IOW sees improvement from last year

Published 10:21 am Friday, November 15, 2013

Richard Holland Jr., left, Mark Hall and Jo Ann Hall, chairwoman of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors, talk at the IOW State of the County Breakfast on Thursday in Smithfield. -- STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

Richard Holland Jr., left, Mark Hall and Jo Ann Hall, chairwoman of the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors, talk at the IOW State of the County Breakfast on Thursday in Smithfield. — STEPHEN H. COWLES | TIDEWATER NEWS

SMITHFIELD—The speakers at the Isle of Wight State of the County Breakfast on Thursday had mostly positive words of encouragement.

“We’re noticing the business economy is improving, but it’s a slow process,” said Lori Leib, chairwoman of the Board of Directors for the Isle of Wight-Smithfield-Windsor Chamber of Commerce.

Windsor Mayor Carita Richardson, for one, said her town is making progress.

“Windsor is growing, thriving and very busy. We have great residences, businesses and civic organizations,” she said.

Richardson said she and fellow leaders on council and departments are working on a new comprehensive plan for how Windsor can grow effectively.

“We’ve lots of great ideas,” she added.

A few weeks ago the town’s law enforcement recently moved into its new station down the road.

“We have a great police department,” said Richardson. “We are very blessed to have the police force.”

In addition to planning for Windsor’s growth, the mayor noted a few of the available activities and events, such as the Fourth of July celebration – “a real community event for all ages,” – and the day-long holiday celebration starting with a parade on Saturday, Dec. 7.

Smithfield Police Chief Steve Bowman is overall pleased with the state of law and order in the county.

“Law enforcement is very good, but not yet perfect,” he said.

Bowman added that he was pleased of the cooperation by the agencies within the county, which he said have pledged to work together and have kept that promise.

“We’ve had wonderful support by the community,” said Bowman. “Mere numbers don’t tell the whole story.”

When he sees happy children and families out at Halloween, Christmas and National Night Out, that’s what gives him satisfaction.

Isle of Wight County schools were represented this year by Laura Abel, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and administration.

The school system continues to strive toward excellence in the 21st century, she said, but acknowledged, “it’s a difficult time in education.”

Abel attributed this to the fast pace of change in the field, and to keep up requires the following:

“We have to be agile…we have to be adaptable…and be innovative. We really believe every child has to have the opportunity to meet success,” she said. “We’re preparing not just students, but also citizens and having careers. It is a big challenge.”

Speaking to business leaders in the audience, Abel said the IWCS wants to provide them with “positive workers and leaders in the 21st century.”

She also gave a shout out to Carrsville Elementary School, which in late September was named a National Blue Ribbon School.

“The littlest can be the mightiest,” said Abel.

Board of Supervisor Chairwoman Jo Ann Hall called Isle of Wight County “the best place to live and raise families.”

Recognizing the past four years have been difficult for the county, she quickly noted, “There are signs of improvement everywhere,” such as 16 new small businesses this year. Hall added that maintaining existing businesses is just as important as new ones. Further, she cited the presence of Franklin Lumber and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in the southern end of the county.

“We’re still hopeful about the new 460 [highway],” said Hall. “It’s vital to our Shirley Holland Modal Park.”

Housing is trending upward, she said, with 39 building permits issued from July through September, compared to 30 in 2012 and 20 in 2011. The money generated from the permits has been $8.5 million so far, compared to $5.6 million in 2012 and $3.8 million in 2011.

The county’s bond rating got an upgrade from AA- to AA, “which shows some people have faith in us,” said Hall.

Tourism for the county was also up, and yielded 15,000-plus guests and $36.3 million.

“There are so many good things, and as the recession fades,” she said. “I feel confident big things will happen.”

After the event, County Commissioner of Revenue Gerald Gwaltney said he’s also noticed the county’s economic health has been improving and affirmed Hall’s perspective.

“We’re definitely up in building permits,” he said, and added, “We do have Green Mountain Coffee Roasters starting to pick up their numbers. That continues to grow and expand, and in addition will produce additional consumer spending.”

The impact of the sale of Smithfield Foods to the Chinese is “yet to be seen,” Gwaltney said. “In next few years we’ll see how it will affect the county.”