Hearing from the Region’s Mayors

Regent University’s South Hampton Roads Mayors Town Hall brought local leaders to The Founder’s Inn Thursday, April 28. Mayors from Suffolk, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth fielded questions from guests and gave an idea of what challenges communities are facing, as well as what opportunities their municipal governments are pursuing.

The local economy took top priority as each South Hampton Roads city mayor voiced his or her opinion on what industry supports its tax-base. Mayor Linda Johnson of Suffolk, calls her hometown the coffee and tea capitol of the world. Suffolk is home to many caffeinated beverage companies, and employers take advantage of the land available in Suffolk. Next-door, Chesapeake is looking to lease its land to bigger businesses too. Mayer Alan Krasnoff of Chesapeake, says his government is concentrating on the southern, rural area of the city, planning to attract what he calls a “mega-site.” He plugged his city’s online services as a gateway to the venture.

“With our eBuild system, you can get every permit you ever wanted online,” said Krasnoff. “The city is open 24/7, no matter where you are, Europe, South America – you can do business without ever visiting our City Hall in person.”

Mayor William Sessoms, of Virginia Beach, boasted the housing of a major fiber-optic line going through its Corporate Landing area. That’s where Sessoms wants to attract and place biomedical companies. He hopes Virginia Beach’s universities, hospitals, and focus on technology will attract such companies to the area which already benefits from a strong defense, tourism and agricultural economy. He says much money is being spent in the biomedical field, and Virginia needs to step up-to-the-plate and attract this sort of innovative business.

Portsmouth, a city more than 200 years old, says innovation is the key to its future. Mayor Kenneth Wright focused his message on replacing city infrastructure. He argued a long-term investment will bring long-term savings for his residents. He says his city has come along way by investing in a recycling program that is now ranked top in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to Wright. He says the city is now performing a major overhaul to its water works.

Sessoms prided his community on its safety and good school systems. He and the other mayors agreed that collaboration was the key to creating a strong South Hampton Roads, and Johnson says the area already has a reputation for working together. Paul Fraim, Norfolk mayor, was unable to attend the Town Hall due to an emergency meeting.