'We are dying': A CEO on the Virginia economy you don't know

Economically, there are two Virginias. There always have been.

When Virginia was settled, only the outliers—the poor hardscrabble Scotch and Germans—settled in the southwestern corner. The rich gentry raised tobacco and traded on the navigable waters of the James River and Chesapeake Bay.

The two Virginias are physically separated by the Blue Ridge Mountains, which gradually drain into the wide expanses of the Shenandoah and flatten toward the coastal plain. On the eastern side, the great cities are named after British icons. In the west, they are named after the natives we pushed out.

A scene in Wytheville, Virginia, where many buildings on the town's Main Street are currently unleased.
Source: Tyler Payne
A scene in Wytheville, Virginia, where many buildings on the town's Main Street are currently unleased.

On the eastern slopes to the Atlantic, from Washington, D.C., to Hampton Roads, is the Virginia economy that has merited our AAA credit rating. With the U.S. Navy, shipbuilding and federally assigned jobs, people have work. They have credit unions. They have commerce. And for the politicians, this is the area that has the votes.

If you own a business in Hampton Roads, the government is seen as a customer, and business is good. The government contracting business is so lucrative that every CEO I know who is a GSA vendor has their own private aircraft. Not little ones, either. Jets. In their own hangars. It is not even that big a deal. It's who they are.

Where I live, while the federal government just built three snappy little private airports, they don't have hangars, because there are no planes to base there. We are literally just a landing strip.

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Sure, there are a few big factories here—we are the place a German manufacturer locates because of a dependent low-cost labor force.

Standing up, saying we have a problem

Emotionally, even with our great rivers and high mountain ridges, the truth is, we really don't want or welcome long-term visitors, because we are concealing something.

We are addicts. Five years ago methamphetamine was a ghost story, something confined to the shadowy hollers in the valleys of the abandoned coalfields. Not anymore.

High school kids do it. Their parents do it. The police chief in Marion, Virginia, was convicted of dealing it.

At the local New River Valley Regional Jail, inmates trade and sell scabs to be ingested for a quick high. We had a state rest stop employee burn to death when he blew himself up cooking meth. People are being prescribed Suboxone for meth and opiate addiction and selling the strips to be cooked and IV-injected. Have you ever heard of turkey basting, booty bumping or parachuting? It will sicken you.

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You can spot 'em everywhere now. At my son's Little League game, a mom's face could barely contain the open sores.

"Emotionally, even with our great rivers and high mountain ridges, the truth is, we really don't want or welcome long-term visitors, because we are concealing something."

For the state of Virginia as a whole, illicit drug use among minors and adults is similar to the national average, according to the federal government. The use of Methadone and Buprenorphine (Suboxone includes Buprenorphine) for substance-abuse treatment in Virginia has significantly risen in the most recent five-year study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. government.

This is the Virginia I know.

In Wytheville we have no local hardware stores, no local clothiers, no local coffee shops, no local grocers, no butchers, no bakeries. ... As for typical current tenants, it's vape stores and pawn and gun shops.

A typical court day in Wytheville, Virginia. The bail bonds office located next to the downtown courthouse.
Source: Tyler Payne
A typical court day in Wytheville, Virginia. The bail bonds office located next to the downtown courthouse.

As a small-town CEO, meth has affected my workforce, our morale, and we are tired of losing this fight. In polling our office, when I say, "Raise your hands if you have a relative in jail or have been affected by meth," every single person raises their hands.

This is the Virginia of misspelled résumés, of prospective employees who don't show up for the drug test, the land the Affordable Care Act forgot, because the ACA is a radical price increase to the employee and to their employers who can barely provide a labor force.

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We feel like we don't matter, because we don't. Our greatest resource is the New River, yet it is legally permitted to receive 12 million pounds of toxic waste. Fish have sores. People have cancer. So what?

This alone is an absolute outrage to the viability of our humanity.

Calling Hillary

This Virginia is a lot different from the steel-and-glass office parks in Reston.

I mentioned to a Hillary Clinton fundraiser that Clinton should come to Wytheville and get to know the people, and his response was, "If you want to meet Hillary, the price is $5,000 and the events are in Northern Virginia, because there are no votes here." When I said, "Doesn't my vote matter?" His answer was, "LOL, thanks for your vote."

We don't have the economics—jobs, voters and donors that matter—and this coefficient will only expand. Southwest Virginia's economy and demographics are not worth the jet fuel to stop and listen and see the problems that are killing us.

I love Virginia, but in a crisis, you need to tell the truth and tell it fast.

I am hanging a lantern on this problem to shed light on the fact that in one of the very best economies in the world, we are dying.

—By Richard Formato, founder and CEO of Wytheville, Virginia-based SalesEdge and a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network.

About YPO

CNBC and YPO (Young Presidents' Organization) have formed an exclusive editorial partnership consisting of regional Chief Executive Networks in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These Chief Executive Networks are made up of a sample of YPO's unrivaled global network of 20,000 top executives from 120 countries who are on the front lines of the economy. The opinions of Chief Executive Network members are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of YPO as a whole or CNBC.