Chamber of Commerce explores the State of the Community: Charlottesville edition
On February 18, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce held its first ever State of the Community event with speakers from Albemarle County, Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia. Elizabeth Cromwell is the president and chief executive officer of the Chamber.
“These institutional anchors are responsible economic development decisions that affect all of us in our businesses,” Cromwell said.
Cromwell said the Chamber’s mission is to strengthen the business community, and the purpose of the event was to move forward on that pathway.
“Our goal is to engage our business stakeholders with the institutions that have crucial oversight and the ability to leverage opportunities for regional economic prosperity,” Cromwell said.
The event was also the first ever held in the auditorium at the new CODE building on the Downtown Mall.
“It’s hard to believe that this space used to be an ice park just a few years ago,” said Chris Engel, the city’s director of economic development. “As an economic developer, I think about the built environment and changes to it and watching cities evolve and change all of the time. Going back a little further, this space was a parking lot in 1995. And then it served as a community ice park for more than 20 years. And then it has obviously transitioned again.”
Engel said the city has changed a lot over the years as well, including a string of city managers in the past four years. Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers represented city leadership at the event.
“I have been in local government and the private sector over my career for more than 30 years,” Rogers said. “I have had the fortune of working for some very complex organization which means that I have been in the midst of dealing with some very complex and challenging problems in the public sector.”
Rogers said he enjoys being part of the solutions of helping organizations in conflict through strategic planning as well analyzing the values to see if they are oriented toward success.
“I look at things that are not doing well and try to figure out how we can do this better for the people that we’re supposed to do it for,” Rogers said. “And in the public sector, that’s the citizens of the community that you serve.”
Rogers said there has been instability in the city’s bureaucracy because of the turnover at the top position, and one of his first goals is to help reverse the trend. He acknowledges that morale has been low.
“The other priority is working with the staff to return to boring government,” Rogers said. “I think that no-drama government that’s focused on bottom-line problem solving is one that can deliver effective services to the citizens of this community.”
There are currently two deputy city managers in Charlottesville, and Ashley Marshall has been the deputy for Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion since last May. She comes from a family whose members have served in local government.
“Local government has the opportunity [and] it has the honor of making someone’s day better,” Marshall said. “We have the chance to dig in to our communities and to really focus on their needs, what we can help, what we can provide, who we can lift because all boats rise together.”
Sam Sanders has been the Deputy City Manager for Operations since last July after working for a community revitalization nonprofit in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He called himself a disruptor.
“I disrupt the status quo,” Sanders said. “It is not my friend and I have made it a mission to do my best to help people see that we don’t just have to do it that way if that way doesn’t get us to where we want to go.”
Sanders said he believes it is possible to help Charlottesville overcome its problems and that can be done by making sure the basics of government are functioning.
“We need to pick up the trash, we need to make sure the water flows, we need to make sure the buses are running, that we get snow off the ground, and that the basics of the community environment are adhered to and that the parks are clean, available, and accessible,” Sanders said.
Sanders said the city also needs to ensure that it can respond when major projects are underway at the University of Virginia. That will take process reform in the Neighborhood Development Services Department.
“And I want to make sure that we also are doing the same level of collaborative work for the everyday citizen that is trying to come in and make something happen,” Sanders said.
I’ll have more from the State of the Community Event in a future installment of Charlottesville Community
Watch the event on the Chamber’s website at cvillechamber.org.
Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the March 8, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.