Arlington, VA

 Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Vivek Patil

The Virginia economy has extraordinary untapped potential. Arlington and other municipalities could tap that potential in ways that bring prosperity to regions lagging behind and that allow those already doing well to secure their future.

Unleashing that potential will require a statewide approach that nevertheless remains sensitive to local needs. Such an approach would take advantage of the synergies that result from bringing our urban, small town and rural areas together under a common strategy — a strategy that creates jobs that pay well and stay put in an increasingly globalized world.

But what would such a strategy involve? Part of the answer is expanding clean technology industries, which provide products and services related to renewable energy, energy efficiency, advanced batteries, and state-of-the-art energy monitoring and control devices. Another part is sustainable agriculture, forestry and ecotourism.

These areas represent emerging strengths in the Virginia economy. They could make the commonwealth a clean technology center for the world and a path-breaking player in the management of sustainable natural resources. Developing these strengths would align the Virginia economy and its people with powerful sustainability trends that are now shaping the future across the globe.

Clean technology investments alone are expected to reach $6.4 trillion worldwide between 2014 and 2023, according to the World Bank. Sustainable agriculture and forestry bring premium prices for the food and fiber they produce. Ecotourism helps preserve Virginia’s natural beauty by making it profitable to safeguard.

Let’s explore the possibilities more concretely. Let’s imagine that an Arlington high school graduate develops a novel clean technology invention such as a next-generation battery while attending Virginia Tech. Let’s imagine he or she is supported with the financing and commercialization assistance necessary for a new enterprise. Let’s imagine a partnership with rural communities in southwest Virginia that with state incentives manufacture these next-generation batteries for the world market.

Similarly, let’s imagine a rural entrepreneur who establishes a statewide agricultural supply network that provides sustainable produce and livestock products from southern Virginia to food cooperatives and specialty grocers in northern Virginia’s high-density urban corridors.

Realizing this economic vision will require listening to what communities actually want. Conversations with Virginia’s communities would guide the development of critical economic infrastructure. That infrastructure might include a joint university-community college consortium to educate the needed workforce and a public-private coalition of clean technology investors.

So how would we summarize the untapped potential that will underpin such a strategy? Virginia has exceptional, but underutilized advantages that include:

  • Locales remarkable for their diversity and high quality of life.
  • A low-tax, business-friendly environment.
  • Agricultural and forestry resources ready for expanded sustainable development.
  • Natural beauty that attracts tourists.
  • Universities and colleges ranked among the nation’s best that are the key to a highly educated and trained workforce.
  • Synergies that come from linking businesses with the federal government, the military and leading global nonprofits in northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.
  • Proximity to major federal innovation centers at the Department of Defense including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Department of Energy including the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

By thinking broadly about Virginia’s possibilities, we can pursue a unified strategy that will allow us to develop many more homegrown businesses while persuading out-of-state and foreign enterprises to bring operations here.

If we can succeed in building a clean technology economy, there might come a day when Virginia ships batteries to carmakers throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

If we can succeed in expanding sustainable agriculture, forestry and ecotourism, we can ensure wise stewardship of our natural resources that will then provide long-term jobs to Virginians.

These outcomes exemplify a winning combination worth pursuing for the sake of all Virginia and for the world beyond us. If we Virginians make the right moves, “Made with Love in Virginia” could become an emblem of forward thinking and innovation across the globe.

Vivek Patil, Ph.D., is a biotech entrepreneur and a Director at PerkinElmer Inc. He is a member of Arlington’s Economic Development Commission and co-founder of BuildingBridgesVA and Ascent Virginia, two social impact ventures focused on bridging the social, political and economic divide in Arlington and across Virginia. 

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