The 5th district needs jobs. The flight of tobacco and textiles has left a blighted economy in some areas, particularly Southside. However, Leslie believes, from her many interviews in the region, that the obvious solution is new energy. The skills required to install and maintain solar and geothermal energy are already present in every county. If you can dig a well, repair a metal roof, mend a board fence and bushhog a field, you can easily learn to work with solar panels and geothermal pipes. Training is already available in Franklin County at the CEEB center in Rocky Mount. This program needs to be refocused for adults, enhanced and extended to every county. Leslie will work to secure federal funding for this program. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, there are now 4 million new energy jobs in the United States. Solar jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the US economy. Virginia deserves some of those jobs.
The other clear path to jobs creation is the model of Nelson County. The natural expansion of the tourist and leisure industry from one resort to a myriad of businesses can be duplicated elsewhere. Also, farmers can grow crops to meet the needs of local business. Breweries want local hops and malting barley, very profitable crops.
In order to bolster farming in the district, Leslie wants to make sure the massive cuts to the Farm Bill proposed by President Trump, upwards of 250 billion dollars, do not go through. The Trump plan slashes 29 billion for crop insurance. We need to increase crop insurance, not cut it. She will look closely at the farm bill with local farmers to see where it can be better tailored to the needs of the district. 5th District farmers want more funding for conservation. Leslie also wants to make better compost available to farmers so they do not have to rely on industrial waste.
There are three missing pieces for a sound economy in the 5th district. One is the shameful minimum wage, a dollar fifty less than West Virginia. Two is transportation. In the Southside counties, there is woefully little access to public buses. In Bedford County, there is no train stop. For a thriving economy, Leslie believes, the district needs better transport. Three is broadband. Without broadband, rural Virginians are shut out of the modern economy. The broadband issue has a long and checkered history. What we need to secure is federal funding that has flowed to other states. Virginia needs to be next in line. Virginia also needs to lure companies like Microsoft, that want to be part of a rural broadband renaissance. Microsoft’s data center is already in the district and the company is thus a natural partner for the 5th.