2020 State of the City

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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Mayor Robert M. "Bobby" Dyer
2020 State of the City Address
Virginia Beach Convention Center
March 11​, 2020​​

I am honored to stand before you today and deliver my second annual State of the City Address.  Mayor Alexander of Norfolk, I'm happy to be able to say, I'm not the "rookie mayor" anymore.   

When I ran for this office in 2018, I vowed to be "The People's Mayor" — a mayor who would work directly with the public and provide balanced and factual information, so that Virginia Beach citizens could understand our problems, our opportunities and our possible solutions. 

I pledged to work for two-way communication so residents have ample opportunities to influence decisions the City

Council makes that affect them.  I hope you will see I am living up to those commitments.

Last year, I engaged with thousands of people on 761 occasions of various types.  I participated in ribbon cuttings, groundbreakings, anniversaries, awards programs, and meetings.  I've celebrated with citizens at libraries, recreation centers, police stations, restaurants, greenway trails, grocery stores, retail shops, assisted living communities, churches… across the street at the Tidewater Veterans Memorial Park, and at our state-of-the-art Housing Resource Center.  And I've welcomed and listened to hundreds more people during City Council meetings.

One thing is clear…. Our community is vibrant, beautiful and connected.  We are fortunate to live in Virginia Beach, and the great thing about that is, we know how lucky we are.

In the most recent citizen satisfaction survey completed in November, 93% of respondents said that Virginia Beach is a good place to live. 

Nine in 10 are satisfied with City services overall and nearly eight in ten believe they receive a good value for their tax dollar.

I have always believed that "Good government should never fear an engaged and educated public"… and I am committed to engaging our citizens in efforts to decide the best solutions for our future.  That's why I was pleased to see nearly eight in ten respondents expressed satisfaction with opportunities to share their opinions ahead of Council decisions and with the City's efforts to communicate and engage residents.

The survey also gives a "heads-up" on areas citizens believe we have room for continued improvement.  And that's exactly what we are going to keep doing — on issues like traffic flow; planning of new roads and residential development; maintenance of existing roads and bridges.  Sea level rise and recurrent flooding are top of mind more than ever before. 

We will continue to care for homeless families and people with mental health and intellectual disabilities, and make sure our services meet their needs.  We will look for opportunities to partner with neighbors throughout our region to improve efficiencies for citizens of the 757.

We've been conducting these citizen satisfaction surveys since 1995 and the results have been remarkably consistent.  Sometimes, it's easy to think we aren't doing so well….  I suppose part of that is because we tend to hear more often from those who are dissatisfied than those who are satisfied.  While we may not always see eye-to-eye, we must hear from everyone, encourage the conversation and hear varying points of view. And yet, every two years, it's nice to be reminded of the reality that the overwhelming majority of people are incredibly happy living here and there is a tremendous amount of civic pride. Comparisons with other cities confirm it, and the accolades have never been better.

In the past year, Virginia Beach was named the number one Best Big City to Live In, the number one most caring city in America and the third Hardest Working City in America.  We are in the top ten of the safest AND best-managed cities in America, and we're one of the top three cities for veterans to live and work.   

We are proud to be an Amazon Web Services Innovation Challenge Winner for our Open Data Portal on VBgov.com. And Virginia Beach has triple-A bond ratings from all three agencies​s, an achievement that saves millions every year when financing capital projects.

This kind of business performance is a strong indicator of our economic health.  In fact, Business Facilities magazine ranke​d Virginia Beach among the top 10 mid-sized cities with the best economic growth potential.

According to the Citizen Survey, residents' satisfaction with job opportunities in Virginia Beach was 81% — the highest percentage to date.  That makes sense when you consider that, in 2019, Virginia Beach's already low unemployment rate reached a historical low of 2.4 percent, while we added five thousand jobs and our labor force grew by forty-two hundred people. 

And last year, the net Gross Domestic Product Growth Index in Virginia Beach was more than 3 percent — a rate that outpaces the national average.

I think it must be true. There really IS something special in the water here, which everyone learned about last year with the phenomenal, inaugural Something in the Water festival. More than 45,000 people attended the festival that Pharrell Williams brought to his hometown.  What a game changer!  25,000 tickets sold out in just 21 minutes and an additional 10,000 tickets sold out.  The Festival exceeded expectations, bringing in close to $1.2 million in tax revenue for Virginia Beach.  The total economic impact in Hampton Roads was more than $24 million, and hotel occupancy for the entire region was 86%.  The event certainly gave us a "Happy" vibe.

The wonderful high we felt with the success of that event was eclipsed by the worst day in the history of Virginia Beach when 12 innocent people were killed in cold blood — without warning and without reason — as their workweek was coming to an end on May 31st.  Five others were injured — four critically — and many more were traumatized, including City employees, family members, chaplains, first responders, 911 staff and people who rendered emergency medical aid, both on the scene and at area hospitals.

We are forever changed. 

Fortunately, the strength of Virginia Beach comes from the incredible compassion and commitment that people here show to those who are hurting, and to those in need.

That's exactly what I've seen in the days and months following that tragic day.  Seeing all the people come to the impromptu memorial outside the Public Safety Building in the Municipal Center was extremely moving.  And it was especially touching to have our community of many faiths come together at the Rock Church to mourn, to honor, and to remember.

I want to take a minute to thank my wife, Trish, who is here today with our son, Damian.  Trish saw my vulnerability following 5/31, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am that she was by my side: my rock, my foundation, my moral compass.

In our darkest hour, I saw this community come together, comforting our brothers and sisters who suffered an unspeakable trauma.  I want to share just a few examples with you now….

 

Will the members of our Police, Fire, Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Communications and Citizen Services, and Emergency Management departments; as well as all those who supported our Emergency Operations and Family Assistance centers, please stand and let us recognize you.

Now, I'd like to ask anyone here who delivered medical care — including our friends at Sentara…​

Intensive Care Unit Clinical Manager Debbie Moore;

Trauma Services Medical Director Martin O'Grady; and

Team Coordinator for Trauma Services Mark Day

… to please stand and let us salute you.

We are grateful to Governor Northam and the people at the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services for granting the City $3 million dollars to enable the long-term recovery and support services that are being provided at the VB Strong Center, which is open to everyone in our community.  We are indebted to the people of Sentara Healthcare for stepping up to establish and operate that place of recovery and healing. 

Would everybody here from Sentara please stand and let us thank you.

People throughout our community and beyond reached out with open hearts to hold us up early on and we continue to need your support and grace.  Members of our workforce are still dealing with the aftermath.  Our recovery will be measured in years, not months, so while some projects have been delayed, please know we are working to get back on track.  Your patience and understanding will go a long way in aiding the recovery.  

As we approach the one-year mark, let us keep all who have been affected in our prayers… and know that in the face of adversity, we are VB Strong — a City of Heroes.  Time and time again, the triumph of the human spirit is making us stronger together.

Let's now bow our heads for a few moments of silence in honor of those who were lost… and those who continue to recover.

[PAUSE]

Thank you.

5/31 brought out the hero in many, and we are so fortunate to see similar bravery in others.  "Good Samaritans" live among us…

…like Collin Dozier, who was driving over the Lesner Bridge in April when he noticed a man leaning over the railing.  He circled back around, approached the man, and used his wrestling skills to stop him from doing anything drastic.

And like Anjanette Hendricks, who administered lifesaving CPR to a stranger who had passed out in a supermarket.  Her heroic and immediate actions saved a man's life.  Collin and Anjanette are both here.  Would you please stand and let us give you a round of applause?

In a time when it seems like there is so much negativity and daunting challenges facing us, the examples these folks set for the rest of us are both humbling and inspiring.

Ours is a resilient community — and as we continue to heal, we know the quality of the services we deliver and the viability of our economy must remain priorities.

The state of our business community in 2019 was strong.  In fact, you might say business is booming.  Still, we must continue to elevate our game.

Last year the Commonwealth released a report that revealed a significant weakness in our region's ability to attract a major industrial corporate expansion or relocation.  We had no large parcels that were shovel-ready.  We must be nimble and hyper-responsive to compete in today's global economy.  Simply put, we were relegated to the sidelines by major site selectors. 

I'm happy to report today that Virginia Beach's Corporate Landing Business Park meets the Tier 4 standards for the Commonwealth's Business Ready Sites Program.  This means 163 acres are shovel-ready.

We are open for business!

But we will not rest there.  Our second major corporate park, the Virginia Beach Innovation Park in the Landstown corridor, is expected to open later this year once the initial roadway construction is complete.  This will provide an additional 155 acres that are certified as Tier 4 site-ready.

And we already have our first buyer.  I am happy to announce that our very own Ynot Italian will develop 135,000 square feet of class A office space to house its corporate headquarters, sister companies and other corporate tenants.  Ynot Italian will be evolving into a franchise business, potentially expanding across Virginia and other markets in the U.S.  Tony DiSilvestro — please stand and let us recognize you!

Another area in which we must elevate our efforts is our strategy to assist small businesses, entrepreneurial start-ups and minority- and women- owned businesses. We are pursuing a level playing field so that we can be the "City of Inclusion."

We are already seeing good results.  The 2019 Minority Business Council Conference and Expo was the most successful to date.  More than 500 attendees received education, inspiration, and one-on-one engagement with key Hampton Roads resource partners and procurement professionals. 

Last month, the Virginia Beach City Council approved 12 policy recommendations from the 2018 Disparity Study to better encourage the participation of businesses owned by minorities, women, and service‐disabled veterans in City contracting.

This spring the Department of Economic Development will be opening the doors to a small business center that will provide the full range of assistance services, from help with business plans to access to capital.  There is going to be a real buzz of activity when this center opens.

Let me tell you about one of our small business success stories….

Vicki Townsend owns a small media-buying firm in our region.  Our Convention and Visitors Bureau produces ads that invite tourists to our shores.  Our Procurement Opportunity Committee connected them, and for the past two years, Townsend Media has been successfully competing to place our ads in a variety of markets.  Ms. Townsend started showing signs of having an entrepreneurial spirit when she was a kid selling flower seeds door-to-door for her 4-H club.

From the first English settlers to the youngest people who call Virginia Beach home, the entrepreneurial spirit is at the heart of our community.  Take a look at this video and see if you agree….

 

​That was the most fun I've had championing small businesses, and the truth is, those fantastic young people are our future entrepreneurs... business leaders… inventors.  I have no doubt we will see great things from them.

Talent.  Determination.  Teamwork.  Leadership.  Strategy.  You need them all to get ahead and come out on top.  We begin to practice these elements as children and we use them throughout life — at home, at work and in our communities — with hopes of reaching our greatest possible heights.

We are open for business.

Our next major strategy must leverage our natural and built assets.  Location, location, location!  Virginia Beach is strategically poised to take advantage of our new Digital Port as the mid-Atlantic host to multiple transatlantic high-speed cables.  Our Corporate Landing business park is brimming with opportunity in this industry.

The past year, Point One broke ground on the first 10-acre parcel for a data center.  And Globalinx is up, running, and providing service as a carrier-neutral data center.  Before this service was available, Virginia Beach was like a city on an interstate highway without an off ramp.  Now, businesses can connect to the fastest cables in the world — right here in our community.

The Corporate Landing and Landstown business parks are also strategically located to support the tremendous opportunity in the wind energy industry.  We are delighted to be assisting Orsted and Avangrid with the early stages of their developments in offshore wind energy.  

The City Council and the Development Authority have approved contracts with these two global leaders in renewable energy.  The agreements ensure that our City will play an integral role in the development of the infrastructure required to deliver almost $8 billion of new industry to our region.  It is great to see that Virginia Beach will once again be the site of another First Landing in America.  This arrival will bring with it enough energy to power more than one million homes.  These international connections provide us great opportunity to leverage relationships as we continue our European marketing efforts.

More than 20 international companies have established their U.S. or North American headquarters in Virginia Beach, and close to 200 foreign companies are here in the 757, representing more than 27 countries. 

We have a great foundation to build on, and I would be remiss if I did not recognize some of our anchor international corporate residents that continue to stand the test of time.

Stihl has been a true game-changer since establishing operations in Virginia Beach in 1974, and when it opened its new administration building last October, I got my first chance to cut a ribbon with a chain saw!  Today, the company employs more than 2,000 Virginia Beach-based employees... uses more than 300 Virginia-based suppliers… and supports more than 200 local charities.  Thank you, Stihl, for your continued investment in Virginia Beach.

LifeNet Health was founded here in 1982 and has grown into a global leader in regenerative medicine, with six locations in Virginia Beach and a worldwide infrastructure that includes facilities throughout the United States, as well as Europe. 

Operation Smile, which has provided hundreds of thousands of free, safe surgeries for those born with cleft lip and cleft palate, is another of our locally based organizations having an international impact.  Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Dr. William P. Magee, Jr., and Co-founder and President Kathy Magee have led an amazing team of medical volunteers from more than 80 countries who, quite literally, have given their patients and families new reasons to smile. 

IMS Gear began doing business in the Black Forest of Germany in 1863 and opened a manufacturing facility in Virginia Beach 20 years ago.  Today, more than 300 people are employed here by this leading manufacturer of automotive gear assemblies — with more than 10 plants around the world.

Virginia Beach is the North American headquarters home to SANJO (San-ho) Corte Fino, a Spanish manufacturer.  San-Ho's leadership in the Catalonia region of Spain continues to provide Virginia Beach access to companies contemplating expansion to the United States.  Thank you, Santiago Cruz, for your continued strategic partnership.

Each of these businesses is as critical to our economic success as our tourism industry.  We have one of the most enviable assets any locality or destination could have …. Miles of oceanfront and bayfront beaches, which draws people from the region and internationally.  In fact, outside of Northern Virginia, our beach community is the number one visitor destination in the state. Clearly, we have a lot to offer, but we must continue to invest in and evolve our product offerings for locals and visitors alike in order to maximize our potential.  One way to do that is to show

"We're Open."  We're welcoming.  We're inclusive.  We're caring.  We're understanding.  And we're ready.  Take a look at the latest messaging just launching this week.

We don't just compete with beach communities for people's leisure time and spending.  We are competing with the likes of Nashville, Memphis, Austin, and Raleigh for conventions and visitors looking for authentic new experiences.  And so, our current investment pipeline is geared towards attracting visitors throughout the calendar year and leveraging our strategic location in the mid-Atlantic.

The Virginia Beach Sports Center, right across the street, will open this fall.  Paid for with Tourism Investment Program funds, we estimate we will host more than 60 new events a year, stimulating nearly ten million dollars in annual economic activity. 

At the other end of 19th Street at the former Dome site, Atlantic Park will kick off a revolutionary change in our resort area — one that has the potential to transform a cluster of parking lots into a year-round destination with something for everyone, including a state-of-the-art surf park, a 3,500-person live entertainment venue, and new-to-market retail and restaurants in addition to office and residential components. Design and due diligence are underway and initial site work may begin as early as next year. We are proud of our partnership with local business Venture Realty and their strategic partner, Pharrell Williams, on this project.

Much of today's conversation highlights economic development and tourism ventures.  I want you to know that we are also covering the bases with projects in every district of Virginia Beach.  I'll give you a four-minute tour of some of the other heavy-hitters.

 

We are blessed to live in a city with fresh air and beautiful beaches where people gather for entertainment, recreation and relaxation.  But living in a coastal community also has its challenges.

Virginia Beach is now part of the FEMA/National Flood Insurance Program's Community Rating System, which allows residents and businesses to save fifteen percent on flood insurance premiums due to the City's efforts to go beyond basic requirements to mitigate flooding.  I was very pleased to see that respondents to the recent Citizen Satisfaction Survey recognized our increased efforts to address recurrent flooding and effects of sea level rise.

While funding to this section has increased by 191% and is now the largest section of the capital improvement program, more resources are necessary.  How will we pay for it?  A bond referendum this fall may be part of the answer.  

Over half the funding for the program is aimed at flood control across the city.  The major neighborhood flood control projects currently programmed address recurrent flooding in Windsor Woods, The Lakes, Princess Anne Plaza, and along Eastern Shore Drive.  In addition to these neighborhood projects, there is funding for maintenance of the City's storm water pipe infrastructure and for water quality projects created to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.

We are absolutely committed to improving our resiliency against sea level rise and recurrent flooding.

From addressing our vulnerabilities to flooding… to providing services for the most vulnerable among us, Virginia Beach is on the right track.

In its first year of operation on Witchduck Road, the Housing Resource Center prevented 227 households from experiencing homelessness, permanently housed 32 individuals, and sheltered 248 single adults and 39 families.  237 households were connected to employment services.

The Center was recognized with the 2019 Virginia Housing Award for Best Housing Program or Service.  It's another game changer for people in our community.

Quality, affordable housing is essential for growing communities and not too far from the Center are two new affordable apartment communities built by the Franklin Johnston Group.  Two Hundred West opened last year.  This 264-unit development reached 100% occupancy in ninety days.  Renaissance, another affordable community, will open this summer.  Total development costs for these two projects is nearly 100 million dollars.

Across town, the Lawson Companies completed Seaside Harbor, which has 76 units of affordable family housing — including 19 units that are accessible to people with physical disabilities; and 11 units for families with members who have developmental disabilities.  Developer Steve Lawson was honored by the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission for this and a multitude of projects throughout our region.

I would be remiss if, as I report on the state of this city, if I did not herald our exceptional public schools!  For the eleventh straight year, Virginia Beach schools reached a record-high on-time graduation rate of 94 percent... and a record-low dropout rate of 3% — outperforming rates for the state.  For the third consecutive year, 100% of Virginia Beach City Public Schools earned full accreditation.  Superintendent Aaron Spence and members of the School Board here today — please stand and let us congratulate you for a job well done.

As the first Veteran to be directly elected as mayor in Virginia Beach history, I am especially proud to live in a place that offers places like the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic, which opened its doors in August and is now providing mental health services to post-9/11 veterans and their families, as well as active-duty family members.   

The military is a part of our City's DNA, and I'd like to ask all members — both active-duty and prior service — to please stand up and let us salute you.

To help manifest our vision of an ideal Virginia Beach, I am establishing an advisory board to engage people from every part of the City in our efforts to make Virginia Beach a "City of Inclusion" and a "City of Yes!"

Just last week, the City Council narrowed the field for a new City Manager.  We're looking for an all-star — a progressive, innovative, experienced leader who is highly collaborative, visionary and empathetic… someone who will work effectively with the City Council and our citizens, staff and volunteers to take Virginia Beach to the next level… so that we can continue to grow our local economy, keep our taxes low, and achieve our highest potential.

In the interim, this city is delighted to have a smart and experienced professional as Acting City Manager.  During his 40-year career, Tom Leahy achieved great results as a Public Utilities engineer, a water resources manager over the game-changing Lake Gaston pipeline project, a Department Director and a Deputy City Manager.  And last September — just when he was planning to retire — the City Council was able to convince him to stay and keep Virginia Beach heading in the right direction until we could find the next manager.  Tom, please stand and let us thank you.

Another superstar on the City staff is nearing the end of a stellar career.  Appointed Chief of Police a decade ago, Jim Cervera joined VBPD in 1978 and was promoted through the ranks, serving on the SWAT team, the Labor Day Task Force, and as a commander over operations and investigations.  Like me, he grew up in Northern Jersey, so I may have a special connection to the chief, but the truth is, Jim Cervera has led our highly regarded police department through some of its greatest challenges and most significant achievements.  Chief, please stand and let us thank you and your force for working with our community to preserve Virginia Beach as one of the safest cities in America.

The state of Virginia Beach is STRONG — VB Strong — and there's no place I'd rather be.  To stay relevant and competitive, we must continuously change.  Why?  Because cities that do not innovate, cities that do not grow, cities that do not transform, are cities that struggle, fail and drop the ball.  We will NOT let that happen here!

We need change agents who will propel us forward.  That includes the members of the Virginia Beach City Council.  I'd like to ask them to stand so we can salute you.

We need change makers, like all of you. Thank all of you who engage in and collaborate with your city government, your schools, your places of worship, your charitable, professional and civic organizations, and your communities… because the people of our city are the strength of our city.

Our city is resilient and full of opportunity.  There is no question we are up for any challenges that come our way, whether it is a public health emergency like the growing coronavirus outbreak, or threats from rising seas.  Through tragedy and through triumph, WE ARE and always will be STRONG — VB Strong.​