's all kinds of ag and forestry products that can be used to create alternative forms of energy and I think that's a new future economic prospect for the valley on the ag and forestry side."
Erik Beatley, vice president of Allen Properties, which operates several restaurants in the area, said he came away from the meeting surprised and optimistic.
"I guess the thing I took from it was his willingness to listen," Beatley said.
Beatley spoke to Kaine about a newer work force that lacks basic financial skills such as counting change back to customers and balancing checkbooks. As Major noted, the state will mandate those skills be taught but won't pay for the extra teachers needed to do so.
Beatley expressed concerns about the pending implementation of the Affordable Care Act and its potential impact on businesses and employees, such as transient and entry-level workers.
"The new health-care law can't be a one-size fits all," Beatley said.
The Allen campaign issued a statement Friday after Kaine's visit.
"From the job-crushing tax hikes and regulations in Obamacare to this Administration's punishing energy policies that are increasing fuel prices and driving up costs, Chairman Kaine has chosen to stand with President Obama over Virginia families and businesses every step of the way," the statement from Allen campaign spokesman Bill Riggs reads.
"The people of Winchester deserve a Senator who will fight for their values and best interests, not burden them with massive tax hikes, thousands of regulations and counterproductive energy policies. It's clear that Tim Kaine wants to be Senator for President Obama and his Washington allies, George Allen will be a Senator for Virginia."