Killjoys versus GilJoy: Grievance Versus Opportunity

Gilbert Bland, CEO of the GilJoy Group and the Urban League of Hampton Roads, sees opportunities everywhere.

Northern Virginia progressives opposed to subsidies for Amazon are grievance-mongering nihilists who have nothing to offer but spittle and bile. Far from helping the people they purport to speak for, if they were successful in scuttling the Amazon deal — the Arlington County Board still must vote on county subsidies — they would cause only harm.

Instead of trying to kill the deal, progressive whiners and complainers could be working to capture a share of the  influx of public and private monies for the benefit of Arlington’s poor. An example they could emulate, but never will, is Gilbert T. Bland, chairman of the GilJoy Group and CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, who, according to Virginia Business magazine, is leading initiatives to improve housing, education, health and workforce development for the region’s African-Americans.

But working within the establishment is not how progressives roll. Listen to Roshan Abraham with Our Revolution Arlington, as quoted by NBC News:

“There has been no outreach to the low-income, working class, and black and brown communities of Arlington who will be most negatively impacted by Amazon’s arrival. A lot of people are really concerned about rising housing costs, Amazon’s anti-union stance and workplace practices.”

“People say a rising tide raises all ships. That only happens if you are above water. For a lot of people already drowning or under water, that rising tide only makes their life much worse,” he said, noting that the influx of high-earning tech workers will likely displace poorer communities of color by pricing them out of the housing market.”

Amazon foes do raise some legitimate issues. There is an endemic problem in the U.S. when hugely wealthy companies like Amazon can pit states and metros against one another to win hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks not available to other taxpayers. That practice has to stop, although I have yet to hear any good ideas on how to end it. Further, the influx of 25,000 Amazon employees earning an average of $150,000 a year likely will make the issue of housing affordability even more acute in Northern Virginia.

However, Amazon’s nihilist foes think only to fight the kill the project. Instead of seeing Amazon as a once-in-a-generation wealth-creating opportunity that can benefit everyone, they lapse into the rhetoric of grievance and outrage. They, like their peers in New York who spiked a similar Amazon project, illustrate what is so corrosively destructive about the progressive movement today.

The fact is, even with subsidies, Amazon will generate billions of dollars in additional state and local tax revenue. Further, as part of the deal, the state has committed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on higher education and infrastructure, while Arlington and Alexandria are dedicating $150 million to affordable housing initiatives. Amazon will unleash consumer spending power that will create job opportunities for lower-income Northern Virginians in the service, retail, and construction sectors, pushing wages higher. As an important bonus, Amazon will diversify Northern Virginia’s economy, insulating the region from downturns in federal spending. If the nihilists don’t like prosperity, I can guarantee they’ll like economic decline even less.

By contrast, Gilbert Bland grew up in the Dahlgren area of King George County. His father attended school only through the 7th grade, and his mother, though a high school valedictorian, wound up in Jim Crow-era Virginia working as a maid all her life. But his parents taught him a can-do ethic. He played on a state champion high school basketball team. Then he worked his way through college, earning a B.A. degree in accounting and economics at James Madison University and an MBA from Atlanta University. He started his career as a commercial lending officer for a bank, and then went on to own and operate more than 70 Burger King and Pizza Hut restaurants. He has sold most of those restaurants, but still owns sites in Hampton Roads and supports a payroll of 60 employees.

Bland is well aware of Virginia’s racist past, but he does not dwell on historical grievances.  To the contrary. As Virginia Businessdescribes:

Every morning Gilbert Bland’s teenage sons see a sign on the wall over their beds proclaiming, “It’s opportunity time.”

The sign was inspired by the memoir of former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton who greeted his children with that message every day.

“We put that up in the boys’ room,” Bland says. “When they wake up every morning, they see that ‘It’s opportunity time.’ What better way to approach life?”

Bland carries that philosophy to the Urban League, which works to empower the minority citizens of Hampton Roads, which has the 13th largest African-American population in America. Bland says he seeks “to empower through investment, through programs, through partnerships to ensure that these citizens, from pre-K to the elderly, have an opportunity to engage.”

One such partnership is with LISC (the Local Initiatives Support Corp.), headed by Maurice Jones, former Secretary of Commerce under Governor Terry McAuliffe, which provides financial counseling and coaching. As a member of the Sentara Healthcare board, Bland also wants to improve African-Americans’ health. “We believe that only 10 to 15 percent of the quality of life and lifespan is [affected by] medical intervention. The rest is lifestyle choices.” He also is working with the Hunton YMCA in Norfolk, which serves an African-American population. He aims to rebuild the Y’s finances and organizational structure, creating a home for more Urban League programs.

Just imagine what opportunities Bland would see in the Amazon deal. While Amazon foes whine about a lack of outreach to them, just imagine how Bland would initiate the outreach. Just imagine the partnerships he would forge and the good he would accomplish.


A version of this commentary first appeared in the February 26 edition of the online Bacon’s Rebellion.

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About Jim Bacon

James A. Bacon is the author of “Boomergeddon” and publishes the Bacon’s Rebellion blog at www. Baconsrebellion.com.
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