When most people think about parts of the United States benefiting from energy development, states such as Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania are understandably among the first to come to mind. However, I recently attended an event only 100 miles from our nation’s capital that served as a reminder of just how far-reaching the positive impacts of an unimpeded American energy boom could be.

The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy hosted a “Business Leaders’ Roundtable on Virginia’s Economic Future” on January 12 in Richmond, VA. The event featured senior representatives from several organizations – including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB/Virginia), the Virginia Retail Federation and the Virginia Manufacturers Association – that, taken together, represent a vast swath of Virginia’s economy. Each of the speakers brought a thoughtful perspective on particular policy issues, and their views taken together provided an insightful glimpse into the Commonwealth’s future economic well-being.

Some of it was promising; some of it – such as the fact that Virginia’s employment growth rate has lagged behind the rest of the nation’s since 2011, in large part due to the state’s dependence on the Federal government – was decidedly not. But over the course of the roundtable, an underlying theme began to emerge, one that almost all of the event’s seven speakers made some reference to: the importance of energy as a component of the economic equation. And while energy policy was not part of the roundtable’s formal agenda, it was clear that Virginia’s business community leaders are well aware of the impacts – both positive and negative – that decisions on energy policy will have on their shared goal of growing a stronger state economy.

As a case in point, “Virginia’s Role in North American Energy Development” is a featured chapter of the Jefferson Institute’s Virginia Economic Forecast 2015, which was distributed to the event’s attendees. Within the context of continued North American energy development, the publication points in particular to the potential for the Port of Virginia to serve as a future gateway for LNG exports, citing proximity to shale gas resources in Pennsylvania and Ohio and potential offshore oil and gas reserves as among reasons the Port is poised to eventually become “the energy capital of the East Coast.”

Wishful thinking? Perhaps; only time will tell. But it is indicative of the extent to which forward-thinking individuals recognize America’s energy resources as a profound economic opportunity. Thanks to the shale revolution, more than $116 billion in new manufacturing infrastructure has already been announced and is expected to be developed across our nation over the next decade. It should come as no surprise that business leaders in Virginia (and elsewhere) want to figure out how to bring part of this economic growth to their home states (and AFPM, through the American Shale & Manufacturing Partnership, is talking about how we can make more of that growth happen).

The other side of this coin, however, was succinctly articulated by one of the Richmond roundtable’s speakers. In discussing several of the issues key to Virginia’s future economy, Brett Vassey, President and CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, said: “We don’t need the federal government dictating the terms of our energy development.” It’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed countless times recently – and not a surprising one, given the direction we’re headed with federal regulations.

While Virginia may not be a stronghold of AFPM member operations, many of us who work in Washington, DC call the Commonwealth home. Virginia is also a politically “purple” state that stands to benefit from the development of energy resources within its borders (and off its coast) as well as in neighboring states. Although federal policies will impact much of that development, decisions made at the state level will be fundamental to Virginia’s economic success. The organizations represented at the roundtable in Richmond a couple of weeks ago seem to understand the importance of sound energy policy; hopefully Virginia’s elected officials will prove that they do too.

Posted by Steve Higley