The Business Voice: You’re new to the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Welcome! What are some of the issues you’ll be focusing on?
Clayton Medford: Two issues that are always on the top of our members’ minds are transportation and education. I also expect to spend time on housing, as that’s getting a lot of attention from the business community as well as policymakers. Those three issues – transportation, education and housing – are all key to the biggest regional issue facing the business community: workforce development. The Chamber will be convening two workforce task forces this fall, one to address private-sector challenges and one to address educational challenges, under our Regional Leadership Committee initiative begun in 2016. Our goal is to have a thorough examination of those challenges and recommendations on how to solve them delivered to our Executive Committee by the end of the year.
TBV: Prior to joining the Chamber, you were the chief of staff for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova. How did your experiences in that role prepare you for your work with the Chamber?
CM: Chairman Bulova is a consensus-based leader. I was very fortunate to be able to watch her solve problems big and small by getting the right people together and keeping them focused on the goal. With 700 members, the Northern Virginia Chamber has a unique ability to bring the right people together on any number of issues, and I look forward to doing that in this role.
TBV: The Chamber maintains a full-time presence in Richmond during the General Assembly session, advocating on behalf of its business community. How can Chamber members best communicate with you regarding issues impacting their business?
CM: I would say the best way to communicate with me is whatever’s best for you! I will host a weekly call every Friday morning during session, but if anyone wants to reach me at any other time, email or call me. I would also recommend that members who have an interest in the legislative agenda attend the Policy Committee meetings this fall. That’s the best opportunity to shape our agenda and be a voice in the room when we set our priorities.
TBV: You know from your role in Fairfax that transportation is a critical issue for Northern Virginia. What transportation initiatives will the Chamber be focusing on in the 2020 session of the General Assembly?
CM: The Chamber will always advocate for state support of regional projects with clear congestion-relief, time-saving and public safety benefits. Specifically, we will be looking for opportunities to restore the funding that was transferred from highway and transit projects in Northern Virginia to fully fund Virginia’s portion of the Metro budget. We are hopeful that we can find a way to restore that funding without negatively impacting other local or regional transportation funding.
TBV: What other issues do you see the Chamber advocating before the legislature this winter?
CM: This is a budget year for the Commonwealth, and I’m excited to see what Governor [Ralph] Northam proposes. He gave a preview in Richmond, and I expect a focus on small, women- and minority-owned business, and a renewed interest in workforce development, a priority of the Chamber and Gov. Northam. I look forward to working with his administration and our delegation to keep Virginia the best state in the country in which to do business.
TBV: How involved will the Chamber be in Amazon’s National Landing project and how do you see the Chamber fitting into Northern Virginia’s soon-to-be role as the high-tech hub of the East Coast?
CM: Amazon’s arrival is a huge win for the region, but it is not without its challenges. The Chamber will be working with Amazon and our partners in the region to identify and address those challenges, particularly in the area of workforce development. We need to be sure Amazon has the workforce it needs, as well as companies already here who will be competing for top tech talent. Not to sound like a broken record, but transportation and housing will also be at the forefront as we welcome HQ2 to the region.
TBV: Earlier on in your career, you wrote for Inside U.S. Trade magazine. How did that experience help mold your interest in business advocacy and prepare you for working first with Chairman Bulova and now with the Chamber?
CM: Trade was not on the front page every day back then! The most important lesson I learned as a very green reporter was how important it was to understand an issue from many angles and how to develop that understanding. At Fairfax County, I’d need to identify stakeholders for a policy change – county staff in multiple departments, community groups, businesses, nonprofits – and then talk to all of them to really understand the issue and keep that dialogue going as we worked together on the change. I’ll be taking that approach to other localities and the General Assembly, working on behalf of our members to identify and remove barriers to growth and support positive change in Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth.
TBV: You’ve volunteered with Meals on Wheels since 2014. How did you get involved with that nonprofit and why is giving back to the community important to you?
CM: Fairfax County gives employees 16 hours of annual volunteer leave and I was keen on using it. Luckily, a Meals on Wheels distribution point was at the Government Center so I thought I’d give it a try. It was one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I’ve had. My clients would change often, but I really built a strong bond with my regulars. Oftentimes, you’re the only personal contact they make that day so in addition to bringing food, you’re bringing brief but important social interaction (and a wellness check). I’m fortunate enough to have had a job that gave me that time, and I look forward to continuing to find that time to give back no matter what I’m doing.
TBV: Your job is pretty hectic and requires keeping lots of balls in the air, so to speak. What are some of the things you enjoy doing in your downtime to relax?
CM: In addition to all the trappings that come with suburban dad life, my family (wife and two boys – ages 6 and 8) likes to try new things. But, we also like just hanging out at the house sometimes. On any given Saturday, we might grab some board games and have lunch at a new brewery. Or we might spend a big part of the day in the kitchen, making an overly elaborate meal just to occupy the time. We might even eat it when we’re done!