WINCHESTER — Rebuilding state and local economies are on the minds of many as the calendar moves toward 2021, and that was the focus of this year’s Virginia Economic Summit and Forum on World Trade.

The summit, in its 11th year, was held virtually Friday and was kicked off with a discussion headed by Stephen Moret, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

“What a roller coaster of a year we’ve experienced in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Moret said in his opening statement. “We’re going to have a big opportunity in 2021 to recover from the public health crisis as well as position Virginia for a healthy economic recovery.”

Moret outlined some positive statistics about Virginia prior to the pandemic as aspects that could be a driving force for success moving forward, such as the fact that Virginia had been named the No. 1 state for business by CNBC and had the lowest unemployment rate the state had seen over the last decade. He also cited the launch of several educational and workforce programs and the securing of development sites.

Though Moret said Moody’s Analytics projects Virginia won’t get “back to normal” economically until around 2023, he believes the state could and should beat that projection, although some business sectors could take longer than others to recover.

Moret said international trade will likely play a vital role, starting with focusing on furthering Virginia’s comprehensive international trade plan.

“What that plan envisions is increasing exports per capita in Virginia by 50% over the next 15 years,” Moret said. “That would be enough to position us to go from 41st per capita to roughly the top 20. We’d go from trailing much of the south to being one of the leading states for exports in the county.”

Moret said growth in exports would also create about 150,000 additional jobs.

Much of that, he said, could be created in the next two to three years.

Moret said Virginia is positioned to see success by capturing manufacturing reshoring and new supply chain opportunities; accelerating Digital Virginia’s cloud computing, software and data centers; seizing telework transition opportunities with a special focus on rural and small metro regions; and retooling and reskilling Virginia’s unemployed workforce for post-COVID opportunities.

In doing that, Moret said, a combination of focusing on longstanding strengths, recent advances and top opportunities to improve are vital.

Moret identified longstanding strengths as education, workforce, quality of life, Mid-Atlantic locations, prudent fiscal stewardship, diverse economic base and a attractive and stable business climate.

Those strengths have led to advances such as rural broadband advancements, the launch and advancement of workforce programs and investments into ports and transportation.

This, Moret said, will lead to advancements in early childhood education and child care, prepared development sites, targeted tax change, further broadband advancements and further workforce programs.

A panel discussion — featuring Altria Group CEO Billy Gifford, Thompson Hospitality Corp. President Warren Thompson and Northrop Grumman Corp. President and CEO Kathy Warden — also examined economic recovery in the state and explored topics amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gifford said his tobacco-producing company decided to focus on how to best care for its employees, community and products while also working to spur social change in the community.

Thompson, who operates in multiple aspects of the hospitality industry, said the pandemic has created many challenges but has presented business owners with an opportunity to strengthen their business models and to adapt to changes that had already been happening the last three to five years.

Warden said Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense company, strengthened its communication with suppliers during the pandemic and that company values saw heightened focus and growth.

All three panelists praised the state for its ability to focus on education and workforce development and the quality of life around the commonwealth.

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com