Mayor Sherman Saunders told area business leaders on Tuesday that the region is growing stronger because the spirit of reinvention is at work. Going forward, the region must continue to adapt to changes and challenges, he said.
Saunders’ comments came at a “State of the Region” address coordinated by the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce and hosted by the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
“To do better, we must continue to adapt to changes and challenges that come our way,” Saunders said. “We must continue to step back from a situation or an established way of doing things and ask, “Is there a better way? Let’s reimagine this.”
This spirit of reinvention is at work in this region, he said, and “it is yielding big results.”
Saunders cited several examples, with the most recent being the Danville Regional Foundation’s announcement a few weeks ago of a $10 million investment in Watershed Ventures. This real estate investment firm will focus on redeveloping underutilized, long empty and dilapidated structures in the River District.
He recalled the earlier announcement of the Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining being established on the campus of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. “I was happy to join Gov. Terry McAuliffe and other state and local leaders three months ago in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center, which the governor that day called one that ‘truly helps us go leaps and bounds above anybody else,’" Saunders said.
He also said the spirit of reinvention led to the Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness being established at Averett University. This center allows students to learn from firsthand experiences in the community, bringing their liberal arts education to life both inside and outside the classroom.
“These initiatives are game-changing investments for our region, and we are thankful for the partnerships that were formed, the frameworks built and the seeding provided to make them happen,” Saunders said.
The spirit of reinvention also is guiding the City of Danville.
“Earlier this year, we launched a redesign of our website – danvilleva.gov,” Saunders said. “The new design vividly showcases images of the city, accommodates screens of all sizes and provides citizens with access to many types of data in a way never before available. It takes government transparency to a new level. That is the spirit of reinvention at work.”
He cited the international accreditation for excellence received in March for the Fire Department. “To become accredited, we invited the most intense scrutiny available,” Saunders said. “The standards are high. Few departments achieve accreditation, so what this means is that we are among the best of the best. That is the spirit that drives Danville.”
He also mentioned the Police Department’s efforts to equip all officers with body-worn cameras, and the department’s move to a scientific-based system of analyzing crime and traffic data to determine the most effective methods for deploying law enforcement and other resources.
Redevelopment in the River District continues, and strides have been made in blight eradication and development of industrial parks.
“We believe the changes are transformative,” Saunders said. “On May 1, with the generous assistance of the Danville Regional Foundation, we publicly unveiled a new brand identity for the River District to capture the spirit of the changes taking place and to send a clear message within and outside the Danville community about what makes the district special.
“The brand identity uses the credo ‘Reimagine That’ for the way things work today in Danville. Our message is clear, ‘the status quo is a no go.’ This same spirit also is at work throughout Danville and the region as a whole.”
Saunders honored City Manager Joe King for his service to the region. King is retiring as city manager on Nov. 30.
During King’s tenure, the City has received state and regional honors for the River District and other projects. Greater financial stability and increased government transparency also are highlights of King's tenure.
Saunders noted the recent upgrade in the City’s bond rating, the growth in local sales and meals taxes and the decline in the city’s unemployment rate.
“More evidence of fiscal discipline is our continued ability to maintain the right mix of municipal services and facilities without increasing tax rates and fees,” Saunders said. “This reflects the City’s seriousness about financial stewardship.”
He concluded his address by challenging business leaders to continue to learn from others, build frameworks, work together as partners and plant seeds.
“If we do, we will be prepared to adapt to any change and challenge – to reimagine a better home for our children and ourselves,” Saunders said.
The Chamber of Commerce coordinates an annual “State of the Region” address. Brenda Bowman, chairwoman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors also addressed area business leaders on Tuesday.