- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

RICHMOND — Virginia’s unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in three years in January, signaling that a nascent economic recovery in the commonwealth could be a harbinger of things to come.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 6.1 percent in December to 5.8 percent in January — news that allows Gov. Bob McDonnell to pivot back to bread-and-butter items after a 2012 legislative session that was overrun with talk of social issues.

The Republican governor used the occasion Tuesday to announce that 13 bills to promote business have either been signed or are on the way to his desk.

“Talk is cheap,” Mr. McDonnell said after touring James River Air Conditioning in Richmond. “People want to see you actually put policies in place that will actually solve problems and get concrete results for the citizens of Virginia.”

The state’s unemployment rate, announced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the lowest since Mr. McDonnell took office in January 2010.

The decline in unemployment figures continued a downward trend since peaking at 7.3 percent in June 2010, with slight upward ticks in June and July of last year. The national unemployment rate was unchanged in January, at 8.3 percent.

Similar declines were seen around the region.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a preliminary unemployment rate of 9.9 percent for the District, down from a revised figure of 10.1 percent in December.

Maryland’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, dipped from 6.7 percent to 6.5 percent, also the lowest in three years.

“Progress is a choice; strengthening and growing our middle class is a choice,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “We must make the modern investments a modern economy requires to create jobs — investments in education, investments in innovation and investments in infrastructure.”

Mr. McDonnell and Mr. O’Malley, heads of their respective parties’ governors associations, regularly jockey to lure new businesses to their states — and away from one another.

“When we can bring a company like Northrop Grumman from the West Coast to Virginia, that’s good news,” said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who serves in Mr. McDonnell’s Cabinet as the state’s chief jobs creation officer. “It’s just delightful when we can bring a company like Bechtel from Maryland to Virginia. We always enjoy that.”

Virginia won a high-stakes regional battle in 2010 over Maryland and the District to lure defense giant Northrop Grumman’s headquarters to the state from California, and Frederick, Md.-based Bechtel Corp. announced in November it was relocating its corporate headquarters to Fairfax, bringing with it 625 jobs and an $18 million investment.

Silver Spring-based technology firm Acentia announced in January that it would invest $3.1 million in moving its headquarters to Fairfax, bringing with it 60 jobs. Mr. McDonnell in November announced he was appointing Todd Stottlemyer, Acentia’s CEO, to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board of directors.

Maryland also suffered somewhat of an embarrassment last year when Montgomery County considered a resolution urging Congress to spend less on defense programs, which caught the eye of Bethesda-based defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Virginia officials contacted the company to gauge its interest in moving, and the council withdrew the resolution.

Mr. McDonnell said competition between the states is always a good thing, but that Virginia and Maryland simply have different philosophies on how they do business.

“Obviously, the last couple of years, particularly this year, you’ve seen Maryland with proposals to increase the income tax, the sales tax, a whopping increase of over 20 cents on the gasoline tax, tax on water, tax on cigars, I mean, they’re looking to increase taxes on a huge number of things, and we’ve taken a very different approach,” he said. “We have tried to balance the budgets on time without raising taxes and without increasing the regulatory burden on businesses, and I think that’s been a key reason that we’ve been able to attract some of these people to Virginia.”

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