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Henrico County reflects on “bold action” at State of the County address

By building two high schools simultaneously, acquiring 1,200 acres on the James River and pursuing an indoor sports complex, Henrico County shows it’s willing to make bold moves to ensure the community’s success, County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said during his State of the County address for 2019.

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By building two high schools simultaneously, acquiring 1,200 acres on the James River and pursuing an indoor sports complex, Henrico County shows it’s willing to make bold moves to ensure the community’s success, County Manager John A. Vithoulkas said during his State of the County address for 2019.

Speaking Wednesday to about 300 business and community leaders at the Short Pump Hilton, Vithoulkas highlighted a series of “moon shots” — projects, initiatives, and other accomplishments — from the past year.

He recalled President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 challenge to the nation to put a man on the moon — “not because it was easy — but because it was hard.”

“What President Kennedy said — and what our Board [of Supervisors] has focused on — is the simple notion of a moment in time,” Vithoulkas said. “What will we do with our moment in time? That is all we have and all that matters. What will we do?

“The thought can be exhilarating or terrifying,” he added. “In Henrico, we choose to be unafraid. In a figurative sense, we choose to go to the moon.”

With that mindset and a commitment to collaboration and engagement that extends from elected officials and employees to the community, anything is possible, Vithoulkas said. Accomplishments cited from the past year include:

  • The start of construction on a new J.R. Tucker High School and a new Highland Springs High School and a plan to expand Holladay Elementary School;
  • The acquisition of 1,200 acres at Wilton Farm for future uses, such as recreation, schools, economic development and a history museum;
  • A thriving tourism program, with sports tourism at county facilities generating more than $66 million in visitor spending during the year — a 23% increase from 2018;
  • Development of an indoor sports and convocation center at Virginia Center Commons for tournaments and other events, including high school graduations;
  • A commitment to fiscal discipline that has allowed the county to maintain its triple AAA bond ratings and healthy cash reserves and to reduce — but not increase — the real estate tax rate for 41 consecutive years;
  • The installation of solar panels atop the Henrico Area Mental Health & Development Services East Center and the Libbie Mill Library at no cost to taxpayers — an effort being extended to four additional buildings;
  • A strategy to promote growth and investment by reducing BPOL (business, professional and occupational license) taxes. As a result, 14,000 businesses — 75% of all licensable businesses — will be exempt from BPOL taxes, beginning next year;
  • Private investment at White Oak Technology Park, where Facebook is building a $1.5 billion data center and QTS has submitted plans for a project on a similar scale;
  • Development and redevelopment throughout the county, including at Westwood, Libbie Mill, Regency, Rocketts Landing, Fulton Yard and Innsbrook;
  • Partnerships with community groups to develop two swimming facilities, on North Laburnum Avenue and at Regency;
  • Economic development announcements representing capital investments of more than $131 million and about 500,000 square feet of space as well as more than 1,800 jobs with annual wages of $115 million;
  • Strong public support for education, including for school operations and facilities as well as teachers and staff;
  • A focus on housing and neighborhood revitalization that has secured improvements to about 1,000 subsidized apartment units at no cost to county taxpayers; and
  • A thriving Richmond International Airport with nearly 4.3 million passengers — an all-time high.

Vithoulkas credited the Board of Supervisors for being able to advocate for their districts and the county overall and for unifying “behind a goal of absolute excellence and service for our residents and businesses.”

He cited the county’s diversity as a strength and noted how officials joined the Henrico branch of the NAACP in condemning KKK flyers that were distributed to homes in late summer.

“A welcoming community is a thriving community,” he said. “It attracts a great workforce and great companies. It teaches a love of our fellow man that can guide everything we do — if we open our hearts to it. Our employees are in public service for a reason. They are wired to be givers.”

He highlighted Police Officer Brendan Kelly, who noticed a Sandston resident and stroke survivor was struggling to maintain her property. After working an overnight shift, Kelly “took it upon himself to cut down small trees, pull weeds and mow overgrown grass,” Vithoulkas said. “He’s still doing it.”

As a community, Henrico has plenty of work ahead of it, Vithoulkas said, “but knowing the human capital — the heart — that we have at our disposal, we could not be in a stronger position to succeed.”

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City of Richmond announces Small Business Disaster Loan Program

The Richmond Economic Development Authority on Thursday created the Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan Program (COVID-19), which will offer interest-free emergency loans of up to $20,000 to small businesses within city limits.

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The Richmond Economic Development Authority on Thursday created the Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan Program (COVID-19), which will offer interest-free emergency loans of up to $20,000 to small businesses within city limits.

The program is intended to provide relief to small businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Monies will go toward paying employee wages, empowering local, small businesses to continue operating and keep employees on their payroll.

“Small businesses have made Richmond the thriving cultural capital we love,” said Mayor Stoney. “They’ve been understanding, patient and selfless in adapting to the recent social distancing guidance, no matter the economic consequences for them. This loan program is one way we can help provide some relief and support in this tough time.”

The maximum loan amount for the program is six months of current employee wages or $20,000, whichever is less. Loan payments will be disbursed over six months.

Repayment of the loans will be deferred for six months, followed by 48 months of no-interest payments.

Small businesses interested in applying should fill out the application and provide the required documentation via email. The application will be available starting Monday, April 6.

Funding is limited. Applications will be considered in the order they are submitted.

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Ardent Craft Ales launches food bank for restaurant workers affected by closures, reduced hours

“The restaurant industry has been decimated by the COVID-19 virus and the country’s need to close or restrict public gathering spaces. We want to do our part to help the thousands of restaurant workers in Richmond and the surrounding area who have been laid-off, furloughed or are suffering from reduced hours,” said Tom Sullivan, Ardent’s co-founder.

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Ardent Craft Ales is teaming up with SyscoThe Holli Fund, and Digital Minerva to launch Ardent Helps, a food bank resource inspired by Harrisonburg-based Pale Fire Brewery to support restaurant workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

The food bank will start taking orders on Monday, March 30. All orders must be placed online at www.ardenthelpsrva.com. Orders will be packed and made available for pick up the next business day between 2-8 p.m. at Ardent Craft Ales’ taproom at 3200 West Leigh Street in Scott’s Addition. Orders may be placed seven days a week, with pick-up times scheduled during our operating hours of 2-8pm on Tuesday-Sunday.

“The restaurant industry has been decimated by the COVID-19 virus and the country’s need to close or restrict public gathering spaces. We want to do our part to help the thousands of restaurant workers in Richmond and the surrounding area who have been laid-off, furloughed or are suffering from reduced hours,” said Tom Sullivan, Ardent’s co-founder. “Pale Fire’s popup food bank concept connected with our brewery and community and we’re honored to be able to help the Richmond service industry.”

The Ardent Helps food bank will only be available to restaurant industry workers. However, it is not limited to Richmond residents, and all restaurant workers are welcome to place orders and pick up goods. Participants are asked to avoid stockpiling and take only what they immediately need. The program will last as long as it can safely continue to operate and donated items are available. Responsible sanitation and social distancing measures will be followed at all times.

A variety of perishable and non-perishable items donated by Sysco will be available. Ardent is also accepting both shelf-stable food donations to support this program and monetary donations to directly benefit affected restaurant workers via grants from The Holli Fund.

There is no cost to participate in Ardent Helps. Participants are asked to show their most recent pay stub to confirm eligibility upon pick up. Ardent’s taproom will remain open to the general public for to-go beer and merchandise purchases.

Learn more about the program at www.ardenthelpsrva.com.

Ardent Helps. Photo courtesy Ardent Craft Ales

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Bon Secours furloughs employees not directly associated with COVID-19 response

“Our most recent projections show sustained operating losses of greater than $100 million per month under the current circumstances,” CEO John Starcher stated in a letter to employees Tuesday.

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Bon Secours Mercy Health is furloughing all of its staff not working directly on the COVID-19 response efforts, it was announced on Tuesday. In a letter to employees, CEO John Starcher outlined the nonprofit’s current struggles and plan to reduce costs for the foreseeable future.

It reads, in full:

Like our foundresses before us, we’re answering a call to serve in a time of great need, when resources are scarce and entire communities are relying upon us. Our frontline caregivers are serving with compassion, professionalism and courage as we care for seriously ill and dying patients. While we have hope that effective treatments and vaccines will be developed for COVID-19, they won’t be available in the foreseeable future. Our responsibility is clear: as the virus continues to spread, Bon Secours Mercy Health (BSMH) must ensure that necessary care givers, support medical services and resources are available for the patients and residents who need our life-saving care.

With elective procedures and services canceled and unanticipated expenditures being directed to COVID-19 response activities, we’re facing hard decisions over the short term. Our resources – people, supplies and finances – must be dedicated specifically to responding to COVID-19. For that reason, associates who are not directly supporting COVID-19 response activities will be placed on furlough, a temporary layoff from work. For that reason, we’re taking three key steps today.

First, we’re implementing a hiring freeze for all non-critical care delivery positions, effective immediately. Second, wage increases are frozen, effective immediately. Third, associates who are not directly supporting COVID-19 response activities will be placed on furlough, a temporary layoff from work.

I appreciate the difficulty this action places upon thousands of our associates and their families. Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 is unprecedented for all health systems. Even though we were financially strong entering this crisis and are in a better position than many other health systems, our response to this pandemic has placed a tremendous financial burden on our ministry’s resources. Our most recent projections show sustained operating losses of greater than $100 million per month under the current circumstances.

While we’re actively working to model and anticipate the length of this crisis, we cannot accurately predict the duration of the pandemic. At this point, we can only learn from other countries that began seeing infection rates mere weeks before us. If we’re to ensure we can support the clinicians and provide resources necessary to care for pandemic victims – we cannot simply hope things will change, and we cannot wish the timing would be different – action must be taken now. That’s why some BSMH associates will be furloughed, and that’s why it’s happening quickly.

Here is high-level information about the furlough: affected associates will be paid for working through April 3, and then available PTO hours will be paid until depleted. Once all payments from BSMH stop, associates are eligible for recently enhanced state unemployment pay. In addition, the Bon Secours Mercy Health Foundation has generously donated $60 million to the BSMH Associate Hardship Fund, which will help associates facing serious financial challenges. Full details about the furlough process, including an extensive FAQ to help answer questions you may have, are available on the intranet.

This is a challenging time for everyone … for those working tirelessly at the bedside, for our health professionals and support staff fighting COVID-19 and those associates who will be furloughed. It is a time of fear and anxiety for people around the world as we pray for effective treatments and vaccines to stop the spread of COVID-19. Please safeguard your health over the coming weeks and months. While we may not be able to visit in person with colleagues, friends, and family, never has it been more important to stay connected with others.

I’m thankful for you and all we’ve achieved together. Our ministry’s response to COVID-19 has been outstanding. Rest assured that even as we deal with the unique challenges confronting us, we’re adding to the knowledge and experience that positions Bon Secours Mercy Health as a leader in health care strategy and delivery. We will come out of this crisis an improved organization, positioning ourselves for an even brighter future.

I look forward to when we’re able to come back together as a ministry, reflect on our learnings and begin to write the next chapter that will help define our proud legacy for generations to come.

May God bless you and keep you and your loved ones safe.

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