The Chamber’s annual State of the City luncheon was held in Chesapeake on Tuesday, March 18 at the Chesapeake Conference Center. Chesapeake Mayor Alan Krasnoff highlighted key business development initiatives, provided municipal progress updates, addressed challenges and opportunities in the city, and provided a glimpse into the city’s future. A crowd of 700 of the region’s business, political, and community leaders attended.
Chesapeake has received several accolades. Taxable sales increased by more than $141 million. Fitch has re-affirmed Chesapeake’s triple-A bond rating. And the value of the cities real estate tax base increased by more than $550 million, which puts the city in positive territory for the first time since 2008. 24/7 Wall Street has ranked Chesapeake one of America’s best run cities for the third year in a row, which can be attributed to Chesapeake’s diverse tax base and low unemployment rate. Bloomberg Business Week has named Chesapeake one of America’s 50 best cities. In 2010, the population was 222,209, today, the Weldon Cooper Center projects that the population is 231,542. Despite the growth, Chesapeake remains one of the country’s safest cities.
Chesapeake’s schools continue to excel. The city’s student to teacher ratio is 22 to one, the 3.8 percent drop-out rate is the regions lowest and the 92 percent on-time graduation rate is the regions highest. Jim Roberts, Chesapeake’s school superintendent, in just four years has already been selected as the region’s best educational leader and is in the running for Virginia’s superintendent of the year.
“When I delivered my first State of the City speech, times were very, very tough, and the world was very, very nervous,” Krasnoff said. “In Chesapeake, investments for 2008 totaled $115 million, and only 608 jobs were created. Last year, $226 million were invested and 1,166 jobs will be created, which marks the third consecutive year of double-digit, year-over-year increases. And if that isn’t a sign of confidence, then I don’t know what is.”
In 2013, Perdue signed an export agreement to supply eight million bushels of its soybean crop to China. Worldwide, they’re used to feed cattle, fuel vehicles, turned into food and used in all kinds of industrial compounds. Krasnoff said, “In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimates soybean exports, last year worth more than half a billion dollars, will top 225 metric tons by 2020, outstripping wheat and coarse grain exports.”
Krasnoff also touched on the importance of internet access for educational and business success. Chesapeake’s IT department has worked diligently, “to take an antiquated system and turn it into an electronic marvel,” the mayor stated. He encouraged residents to register for Chesapeake Alert, stating “you’ll be able to decide what you want to know and how you want to connect.” The mayor also announced he has created a mayor’s committee focused on technology and biotechnology advancement to make Chesapeake competitive and to encourage growth and prosperity.
The Chesapeake Public Library applied for a workforce development grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and was the first library in the nation to receive such an award. The mayor stated, “When we applied, we thought we would be able to help about 1,500 folks. Instead, almost 7,000 people were able to learn basic computer skills, write resumes, take tests, and search for jobs.”
Krasnoff also acknowledged the city’s firefighters and emergency service personnel, a faith-based group called the Chesapeake Area Shelter Team (CAST) who provided shelter for the homeless, Chesapeake Police, and Chesapeake’s city garage, public works and parks departments who took to the streets to keep them clear and keep the community safe. The mayor said, “No matter how difficult the challenge, Chesapeake finds a way to turn obstacles into opportunities and not by looking away, because in most cases, every step forward begins with a complaint about what already exists.
Although there was debate, Oceaneering is not leaving the city. The mayor stated, “The company will invest $33 million and over 500 jobs will stay in our city. Wayne Jakubowski is with us today, and he has my thanks.” He also announced Dollar Tree could move forward with its plan to build a high-density residential, retail and commercial town center.
Krasnoff referred to Chesapeake as the “Venice of Virginia” because of the number of bridges the city has and mentioned the challenge of maintaining and building new ones. The Gilmerton has been replaced with a new bridge that has been designed so that additional lanes can be added up handle up to 55,000 vehicles a day. The 22nd Street Bridge will be receiving attention in the near future as well as the High Rise Bridge on Interstate 64. Krasnoff said, “For help with that modestly-priced project, which might cost as much as $2 billion, Chesapeake has been fortunate to be represented in Richmond by Delegate Chris Jones…and Delegate Barry Knight.” Both men are a part of the General Assembly’s House Appropriations Committee.
Other projects include the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Bridge in Deep Creek and the largest locally-administered project in the history of the Commonwealth, “Some people called it the Steel Bridge project,” Krasnoff remarked, “Others call it the Dominion Boulevard project. I call it nothing short of a fast track blessing for Chesapeake.” By next year, the first of two bridges crossing the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River will be open. “Which means that for the first time in over 50 years, people won’t have to wait for a drawbridge to close,” concluded the mayor.
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.