Virginia Secretary of Technology George Newstrom says Cabinet meetings with Gov. Mark Warner are more like corporate board meetings than typical government proceedings. That should be no surprise -- both Newstrom and Warner came to public office from long and distinguished careers in the private sector.
The two share the belief that technology is no longer restricted to a handful of agencies. It is not an extravagance, nor is it a passing fascination that will fade with downturns in the economy. "Technology is in all industries," Warner said. "It is a vertical that cuts across every other issue and every component of government policy. The idea that you can segregate it off to the side ... is not the kind of thinking we are willing to bring to the table."
Warner spent 20 years as a venture capitalist, founding the Columbia Capital Corp., a technology venture capital fund, in the early 1980s. Like Warner, Newstrom brought with him strong business acumen and experience. The technology secretary came to his post fresh from China, where he served as president for Asia Pacific with EDS.
Together, they are crafting a technology strategy intended to transform the state's economy, taking it more fully into a global market. To accomplish this vision, the governor has focused his attention on the southern regions of Virginia, where traditional economies are lagging and the job market is stagnant.
Reaching Rural Virginia
Warner's IT vision is expansive, moving far beyond single applications and "quick wins." He believes that technology, learned and applied, can transform government down to its core. "How do we allow that kid in far southwest Virginia to stay in the rural community ... " Obviously, that is a huge challenge. But I am more committed than ever," Warner said. "We have got to be able to bring our knowledge-based jobs and knowledge-based economy to rural areas.
"I think we are starting from the perspective of a state that's benefited greatly from the Information Age," he continued. "I think there was a growing recognition among government and the last administration that there is tremendous potential to harness information technology, and Virginia made great strides. So there is a good foundation upon which to build. But there is a long way to go."
Virginia -- specifically northern Virginia -- is regarded as a technology leader with high-tech centers and colleges pumping out projects and skilled people. Former Gov. James Gilmore and his technology secretary, Donald Upson, aggressively recruited technology firms and left a legacy of support for e-government. The Warner administration plans to build on this platform, bringing the benefits of technology to the entire state.
"We have a highway that goes from far southwest Virginia all the way to Virginia Beach called 58," Warner said. "We are trying to create something called e58, which would be a broadband pipe that would run parallel to this rural highway that links eastern to western Virginia." Tobacco settlement funds will be used to reach these underserved regions of the commonwealth.
Warner is realistic. He doesn't picture an AOL -- the Dulles, Va.-based Internet giant -- springing up in every village. He does, however, see the potential for smaller firms employing scores of people throughout rural Virginia. He wants to go beyond telecommuting and call centers to a kind of "distributed company" that changes the economic base in parts of the state that have not entered the Information Age. The state, he said, can encourage business investments through financial incentives, a business-friendly climate and support from an already strong technology community, which includes the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, William and Mary College and the Dulles Corridor (Virginia's "Silicon Valley" for systems integrators).
According to Warner, even these venerated institutions must step up to the challenge of the Information Age. "The university