Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce kicked off the 2016 State of the City Series at the Virginia Beach Convention Center on Thursday, February 11 with Mayor Will Sessoms giving his yearly speech to a room of over 1,300 people.
Mayor Sessoms emphatically proclaimed that 'connectivity' was the key word for the day. Throughout his address he strongly stressed that 2016 is going to be Virginia Beach’s year for connectivity. "Connectivity is the desire, destiny, and destination and Virginia Beach is making it a priority." He talked about connectivity in different perspectives such as mobility, economic vitality, and long-term livability.
There are three transformative transportation projects that are in the works that may be very important initiatives in our lifetime.
Project number one: expanding the High Rise Bridge from four lanes to six lanes. The City of Virginia Beach has figured out a way to save money on project one which will help with the second project.
Project number two: a third crossing from Hampton Roads, which is believed to be done without additional tolls.
And lastly, project number three: expanding The Tide light rail into Virginia Beach with help from Governor McAuliffe, Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne, and the Virginia Beach City.
“Connectivity is more than meeting our growing regional transportation needs. It’s ensuring our excellent public schools and institutions of higher learning provide educational pathways to high-demand careers. It’s ensuring that high-growth industries bring jobs and services to Virginia Beach. It’s ensuring the broadband width that our businesses need for global commerce and 21st century job growth,” stated Mayor Sessoms.
Furthermore, as Virginia Beach is seemingly on the verge of becoming the East Coast’s fiber transmission hub, facilitating ultra-high-speed broadband communications across the waters, the City Council has agreed to invest in expanding the Next Generation Network. The City’s IT Department and Cox Communications are partnering to expand the fiber network and broadband capacity. This will help the Strategic Growth Areas along with making connective opportunities for Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University, and Tidewater Community College. In addition, it will give existing businesses and biomedical companies greater research capabilities and opportunities to grow. This is a powerful incentive to attract new businesses to Virginia Beach and Coastal Virginia.
The Mayor also noted that Virginia Beach is on the cusp of great economic growth leading to innovations and breakthroughs in medicine, business, and technology. With the help of Tom Frantz and Rony Thomas, the creation of Biomedical and Healthcare Task Force has been paving the way for success and opportunity. This will now be the fourth leg in our three-legged stool (tourism, defense, and agriculture). Because biomedicine is becoming very demanding career with high-paying jobs, the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development launched VABeachBio, which is an initiative to attract biomedical and life science business with their high-paying jobs to Virginia Beach.
A key component of ensuring long-term livability is connecting people with their government and with each other. The City of Virginia Beach is creating new ways for them to interact with their citizens. For example, the City created a mobile app called SpeakUpVB!, that allows people within the opportunity to voice their input. The City also added a section on VBgov website, a part of their Open Data initiative, that allows people to see how their money is being used and helps improve the internal process.
After almost two years of negotiating, the City and the United States Management struck a deal requiring no general fund monies to support the multi-purpose entertainment and sports arena. The arena will create jobs, generate tax revenues, and make the hotels, restaurants, and business more profitable, along with bringing in live performances and sporting events to Virginia Beach. Mayor Sessoms believes making investments like the arena, and the SkyWheel will help Virginia Beach grow its tax base, expand its job base, and enhance the quality of life for the residents of Virginia Beach.
Generating more than $7.5 million in business taxes, creating more jobs, new places to live, restaurants to eat at, and shops not found anywhere else in Coastal Virginia, Town Center has been very successful and will continue to be successful. With the upcoming phase, a $41 million investment for Town Center will generate additional tax revenues that pay for city services, it will bring in more retail, more restaurants, more apartments, and a new public plaza.
According to Wallet Hub, Virginia Beach was recently named one of the top caring cities in the United States. There are more than 17,000 people volunteering their time and talents across 30 city departments. There are people volunteering at The Virginia Beach Rescue Squad, The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, The Virginia Beach Animal care and Adoption Center, The Princess Anne Recreation Center and Library. Virginia Beach has partnered with CHKD to ensure all children going into foster care visit a pediatrician within 24 hours with a comprehensive evaluation to follow. The Virginia Beach Home Now foundation was established raise a minimum of $1 million to help wipe out homelessness in Virginia Beach. The We Feed program in Virginia Beach collected 1,600 pounds of food in the first food drive, through the Food Bank, that provided food to children who might otherwise go hungry.
In the year 2015, there were more than 1,400 new jobs created in Virginia Beach and more than $350 million in new capital investment. Tourism set another record year in 2015, especially with the sporting events taking place; more than 70 percent of room-night business was because of sports participatory. The city of Virginia Beach is also connecting with tourists in China, overseas travel brought in more than 100,000 visitors to the Virginia Beach/Norfolk Area. Also, agriculture in Virginia Beach is the third largest industry in the city with an estimated 28,000 acres in production and an economic impact of $120 million.
Mayor Sessoms ended his influential speech with a powerful quote, “Because vision without action is merely a dream; action without vision just passes the time, but action with vision can change the world. Together let’s have the vision to see where the world is heading—to see beyond the horizon and to connect.”
The next State of the City coming up on Friday, March 18th will be a memorable one for Mayor Paul Fraim in Norfolk. This will be his last Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce State of the City as he is stepping down from his position as City of Norfolk Mayor after this year. His address will be at the Marriott Norfolk Waterside starting at noon.
Thank you to our State of the Series Sponsors: Platinum Sponsor for truly making this Series a success: Bon Secours Health System; Gold Sponsor: GEICO; Silver Sponsors: Everest College, Farm Fresh, and Optima Health; Media Sponsors: Cox Communications and Sinclair Communications; Host Sponsor: Virginia Beach Convention Center; Bronze Sponsors: Armada Hoffler, The ESG Companies, and The Franklin Johnston Group; Vendor Sponsors: Atlantic Bay, CHKD, Dave & Buster’s, Decker Children’s Charity, and Massimo Zanetti.