The Chamber’s annual State of the City Luncheon was held in Virginia Beach on Thursday, March 13 at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms highlighted key business development initiatives, provided strategic municipal progress updates, and addressed challenges and opportunities in the city. This year, Mayor Sessoms also revealed his bold vision to pave the way to a more successful future. A sold out crowd of 1,000 of the region’s business, political, and community leaders attended.
Some accolades Virginia Beach has received in comparison to its neighboring cities in Coastal Virginia include the lowest real estate and personal property tax rate, highest income per capita, lowest unemployment rate, lowest crime rate as well as credit for investing the largest part of its operating budget in public schools. Perhaps the biggest accolade received, Virginia Beach is the only Coastal Virginia city rated AAA by all three major bond-rating agencies for four years in a row. This can be attributed to Virginia Beach’s conservative financial practices and strong management.
Virginia Beach’s Central Business District is thriving. Town Center Phase V, the $105 million dollar, 15-story, mixed-use tower brings more offices, retail, luxury apartments and a lot more parking to this popular destination.
This summer, Seatack Elementary School will become the site of An Achievable Dream, a groundbreaking public-private program that provides year-round extended-day learning complete with enrichment classes, field trips, and strong support from community partners, the military, and mentors.
Next fiscal year, it is expected the state will be committing $5 million dollars to Virginia Beach and, with the cities support, $2.5 million dollars to Chesapeake, to help facilitate attempts to address encroachment around the recently renovated Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field.
Sessoms said, “We are committed to maintaining and growing the military, as we work to sustain and diversify our economy.” Congressman Scott Rigell worked with Sessoms and now NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore will be used by the Navy’s E-2 and C-2 propeller planes for Naval air practice landings.
The mayor explained another key industry in Virginia Beach, Agriculture, and how it continues to play a vital role in the economy. He explained, “With a yearly economic impact now exceeding $120 million dollars, and more than 28,000 acres in agricultural use. Last year, our Agriculture Reserve Program enrolled 317 acres into the program, surpassing the 9,200-acre plateau.”
Last year, the GrowSmart program was honored with an Outstanding Achievement in Innovation Award by the national Alliance for Innovation. GrowSmart promotes the healthy development and school readiness of young children. He explained the big picture, “It’s a vital part of our workforce development strategy, laying the foundation for our babies to excel as 21st century learners, workers and citizens.”
Sessoms congratulated Dr. Sheila Magula on doing an outstanding job as an interim superintendent and announced Dr. Aaron Spence, a graduate of Green Run High School, has been selected as the next superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
Mayor Sessoms also revealed his bold vision to pave the way to a more successful future. He announced, “I have a vision, a 2020 Vision, that in the next six years, if we create new building blocks for jobs and economic growth today, we will increase our ability to enjoy a more prosperous tomorrow.” Sessoms then divulged his top four objectives that are the focus of his 2020 Vision.
First, that it is time to bring light rail to Virginia Beach. Sessoms said, “I am pleased to announce that we have a firm commitment from Governor Terry McAuliffe and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne to help with the funding we need to bring light rail into Virginia Beach. Second, Coastal Virginia will soon be an international destination. Direct flights not only to the west coast of the nation but maybe even the West Coast of Europe. Sessoms confirmed, “Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim and I are already meeting with Norfolk Airport Authority Executive Director Wayne Shank to explore new ways to achieve a world-class air transportation system for our region.”
The third objective in Sessoms’ 2020 Vision was on the development of a new sports and entertainment arena that will be located across the street from the Virginia Beach Convention Center. And for his last objective, establishment of a healthcare and pharmaceuticals research and policy center. Sessoms said, “In Princess Anne Commons, we already have the real estate, 1,500 acres that we can use to create our new advanced healthcare institute where one day, discoveries in stem cell research will save lives.” Sessoms announced, “I’ve already asked Tom Frantz, CEO and chairman of Williams Mullen and a highly effective community leader, to chair a task force to work with the Virginia Beach City Council, and set it all in motion because it’s time for us, Coastal Virginia to emerge as the capital of healthcare innovation in Virginia.”
Thank you to series sponsors: TowneBank (Presenting); Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Platinum); GEICO (gold); Cox (media); Farm Fresh 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.