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State of the City
Remarks scheduled for delivery by Mayor Alan P. Krasnoff
at the annual Chesapeake State of the City Address
Chesapeake Conference Center
April 27, 2017
At the outset, I want to express my appreciation to the Chamber for its support and the opportunity to showcase Chesapeake's accomplishments.
I want to thank Pastor Heath Burris of River Oak Church for our invocation. The seed for River Oak was planted by the South Norfolk Baptist Church congregation, and it has grown to become an asset that gives back to Chesapeake. Along the way, River Oak has stepped up through Chesapeake's Area Shelter Team and by adopting several area schools to help with needs in the community, and they and many, many other churches are examples of what it means to care.
Leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance was Junior ROTC Cadet Master Sergeant Seth Brizan. Sergeant Brizan attends Indian River High School, where he has earned his stripes and the respect of his peers and leadership, and he has mine.
I also want to thank the Chesapeake Singers for their strong, clear voices. Our National Anthem deserves the best, and we heard it today.
I also want to recognize and thank our constitutional officers and the members of City Council for their commitment to Chesapeake and express my appreciation for our senators and delegates for their service in Richmond.
It's no secret that when it comes to trust and confidence, we don't rank high on a lot of lists. But no matter the party or position. . . whether they serve in Chesapeake or a sister city or in Richmond. . . they're high on mine, and I'd ask that they stand so we can thank them for their contributions.
Now I want to introduce my wife Phyllis. When she said yes, I doubt she thought our journey together would lead us to Chesapeake and me here.
Yet 43 years, two children and three grandchildren later, here we are. She is by my side, and I cannot thank her enough for her support and for reaching out to a place we call home. Phyllis, you have my thanks, and you have my love.
I also want to thank Ray Conner for his kind introduction.
For over three decades, Ray Conner was the man you'd visit to get a business license. For 34 years and regular as clockwork, you could expect to get mail from Ray, politely asking for a check made payable to Chesapeake.
Until he retired last month, Ray was Virginia's third-longest serving Commissioner of the Revenue, and with an unbroken string of nine election day victories, I doubt that record will ever be broken.
I have already given Ray a key to Chesapeake and he's gotten his resolutions from Chesapeake and the General Assembly, but now it's your turn to say thanks, and I hope you will.
And last, I want to wrap my arms around two excited kids who welcomed you today.
Each one has participated in a Miss Abilities Chesapeake pageant, which is the genius idea of two city employees, Jeff Bunn from Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and Jessica Smith, a therapeutic recreation specialist, to create an event for young women with disabilities.
They come from all walks of life, and even at their young ages, they have already had their share of challenges.
Yet with lots of love, more than a little encouragement at home and support from their teachers and a much larger network of people - many of whom joined them today - they have done much.
They are testaments to what can happen when we believe in ourselves and our abilities and - no matter the challenge - turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.
Their names are Kelsey Equils and Blake Edwards.
As they should, they believe and trust that we will do the right thing to create opportunities for anyone who believes in Chesapeake, and we will. But first, I hope you will show them the love they so richly deserve.
Blake and Kelsey are not alone in believing in Chesapeake.
Before the ink was dry and the merger completed, we were already in competition with others working as hard and fast as they could to spend more than a dollar to steal Dollar Tree from Chesapeake.
After all, who wouldn't want to be home to a company that jumped from 330 to 180 on the Fortune 500 list and nationally, become one of the most-visited destinations for shoppers?
Anybody? Anybody? I didn't think so. Which is why we went to work.
It took time, of course, because at the end of the day, Dollar Tree's first obligations are also to its shareholders.
But succeed we did, and an expanded Dollar Tree campus is taking shape on Volvo Parkway because Chesapeake is a place where if we say we can, we will. And if we say we will, we do.
It's simple, I know, but it underscores the importance of keeping your word and building the kinds of trust and confidence that are at the heart of how we do business in Chesapeake.
That kind of faith brought INIT to Kristina Way. That kind of confidence drew USAA to its home on Independence Parkway. And in both cases, these companies have created environments and opportunities that place them at the top of the heap as two of the best work spaces in Hampton Roads.
It could, of course, be a pool table and games at USAA or chili cook-offs and food trucks at INIT, but it also has a great deal to do with the people who come to work every day and keep our businesses humming.
And if you want proof, look no further than Wallethub, which put Chesapeake on its 2017 list of America's Hardest-Working Cities, and no wonder.
With a huge $289 million investment and almost 1,300 new jobs, 2016 was another record- breaking year for economic activity. Part of that 62 percent increase is a direct reflection of the confidence Dollar Tree has demonstrated in Chesapeake, but they're not alone.
This year, Chesapeake Regional Medical Center will celebrate its 40th anniversary, and their long- term commitment to our city's wellbeing has drawn others like Bon Secours, the Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, Sentara Healthcare and Smith/Packett Senior Housing.
Underlining the value of where we are on a map and our investment in transportation, this year Fedex Distribution will join Amazon and worldwide distribution networks like Givens and choose Chesapeake as one of its delivery hubs.
This kind of activity and the hard work of our folks from economic development have also produced steady declines in office, industrial, retail and flex space vacancy rates, and given Chesapeake some of the lowest vacancy rates in the region.
At the same time, we like to shop, eat and play, and high-value businesses like Kroger, Field and Stream, Aldi, Dick's Sporting Goods and Lidl have been welcomed with open arms.
We also know that small businesses are the lifeblood of any community, and we are no exception. Marking that, the US Small Business Administration has already named Chesapeake a Small Business Community of the Year, but continuing encouraging others to succeed will always pay off.
Over 300 small businesses in Chesapeake are owned and led by women, and the number of veteran-owned businesses continues to grow as more military families retire here.
Then there are companies like Hackworth and Antech Systems.
Antech started over a garage and had two employees. Today, the company has 141 employees. Antech remains anchored in Chesapeake but now has branches in Washington and Philadelphia, and provides tools that allow employers to train staff and analyze information. One program creates, manages and documents planned maintenance for every piece of equipment in the Navy, and you will find it on every American ship and shore station.
Yet as serious and important as the employee-owned company's work may be, Antech's motto is simple: Family, fun, and profit. . . and in that order.
That spirit led Antech to first place as the Inside Business 2016 mid-sized company of the year, and I am glad they call Chesapeake home.
Then there are the Hackworths. 43 years ago, Charlie and Dorothy Hackworth started a printing business with faith and a second mortgage on their home to buy supplies and equipment.
Based on Liberty Street in South Norfolk, they've taken risks but reaped rewards and remained true to themselves and Chesapeake by supporting community activities ranging from the Arts Inclusion Company to the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore.
Read testimonials about Hackworth, and you'll understand why this company is the epitome of entrepreneurial energy and focus.
Recognizing that, the Hampton Roads Chamber has just named Hackworth the 2017 Chesapeake Small Business of the Year, and I hope you'll join me in congratulating Antech and Hackworth for their remarkable accomplishments.
Whether you're a major player or an entrepreneur or veteran with a dream, your contributions add new dimensions to our community and quality of life.
Keep in mind, though, that Chesapeake is a young city.
Fifty-four years ago, our first budget was less than $18 million, which would be about 144 million in today's dollars. Just over 78,000 people lived in a 353 square mile city but in an instant, we became Virginia's third largest city on January 1, 1963.
Since then, we've grown a little.
For 2016, the Weldon Cooper Center put our population at over 240,000 and projects that by 2040 almost 300,000 people will call Chesapeake home.
This year, we will spend over $1 billion to maintain and improve our city, teach our children and keep us safe.
In short order, we've come a long, long way.
We've added new Gilmerton, South Norfolk Jordan and Veterans Memorial Bridges that have made life and travel easier.
But even as we were investing over $350 million to replace the Steel Bridge on Dominion Boulevard , we were already planning how to replace the 22nd Street Bridge in South Norfolk and the AIW bridge in Deep Creek. One project begins this summer while the other will start next year, and both are examples of what happens when we don't take no for an answer.
Best of all - and especially with encouragement and help from legislative leaders like Delegate Chris Jones and Senator Frank Wagner - Chesapeake was able to thread the regulatory needle to add improvements to the High-Rise Bridge on Interstate 64 to a recently approved $8.3 billion package of transportation projects.
None of these things happened overnight and - in truth - they never do, but we've never let up. . . and won't.
In 1963, Chesapeake had just 31 schools. This year, we're teaching over 39,000 children in 47 schools.
Seem like a lot? It is, and especially considering that our total population in 1963 was only 78,000. Candidly, I have no idea how our schools ranked then, but I know where we stand today.
We are home to bright, focused kids.
Our on-time graduation rate stands at 93.1 percent. . . which is the highest of all the Southside Hampton Roads school divisions. . . and at 3.9 percent, our dropout rate is the lowest in Hampton Roads.
And do these numbers matter? Absolutely, because as one ODU professor said, graduation and dropout rates foreshadow the community's future.
So do we dedicate half our operating budget to public schools? Yes, because it's worth it.
Have we committed to building new classroom space? Again, the answer is yes, because education is a powerful investment in Chesapeake's future with returns that make perfect sense.
Along the way, we've built police and fire stations to improve coverage and response times.
In the process, we've worked to make and keep Chesapeake one of America's safest cities in every respect, and I am personally grateful to Fire Chief Ed Elliott, Sheriff Jim O'Sullivan and Police Chief Kelvin Wright for their leadership and dedication to what no one would ever call trouble-free jobs.
We've also added parks and recreation centers to meet the growing demand for opportunities and amenities.
A new transoceanic internet cable is coming ashore in Virginia Beach, and it's a big deal for them and Hampton Roads. Look at a map, and you'll see that Chesapeake is perfectly positioned to take advantage of a remarkable high-speed asset that will help us reach out to underserved areas, create new economic opportunities and strengthen our European connections.
Just last week, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization approved an allocation of $440,000 for the Western Branch Trail. This investment means Chesapeake will be able to turn an abandoned railroad right of way into a recreational trail and connect to other sister cities.
We also know we need to revitalize Western Branch, and a good place to start will be a fieldhouse. Indian River needs a reliable water system. Soon, they will have it.
eBuild has taken off, and the whole process of getting permits for almost everything is a lot less frustrating and time-consuming.
No matter where you live, you'll be a bit safer because our fire department has deployed a free app called PulsePoint. PulsePoint allows those with CPR training to help someone nearby who's having a heart attack, and will locate the nearest portable defibrillator.
We're the first city in Hampton Roads to use it, and lives will undeniably be saved. Yet even as we may think we've done a lot, we really haven't.
As I've already said, Chesapeake is a very young city, and we're still finding our way as we deal with the challenges that go with the coming of age.
First among them is the fact that people want to live here.
In terms of actual numbers, more people are choosing Chesapeake over any other place in Hampton Roads, and that includes our sister city to the east.
And as much as we've put out the welcome mat and said join us, we're also coming face-to-face with another reality.
Second - and as much as people like the feeling that comes with small-town America - we all want the conveniences and a diversity of choices that are hallmarks of most fully-developed communities.
But this is not Through the Looking-Glass.
In Lewis Carroll's classic, Alice can walk through a mirror and time runs backward. But that world is not ours, and we are not living an illusion.
As I have said elsewhere, we have no choice but to figure out how to merge a rural utopia in Southern Chesapeake that - for many - is our legacy, with an urban reality that - at full force - is rushing at us from all directions.
Needless to say, that job has never been an easy one, but we cannot fail those who already call Chesapeake home - much less the 300,000 who will be living here in twenty years.
We've adopted comprehensive plans, utility franchise policies, floodplain ordinance amendments, levels of service policies, unique economic development opportunity policies, sanitation district expansion policies, encroachment protections, strategic economic development designations and transportation corridor overlays.
Until now, the mother of all policy amendments has been the Dominion Boulevard Corridor Study and Strategic Economic Development Plan, which established a master land use plan for more than one-third of the entire city.
Yet we need to do more, which is why I will ask our manager and City Council to begin a new strategic planning process in May to ensure that we have a committed vision with the clarity and certainty to guide what happens in our city as a whole.
But Chesapeake's greatness doesn't start with where you might live or what you might do. Instead, the greatness of any community starts with giving.
Already, you've seen examples of what happens when people step up, but let me add to that list.
Last year, Officer Krystal Holland was dispatched to the 900 block of Ventures Way. There, she found a tow truck driver who - in the process of repossessing a vehicle - was surprised to discover a man asleep in the vehicle. In due course, Officer Holland learned that the man was homeless and had nowhere else to go, and asked her dispatcher for shelter information.
Despite everyone's best efforts, none could be found, so Krystal Holland took the poor soul to a hotel, where she paid for a room so he would have a warm place to stay.
That January 19, by the way, the temperature was a bone-chilling 19 degrees, with wind chills in the single digits.
Had she not gone above and beyond her duties, things could have ended differently.
When Officer Holland was complemented on her heartwarming and selfless act she said, "I couldn't just leave him to freeze."
Driving to work last September, water meter technician Donna Wireman watched a car hit a guardrail then skid down and go over it, finally landing in a ditch.
Donna stopped her car and ran across four lanes of traffic to help. Climbing down the embankment, she found an injured elderly driver, but also a more immediate risk. Putting herself in danger, Donna climbed into the car to pull the woman to safety. Moments later, the car caught fire.
So what did Donna do?
After emergency services arrived, Donna got back in her car, drove to work, and said nothing about her morning commute.
Only after the driver's family reached out to our call center to thank Donna for saving their mother's life, did we learn of her heroic act.
While Donna Wireman's modesty is remarkable, the gratitude of that driver's family is immeasurable.
Not much can compare to September and October of last year.
To be sure, the weather was bad enough during Hurricane Hermine and Tropical Storm Julia, but Hurricane Matthew was a different story.
We knew things might be bad and did everything we could to alert Chesapeake's residents, but no one - not even homeowners named Krasnoff - could estimate the ferocity and havoc those days and the weeks and months that followed would visit our city.
Even as Matthew was bearing down on Chesapeake, Public Works was busy pumping down lakes, removing blockages in drainage systems, coordinating with our federal and state partners, and readying assets to respond to flooded areas. And then the winds and the rains came.
But once the storm passed and dawn revealed unimaginable devastation, everyone stepped up.
Churches and service clubs offered help. Emergency Management and Human Services launched disaster recovery centers and became sources for tremendous support for people in need. The Mosquito Control Commission swung into action. Libraries and our health, police, fire, emergency services, and the development and permits departments pulled together as one team.
The Chesapeake Expressway got emergency repairs so lanes closed because of flood damage could be re-opened, just as the Elbow Road Bridge was made safe to ensure that this important connection to our neighbors to the east was open to traffic.
Public Works employees worked around the clock to clear roads, remove debris, assess damage, and keep residents updated, and Public Utilities kept the water clean and flowing from our Northwest River plant.
Matthew also left behind stories of accommodation and compassion in the face of obvious needs.
When it became apparent that families were financially unprepared to handle Matthew's aftermath and it would be weeks before FEMA could help, City Council stepped up to make $200,000 immediately available for families who had been displaced.
And then there was Claude Riddick, who probably broke the rules to answer a very real call for help in Elmwood Landing.
There, an ambulance couldn't get through the flooded neighborhood to reach a woman in need of medical care. But Claude Riddick could, and packed the woman and her son into his big city truck to get them to a waiting ambulance. Later that same day, Claude and his team from Public Works helped others who would otherwise have been stranded in high water.
And then there are the men and women from every fire station in Chesapeake who answered the call just last March.
They were among the first responders after intense thunderstorms and hail rolled through, and a tornado touched down in Kemp Bridge and kept moving to destroy homes and the Real Life Christian Church on Centerville Turnpike.
True to form, they went door to door to make sure residents were okay and offer help if it was needed, but here's the kicker: they're still checking and still offering help because that's what they do best.
Krystal Holland and Donna Wireman and Claude Riddick and our firefighters here today will tell you that what they do is no big deal.
On the other hand, I am here to tell you it is, and I hope you will thank them and the people they represent for caring about Chesapeake.
If you've had the good fortune to attend a Memorial or Veterans Day ceremony, you know that Chesapeake does everything it possibly can to create safe places for those in need and opportunities for veterans to grow and prosper when they change from a uniform to mufti.
You will also know that we take great care to remember those who have died to keep us safe and honor the living among us who have served in distant places and in other times to keep us free.
Today, I count it an honor to introduce two.
Phillip Marlowe was a rambunctious 16-year-old when he heard.
On December 7, he was at his Aunt Effie's house listening to a battery-powered radio when he and America learned that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
Too young to enlist, Phil was determined to become a Marine. Until he could, he had the sad job of delivering telegrams to the families of those killed in action. But a year later - at the tender age of 17 - Phil found himself at Paris Island.
By December 1942, America was fully engaged in wars in two theaters, and it would not be long before a very young Marine recruit named Marlowe would find himself sailing past a still smoking and still leaking USS Arizona and into Pearl Harbor.
In short order, his ship had been re-supplied and Private Marlow found himself heading into Pacific waters and an island called Tarawa. On November 17, 1943, he turned 18. On November 20, 1943, he hit the beach as an assistant machine gunner.
Death stalked the Marines and Phillip Marlowe from Tarawa to Saipan to Tinian to Okinawa. Night attacks and hand-to-hand combat became the rule until finally, he returned to Tinian to guard a flight line. The rules there were simple: Don't ask who it is. Don't ask for a password. Just shoot.
It took a month for Phillip Marlowe and his Marines to learn that Hiroshima had been bombed, and then he watched as a B-29 - stripped of everything - lumbered down a runway and disappeared out of sight on its flight to Nagasaki.
And then, after serving as part of an occupying force in Nagasaki itself, Corporal Marlowe found himself heading back to America, a new wife and a new life as a Virginia state trooper.
Phil Marlowe is 92 and lives at Cedar Manor.
43 years after Phillip Marlowe swore to protect and defend, a young man from Georgetown reported to Eisenhower Hall to take his cadet's oath.
And although Greg Gadson had been an athlete during his time at Indian River, it was on the football field at West Point that his capacity to motivate and lead became apparent.
Said Greg: "You play to leave it all out on the field. If you don't, you cheat yourself and you cheat everyone else who's out there with you.
"And if we have to go to war, that's what we have to do. To leave it all out there for our people and our country, because that's what it's all about."
Four years later, Second Lieutenant Gadson left West Point to begin a career as a field artillery officer. His service would take him to distant, dangerous places where America fought a Gulf War, to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Afghanistan, and finally to Iraq in 2007.
And then, everything changed.
As Commander of the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery, Colonel Gadson was driving from a memorial service for two fallen comrades when his Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device. In the blink of an eye, Greg Gadson lost both of his legs above the knee and injured his right arm and hand.
Four months after arriving in February 2007, Colonel Gadson left Iraq to begin grueling surgeries and rehabilitation, but what Greg Gadson did not leave behind was a special ability to lead by example.
Mike Sullivan, one of Greg Gadson's West Point classmates, had become a coach for the New York Giants. Off to a dismal start of the season, the Giants were in trouble. . . and then Greg showed up.
Five months after he had left Iraq, Colonel Gadson found himself in a locker room talking about how profound being part of a team can be. . . that no matter the difficulty, no matter the challenge. . . a team stays together.
The wisdom of Greg's words may not have been the only thing that propelled the Giants to a winning streak and the Super Bowl, but they could not have hurt.
The night before that big game, he told players he had come to love and respect that if he could be anywhere, he would be back with his unit in Iraq.
I know that's not going to happen, he said, but if I was going to battle, there's not one of you I would not take with me.
Speaking from a wheelchair to some of the country's best athletes, the Giants' honorary co-captain told his team that he believed. . . that he knew they would do what it takes to win.
Belief, Greg Gadson said that night, is that powerful, and the next day, the New York Giants proved him right as they won Super Bowl 42.
Returning to active duty, Greg Gadson directed the Army's Wounded Warrior program and retired as the Garrison Commander of Fort Belvoir because he, too, believed.
Though their experiences may have been separated by decades - while one would chase moonshiners through Suffolk and the other would sit with his team at a football game - Phillip Marlowe and Greg Gadson are models of faith in themselves and a deeply held dedication to a larger cause.
They are with us today, and I hope you will show them how much Chesapeake appreciates their service to us.
In one of my first state of the city speeches, I said that if you believed in Chesapeake, then we would believe in you.
That may seem trite to some or simplistic to others, but as Greg Gadson has said, believing is a powerful force that can never be underestimated.
Believing she could help motivated Donna Wireman.
In the midst of one of America's worst economic recessions, believing there are no limits helped build the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
Believing they could make a difference has given us teachers like Kim Hammers, Laurie Lee, Heather Waild, and Dr. Toney McNair, who is Virginia's State Teacher of the Year.
Believing they can, has pushed Kelsey Equils and Blake Edwards to do things others might think impossible.
Faith, of course, isn't something that comes with a metric.
They haven't yet invented the machine that can record confidence.
Yet faith, confidence, teamwork and miracles of service have given us a city with a bright future. I can feel it. I believe in Chesapeake. And now, I know you do, too.
Thank you, and may God bless.