More than 1,100 business and community leaders were in attendance to hear Virginia Beach Mayor William D. Sessoms deliver the annual State of the City address on March 4th.
In last year’s address, Sessoms shared his 2020 Vision with four ambitious initiatives: The Arena; Light Rail; Advancing Virginia Beach as an international destination; and Establishing Virginia Beach as a destination for groundbreaking research and development, and headquarters of some of the world’s leading innovators in healthcare, bio-technology, pharmaceutical development, and healthcare delivery systems.
“I asked you to hold me accountable, and today, I’m pleased to report to you that we are on the right track to bringing this vision home to you by the year 2020,” said Sessoms.
Construction on the arena is on schedule to begin this fall. Sessoms stated, “The $200 million dollar Arena will draw top-rated acts — performances that currently bypass Coastal Virginia. We will enjoy spectacular events, and tourists will have new reasons to visit our vibrant city, and enjoy our restaurants, hotels and attractions. More tourists. More jobs. New opportunities. New revenue streams. That’s what the Virginia Beach Arena is all about, and we’re working to bring it home to you.”
“As for Light Rail, it’s not a question of “if,” stated Sessoms. “Light Rail must be a part of this system.”
He announced that Virginia Beach City Council will endorse extending Light Rail to Town Center and, eventually, beyond, and should be voted on as early as this Spring. Sessoms stated, “That vote will authorize the city and HRT to proceed with the design for the project, complete the environmental impact statement, and learn the actual cost putting us in a better position to make a sound decision.”
In order to help “get the trains on the track,” Governor Terry McAuliffe and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne have committed $155 million dollars.
Sessoms thanked the General Assembly for creating the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission and Chesapeake Mayor Alan Krasnoff for being Chairman of this new authority. “Already, projects that were dreams — including I-64/264 interchange improvements; the expansion of I-64 on the Peninsula and in Chesapeake; new crossings of Hampton Roads; and other projects chosen by our region are on their way to becoming realities,” stated Sessoms.
Establishing Coastal Virginia as an international destination with an international airport that has direct flights to major cities throughout our nation and the world has been a slow process.
“Clearly, it’s time to seriously analyze our options for the future, said Sessoms. He continued, “Mayor Fraim and I are asking Bryan Stephens, President & CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce; and Ira Agricola, Executive Vice President for Government Affairs at the Chamber to establish a committee to evaluate and make recommendations on how the region can best achieve a world-class air transportation system for Coastal Virginia. Please know that we’re working to bring it home to you.”
At last year’s State of the City, Sessoms announced the creation of a task force to work with the Virginia Beach City Council to develop a plan for a Biomedical and Healthcare hub in the Princess Anne Commons area of Virginia Beach. Sessoms stated, “It is time for us to emerge at the capital of healthcare innovation in Virginia. Thanks to the work of our Biomedical and Healthcare Task Force, we are going to be part of the solution, while diversifying and expanding our economy at the same time.
Sessoms announced that the Task Force had completed Phase One of its mission and that it was now time to move on to implementing the following three recommendations the city council received from a consultant’s market assessment and report:
1) The region — from Virginia Beach to Richmond — should enhance efforts to establish company’s right here, in order to generate long-term, sustainable benefits in order to diversify and grow the overall economy and in order to create high-paying jobs.
2) An enhanced focus on researchers who can create translational research — the kind that generates groundbreaking discoveries that can be commercialized.
3) We should establish a public-private organization to “prime the pump” and help grow our new life science and biomedical cluster.
Sessoms announced, “We’ve already asked the General Assembly to provide us with start-up funds to establish this regional organization, and hire its first CEO. And I will ask the City Council to match these funds in our upcoming budget.” He continued, “As part of this, I will ask my colleagues on the City Council to transfer 155 acres of City-owned property on Princess Anne Road to the Virginia Beach Development Authority. This will allow us to move forward in the planning and development of a new bio-related business park so that we can provide researchers and businesses a place to grow. This initiative will complement the investments made by Sentara, Bon Secours, CHKD, and Operation Smile.”
Fenton F. Priest III, Vice President, Business Operations at Eggleston, a nonprofit that employs people with disabilities in the Hampton Roads area was on hand. Priest said, “We have a lot to be proud of in Virginia Beach. The mayor did an amazing job covering the breath of development and opportunity that we have in our city. I particularly like the idea of this biomedical health corridor. We actually are looking at how our traumatic brain injury clubhouse might compliment that type of development. He continued,
“And to have a mayor who is so in tune to the needs of the business community, the military and defense industry and now this biomedical opportunity is really great.”
Sessoms discussed how for decades, our economy has been based on a three-legged stool featuring tourism, defense and agriculture. He declared, “It’s time to create a fourth leg for that stool.” Continuing, “It’s time to stop talking about how disappointed we are that our young people graduate from college and seek well-paying jobs in other cities because there aren’t comparable opportunities here at home. We must all step up — in the local, state and private sectors — so that we can stop talking and make this happen.”
Louisa Strayhorn, Executive Director, From One Hand to Another and Owner of LSA Consulting LLC was impressed with what the Mayor had to say. A former Virginia Beach City Councilwoman and Director of the Virginia Department of Business Assistance said the Mayor’s heartfelt speech demonstrated there are many great things ahead for the city.
“I happen to live in Town Center so I am looking for the light rail but I’m also looking for anything that could bring our youth and make sure they stay here,” said Strayhorn.
The City of Virginia Beach has already designated $29 million dollars to build a Housing Resource Center for homeless people in Virginia Beach. Similar to the Union Mission model in Norfolk, Sessoms is confident this will work. He stated, “It will help homeless people get housing, and it will help reduce the impact of homelessness at the Oceanfront.”
Sessoms announced two international companies who have decided to locate their U.S. headquarters in Virginia Beach: Canada Metal Pacific, so they can service the marine and defense industries, and Haulotte North America, who plans to create 67 new jobs with an average annual salary of $70,000 dollars. Sessoms stated, “With this addition to our business community, I am pleased to announce that more than 1,200 jobs have been created thus far in Virginia Beach since July 2014. This serves as proof that our strategic plan for growing our economy is working.”
The state of the city is strong. For the fifth consecutive year, Virginia Beach is the only Coastal Virginia city rated AAA by all three major bond-rating agencies. This can be attributed to Virginia Beach’s conservative financial practices and strong management. According to 24/7 Wall St., “Virginia Beach is one of the five best-run cities in America and one of the best places to live.” Also, the city’s crime rate is the lowest ever since 1963.
Police Chief Jim A. Cervera was there representing the Virginia Beach Police Department. “We work very closely with the Economic Development and Convention Visitor’s Bureau and with neighborhoods. From a police prospective, if you have a safe secure community, economic opportunities will pick up and as economic opportunities increase, you have a safer more secure community.”
Cervera said the statistics make Virginia Beach appealing to businesses considering settling in the city. “When people come into a region they are most concerned with crime rate and schools. We have a very low crime rate and excellent schools not to mention a drop dead gorgeous beach and bay to add to it,” said Cervera.
The Virginia Beach Amphitheater is beginning its 20th season. Sessoms announced, “The amphitheater paid for itself in nine years, and last year was the best ever — $1,762,000 dollars in revenues were added to the City Treasury by the Amphitheater.”
“Whether it’s helping large manufacturers like STIHL or IMS Gear in meeting their workforce development needs, or providing assistance to young, independent software developers in starting their own companies, our responsibility is to build a Virginia Beach for all generations,” said Sessoms.
Sessoms stated, “All of this makes me happy, and today, I’m happy to proclaim that hit song “Happy” by Virginia Beach’s own Pharrell Williams — and with his permission — is the Official Song of Virginia Beach.”
Thank you to series sponsors: Newtown Building Supplies (Building the Future Partner); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Platinum); GEICO (Gold); Cox (Media); and Sentara Optima Health Plan (Silver).
Join the Chamber for the remaining State of the City events taking place through May. For more information and to register, visit Events.HamptonRoadsChamber.com.