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Economic trends in Danville are encouraging despite the slow recovery from the global recession, said Danville Vice Mayor Dr. Gary Miller during a “State of the City” address on Wednesday at a meeting hosted by the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce.
Miller cited an unemployment rate that is 1.5 percentage points lower than a year ago. Sales, meals and hotel/motel tax revenues are trending toward pre-recession levels. Building permits and business license applications continue to lag but are gradually increasing.
“The city is trying to do everything possible to make Danville a great place to do business,” Miller said. “We want existing businesses to prosper and grow, and we are working hard to recruit new businesses to the area.”
However, Miller cautioned that these trends do not mean the next budget process will be any easier than the last.
“The economic recession has reduced tax revenues, and state and federal cutbacks have shifted financial burdens for providing mandated services to local governments like ours. We are going to need the entire community’s involvement in working through another tough budget year.”
To retain residents and attract newcomers, Miller said the city must sustain efforts to provide family-wage jobs, as well as the right mix of city and public school services, facilities and amenities while maintaining affordable taxes, fees and utility rates.
“We must make Danville a city not only with a proud history, but also a great place to be now and a place with a very bright future,” Miller said. “In my role as vice mayor and longtime resident, I’m very aware that Danville is a small city with some big city problems. We have to address these challenges.”
Miller said the city continues to partner with Pittsylvania County and the commonwealth of Virginia and organizations such as the Virginia Tobacco Commission, Danville Regional Foundation, Chamber of Commerce and Danville Industrial Development Authority.
“We’re very excited to hear of Danville Regional Foundation’s $10 million entrepreneurship initiative,” Miller said. “This will help attract and keep entrepreneurs who will create multiple businesses over time, hiring highly skilled, high wage employees.”
Miller also said the city takes “great pride” in the developments taking place in the River District.
“By no means are we neglecting other areas of the city, but we are convinced that the road we must travel to recover from Danville’s decline runs right through the River District. When this area succeeds, it will pull up other businesses, restaurants and hotels as visitors are attracted to seek out Danville for a day or weekend trip. Communities that are experiencing rebirth have strong downtowns.”
The River District strategy has won awards from the Virginia Economic Development Council and the Southern Economic Development Council.
“People from other communities are now coming to Danville to see what is possible in transformative downtown revitalization,” Miller said. “We are paving the way as we set an example for others.”
Miller noted there are nearly 40 different businesses flourishing in the River District. “More are coming,” he said. “This is strengthening Danville’s position as a regional shopping hub.”
He also pointed to the removal of the former Downtowner Motor Inn, renovation plans for the former Dan River Research building, and the opening of Averett University’s Riverview campus on Bridge Street.
“Just yesterday, I participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony opening the Averett Health Sciences Innovative Practice Center there. What an exciting addition to the River District! It is a first class facility, and the medical simulation center is state of the art.”
Nearby, the Danville Science Center soon will begin construction of a large format screen theater. “This will bring more exciting educational and entertainment activity to the Crossing at the Dan,” Miller said.
Construction of municipal streetscape improvements on Main Street will begin after Labor Day. In addition, the city hopes by the end of the year to break ground on a new fire station and 9-1-1 communications center on Lynn Street at the site of the old Danville Lumber and Manufacturing Co.
Outside the River District, Miller noted several economic development accomplishments in the past year, including U.S. Green Energy’s construction of its new plant at Cane Creek Industrial Park, EIT opening its new building in the Cyber Park, GSO Aviation opening a new facility in the Airside Industrial Park, and expansions by Canadian Bank Notes, Jarrett Welding and Nestle.
“If you haven’t noticed, forces of globalization that a decade ago ravaged Danville’s traditional industries are now fueling our economic transformation,” Miller said. “We have a dozen internationally based companies here providing nearly 3,000 jobs for area residents. We are proud of our international companies, and I can tell you more are seriously looking at this area because we are so friendly to foreign investors.”
The city’s new industrial prospects these days are more likely to be from Asia or Europe, he said.
“We are delighted that Danville is on the world map and we are learning to say in a dozen different languages, ‘Invest here, Danville is open for business!’”
Miller mentioned several municipal government highlights, including the continued expansion of the city’s fiber optic broadband network, the creation of the Safe and Sound Neighborhoods program, and greater effort at eradicating blight from neighborhood and commercial districts.
“We have tried to make open and transparent decisions a key part of the way we conduct municipal business,” Miller said. “We hope you can see that in the way we have undertaken planning for the River District and in our budgeting process. We want an informed and engaged citizenry and are using all the tools available to us, including everything from a great website full of information and use of social media to televised City Council meetings.”
He called on citizens to support local businesses and to work with the city for the common good.
“The state of the city is sound. We know what our challenges are. We understand our responsibilities. We see the possibilities. And with your help we are going to build a great future for this community.”