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Virginia regains No. 1 ranking by CNBC of best states for business

Virginia has regained its status as the best state in the country to do business in the annual CNBC rankings that placed the state No. 1 for the first time in eight years.

The financial news cable network extolled Virginia’s “world-class workforce, high-performing education system and business-friendly regulations” — the same reasons Amazon chose the state for its coveted second headquarters last year after a transcontinental sweepstakes.

“Amazon had it right,” CNBC said in announcing the America’s Top States for Business rankings on Wednesday in an interview with Gov. Ralph Northam at Shenandoah River State Park near Front Royal.

Northam reminded CNBC’s Scott Cohn that the business ranking comes on the 50th anniversary of the “Virginia is for Lovers” tourism slogan, which drew national recognition to the state.

“This is an exciting day for Virginia,” the governor told Cohn.

Virginia was first in the initial CNBC business ranking in 2007, and again in 2009 and 2011 before falling as low as 13th in 2016 after federal budget sequestration underscored the state’s overdependence on defense spending.

“It’s one thing to be Number 4 or Number 7,” Northam said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, referring to Virginia’s ranking in the poll the past two years, “but to be Number 1 in the country is something for us all to be proud of.”

Recovering the top spot in the CNBC and other business rankings has been a priority under both Northam and his predecessor, Gov. Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe hired Stephen Moret to lead the Virginia Economic Development Partnership in 2017 as the agency underwent a major series of reforms that have been critical to its success.

“The work they’ve done with private sector companies, the McAuliffe administration, the Northam administration and the General Assembly has been absolutely key to getting back to the Number 1 position,” said Todd Haymore, who was secretary of commerce and trade under McAuliffe as the state began its pursuit of the Amazon HQ2 project in 2017.

Northam also credited leaders of the Republican-led legislature for working closely with the executive branch in vetting Amazon and other major economic deals.

“They have been a very large part of our economic development success,” he said.

***

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, is a member of the Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission, which includes legislators and administration officials.

“It’s been a team effort,” Jones said Wednesday, citing the legislature’s central role in reforming VEDP and adopting a $6 billion transportation funding package in 2013 under then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican.

Regaining the top ranking also has been a priority of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

“I do want to credit pro-business policymakers on both sides of the aisle and business leaders for working together to accomplish this goal,” chamber President Barry Duval said.

House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said, “Our highly-educated workforce, our business-friendly regulatory environment, low taxes, and our ongoing commitment to education make our commonwealth a great place for any business, from a mom-and-pop startup to the Fortune 500.”

However, Cox said Virginia’s business ranking is based on Republican initiatives and “comes despite policy proposals from Democrats that would have set Virginia back.”

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, said that “all Virginians should take enormous pride” in the top ranking, which he attributed to General Assembly leadership that he warned could be undermined in the legislative elections in November.

“As Senate Majority Leader, I can guarantee Virginia will continue to champion economic development and job creation as long as there are Republican majorities in the House and Senate,” Norment said in a statement.

McAuliffe, a pro-business Democrat, said in an interview that he was surprised Republicans were making the ranking a partisan issue.

“It’s not something to play politics with,” he said. “It’s good for Virginia.”

McAuliffe recalled that when he took office in 2014, the state’s reputation had taken a beating nationally over a McDonnell-backed bill to require a “transvaginal ultrasound” before an abortion, as well as legislation aimed at onerous regulation of clinics providing abortions.

“We got to work and ended all the socially divisive legislation,” he said.

Northam also cited the state’s cultural “inclusiveness” as a factor in its business success, but the CNBC rankings said the governor’s “own past” had raised concerns, and Cohn questioned him on the air about the blackface scandal that engulfed him five months ago.

“I want to let this country know and certainly Virginians know that we are an inclusive state,” the governor said, after expressing regret over his handling of the discovery of a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page.

***

Virginia tied with California for 17th place in inclusiveness, which CNBC said it measures by a state’s laws against discrimination.

“The state does have strong legal protections against most forms of discrimination, but no explicit prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the analysis states.

The state scored highest in its workforce and education system. Out of 2,500 possible points in nine categories, Virginia led all states with 1,610, followed by Texas, which was No. 1 last year, at 1,589 and North Carolina at 1,586.

Virginia scored lowest in its cost of living, at 35th, which CNBC attributed primarily to the high labor costs necessary for skilled workers in high-tech industries. Duval, with the state chamber, dismissed that concern, but said the low ranking reflects the state’s tax structure, especially at the local government level.

“I think this points to the need for tax reform,” he said.

***

For Northam, the ranking showcases the state’s efforts to diversify its economy so as to rely less on federal defense spending. Since he took office 18 months ago, the state has added $18.5 billion in new capital investment and created more than 50,000 jobs, he said.

While much of that investment has been focused in Northern Virginia and other population centers, the governor said his administration has sealed economic development deals that will bring $2.5 billion in capital investment and create more than 8,000 jobs in rural areas and economically distressed communities.

He emphasized additional state funding to expand broadband communications networks throughout rural Virginia and the adoption of his proposal to spend more than $2 billion in improvements to Interstate 81 in western Virginia.

Northam said nothing has been more important to Virginia’s success than improvements in workforce development, which relies on an education system that begins in K-12 and extends to community colleges and universities that are accelerating their efforts to expand the number of graduates with advanced technology degrees.

“We want to train talent, and then we want that talent to stay in Virginia,” he said.


MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH  

The Eastern League All-Star Game was held Wednesday, the first time in nearly three decades that The Diamond has hosted a minor league all-star game.


MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DISPATCH 

The Western Division’s Ian Sagdal threw a runner out. The matchup was the climax of four days of events that were held to celebrate the league.


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Richmond-based Loving's Produce Co. shuts down after nearly 75 years

Loving’s Produce Co., which supplied Richmond-area restaurants, caterers and schools with fruits and vegetables for nearly 75 years, has shut down its operations.

The company closed June 15, said Mary Rhoten, Loving’s Produce’s office manager for the past 30 years.

Brothers Gary and John Loving, owners of the business and the sons of the company’s founder, decided to retire, she said.

“Gary Loving and John Loving were at a point in their lives where they were ready to retire and there was nobody in the family who was willing to take over the business. So they decided to close it down,” said Rhoten, who is the niece of the company founder.

Gary Loving and John Loving could not be reached for comment.

Their father, Hanover County farmer Harry Loving, returned home from World War II and started the wholesale produce distribution business, sometime either in 1946 or 1947. Harry Loving had started a produce business in the 1930s but closed it when he was away during the war.

It began on Fifth Street in downtown Richmond and eventually moved to 1601 E. Grace St. in Shockoe Bottom.

Loving’s Produce operations on East Grace Street survived five floods over the years, including damage in August 2004 when the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston flooded Shockoe Bottom.

But after damage from a two-alarm fire in July 2005, the company’s owners moved operations in early 2007 into a refrigerated warehouse at 3811 Castlewood Road, off Jefferson Davis Highway in South Richmond.

The company had about 40 employees. It was once one of the largest Richmond-based wholesale fresh fruit and vegetable distributors.

The closing of Loving’s Produce comes as competition has increased in recent years in supplying produce and fruit to restaurants and eateries. But the shutdown was still a shock to a couple of local restaurant owners who were customers of Loving’s Produce.

Greg Johnson, owner of the Citizen restaurant at 1203 E. Main St. in downtown Richmond, said Loving’s Produce had supplied the restaurants he has owned or worked at throughout his entire career since 1983.

“They were always competitive and the service was outstanding,” Johnson said. “If you needed just a head of cauliflower, they would drop off a head of cauliflower. They were responsive.”

But Johnson understands the owners wanting to retire.

He and a couple of other Loving’s Produce customers are now using Rudy’s Exotic Mushrooms & Produce to supply their restaurants.

“We are trying to work with some of the people they worked with,” said Rudy Karkosak, who has owned the Rudy’s Exotic Mushrooms & Produce business for 25 years. “It is a work in progress. We are trying to work it out.”

The warehouse Loving’s Produce was using in South Richmond had been leased, but the company let the lease go, Rhoten said.

A number of the company’s colorful delivery trucks, in such colors as green, pink and purple, are parked outside of the South Richmond warehouse. “We’re trying to sell them. The landlord said we could leave them there until they rented the building.”

Rhoten works at the company’s building on East Grace Street in Shockoe Bottom where the administrative offices have remained and which the Loving family owns.


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Virginia
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Former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder kissed 20-year-old VCU student against her will, probe finds

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder kissed a 20-year-old student at Virginia Commonwealth University without her consent, according to an investigation conducted by an outside attorney hired by the school.

The student, Sydney Black, filed a formal complaint with VCU in December , and several months later the university hired an attorney who specializes in federal civil rights law.

Black, who is now 22, has said Wilder, 88, kissed her and made other overtures, including suggestions that she could live at his house and accompany him on foreign travel. He also offered to pay for law school, she said.

She got to know the nation’s first African American governor in 2017, while she worked as an office assistant at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, where he is a distinguished professor. Black has said that after she rebuffed his advances, Wilder told her there was no longer funding for her position.

The university on Tuesday sent Black a two-page letter marked “sensitive and private” that summarizes the investigation’s findings, as well as a 262-page report.

A spokesman for the university, Mike Porter, declined to comment on the investigation or even confirm that it had taken place, citing student and employee privacy. He responded to detailed questions with a link to VCU’s policy on sexual misconduct/violence and sex/gender discrimination.

Wilder on Wednesday did not respond to emails, messages left on his cellphone and a request for comment made through his blog, Wilder Visions. An assistant to Wilder also did not respond to an email.

Black’s attorney, Jason Wolfrey of Blacksburg, released a statement, saying: “We are pleased the investigation has validated Sydney’s report to VCU about Mr. Wilder’s conduct.”

Black’s mother, Margo Stokes of Roanoke, said she would like Wilder to resign from the university, which is located in his hometown of Richmond.

“No one else’s child should have to go through what my child went through,” she said in a phone interview Monday evening. “He should step down. It’s just over. It’s over. He owes my child an apology. It’s just really sad that he put her through all this.”

Wilder has until next Tuesday to contest the finding that he is responsible for non-consensual sexual contact, which would trigger a hearing by VCU’s review panel to determine whether the investigation was conducted properly.

If he accepts the findings, both sides would have to agree to a sanction. The panel would step in if both sides cannot agree on a sanction, which could range from counseling to demotion, suspension and termination of employment, according to the policy.

He is paid $150,000 annually to teach up to 24 credit hours, according to the latest copy of the contract, which expires on June 30, 2020.

VCU renewed Wilder’s annual employment contract on May 31, more than three months after the start of the investigation.

The university did not respond to questions about why his contract was renewed in the middle of the investigation.

Black has said she waited almost two years to report Wilder to VCU, as well as the Richmond Police Department, because she worried about the influence someone with his power and connections could have over her education and career prospects.

Police produced a two-page police incident report dated Jan. 3, that says a 20-year-old woman reported that an assault had occurred Feb. 16, 2017, in a residence in the same block where Wilder owns a condo. No charges were filed.

Black said the situation depressed her and caused her to withdraw from classes. Although she briefly re-enrolled, she now plans to continue her studies elsewhere.

Black has said Wilder began to take an interest in her education after she was hired as an office assistant at the Wilder School in November 2015.

She was flattered by the attention from a leader she admired and accepted when he invited her to dinner at a riverfront restaurant in Richmond to celebrate her 20th birthday.

During dinner, she said, he ordered her vodka martinis and told her he could help her get accepted at the Howard University School of Law, where he is a board member.

After dinner, Wilder, who is divorced, drove her to his nearby condo, Black said. As they talked, she said, “he reached over and put his hand on my right leg, and I just kind of looked at him, and as soon as I looked at him, he kissed me on my mouth. I immediately jerked away.”

She said she questioned Wilder and that he admitted he was in the wrong.

Weeks later, he invited her to brunch at his country house where he showed her a room where he said she could live, rent-free, she said. Black said she declined Wilder’s offers and told him she was looking for a mentorship, not a personal relationship.

They had little contact until May 2017, when Wilder informed her that there was no longer funding for her position at VCU, she said.


Virginia
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Virginia inmate dies while case alleging faulty prison health care is pending in federal court

An inmate at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women who allegedly suffered from repeated life-threatening mismanagement of her medication has died.

Margie Ryder, 39, due to be released from the prison Oct. 15, died Monday at VCU Medical Center, said her father, Cecil Clark. Officials with the Virginia Department of Corrections confirmed she died at the hospital where she was admitted June 24.

“As is public knowledge following the lawsuit, she had a terminal illness,” said Lisa Kinney, spokeswoman for corrections. According to the medical examiner’s office, Ryder’s death was natural and caused by pulmonary hypertension due to end-stage lung disease.

Ryder suffered from terminal pulmonary arterial hypertension and was dependent upon the correct use of an expensive medication, Remodulin, which was continuously delivered to her heart with a pump.

Her lawyers with the Legal Aid Justice Center filed an emergency motion on her behalf. At a May hearing before U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon in Charlottesville, her lawyers said that since Ryder arrived at Fluvanna in early 2018, she had had several emergency hospitalizations due to the prison staff’s failure to appropriately manage her Remodulin.

Shannon Ellis, who argued the case before Moon, said Wednesday, “Obviously, we are deeply saddened by Ms. Ryder’s death. We’re evaluating our options as far as what the next step in the motion dealing with her situation is.”

“I think that her death highlights the very real and ongoing need for continued oversight and monitoring of the ... problems at Fluvanna. We were very hopeful that Ms. Ryder was going to make it to her release date, which was only three months away,” Ellis said.

In a brief statement filed Wednesday, her lawyers notified the judge of Ryder’s death.

They wrote that her “death is especially devastating given her UVA physician’s testimony at the May 22, 2019, hearing in this matter that, although patients with Ms. Ryder’s condition generally only survive three to five years without treatment, modern treatment therapies have been introduced such that, with proper care, ‘that number has been extended out almost indefinitely.’”

Clark, Ryder’s father, said she had been at the hospital in Richmond for two weeks. He said he believed she was rushed there because of improper care at Fluvanna.

He said he visited with her Monday and was driving home to Natural Bridge Station in Rockbridge County when he was called shortly before 10 p.m. and told about her death.

“It’s kind of difficult,” he said, but he was grateful he got to visit with her.

Clark said that Ryder’s mother had the same disease and that he was qualified by the company that makes the medicine to administer it. His wife, Deborah Clark, died in 2010, he said.

Ryder was convicted of embezzlement in Fauquier County and sentenced to 10 years with eight years suspended.

Ryder testified at the May hearing, and she and Ellis said they were not concerned with the prison medical director’s handling of her case or of his efforts to improve health care at the prison.

But, Ryder testified, “the nurses on staff are not up to par.”

In an affidavit, Ryder said, “I live in fear every day that a nurse will make a mistake in my medication, or a piece of equipment will break without a backup available and it will kill me.”

A nurse at the University of Virginia hospital who cares for pulmonary hypertension patients and ensures the safety of patients prescribed Remodulin testified that she had cared for Ryder three times — first in April 2018 and most recently in February.

In an earlier affidavit, the nurse said that each time was a result of the failure of staff at Fluvanna to correctly administer her Remodulin. At the hearing, the nurse said, “I remember her telling me she thought she was going to die.”

She testified that after consulting with her hospital’s legal counsel, she called the Legal Aid Justice Center on Ryder’s behalf. Asked by Ellis why she called, the nurse said, “I felt our patient’s life was at risk.”

Moon ruled Jan. 2 that the Virginia Department of Corrections failed to live up to eight of 22 standards of health care established in a 2016 settlement agreement for inmates at Fluvanna.

The inmates’ lawyers argued that the department failed to hold the contractor providing medical staffing at the prison — Armor Correctional Health Services Inc. — accountable to provide an appropriate level of care established by the 2016 agreement.

Under the terms of the settlement, Ellis said Fluvanna is obligated to provide medications in a “timely, safe and sufficient manner.”

An emergency motion filed on Ryder’s behalf asked Moon to order the department to develop and implement a plan to safely administer Ryder’s medications and ensure appropriate nurse training and oversight.

It also asked to open communication at the prison between the medical staff and Ryder’s lawyers to ensure that future situations are addressed as quickly and cooperatively as possible.

A Roanoke lawyer representing corrections officials asked the judge to deny the emergency motion, arguing that there was no substantial threat of immediate harm to Ryder and the only question at issue under the settlement agreement was whether a medical emergency currently existed that posed a substantial threat of immediate harm.

At the hearing, Ellis said they appreciated efforts to improve care at Fluvanna, but a court order was the only way to ensure Ryder’s safety because the system has long had problems and had persistently failed her.

She said Wednesday that in the past three months, there have been three deaths at Fluvanna.

“All of this together raises a lot of concern,” Ellis said.

The Department of Corrections said earlier this week that Ashley Janette Carr, 27, died July 1 of a suspected overdose, although the cause of death has yet to be definitively determined by the medical examiner’s office.

Referring to the suspected overdose death, Ellis said that part of Fluvanna’s obligation to inmate health care is to have adequate emergency response procedures and equipment.

“While this is a very recent death, there needs to be an investigation of it,” Ellis said. She said the Legal Aid Justice Center will be investigating the deaths of both Ryder and Carr.

In their notification to the judge Wednesday, Ryder’s lawyers said they “have received concerning information regarding Ms. Ryder’s care at FCCW prior to her final hospitalization and are investigating and evaluating the situation.

“However, at the very least, Plaintiffs submit that in light of the recent series of fatalities — all of whom were women under the age of 40 — the systemic relief requested on Ms. Ryder’s behalf (including provisions for improved communication with FCCW’s Medical Director and medical personnel) remains urgently necessary.”