MECHANICSVILLE -- “We’re right where we want to be -- on target” were the words County Administrator Rhu Harris used to describe the current state of Hanover County.
Harris was joined last week by Economic Director Linwood Thomas at the annual State of the County breakfast held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch plant in Mechanicsville and hosted by ChamberRVA and the Hanover Chamber of Commerce.
Harris pointed to increased sales tax revenues, steady job growth, and increase in average home sale prices as continuing factors driving a healthy county economy.
Harris said it all points to above average residential growth witnessed by the numerous developments like Taylor Farm, Stony Run, Rutland Grove, and Cambridge Square.
Harris said the positive activity means more jobs and higher wages.
The county administrator said revenues came in at 1.8 percent over budget while expenditures were down 3.6 percent from budget projections. In addition, Hanover County Public Schools returned almost $4 million in unused funds.
Harris said that money will go toward funding a continuing technology program and purchase new buses for the school system. “We have a school system that is second to none,” he said.
That prudent budget, coupled with solid economic indicators, is only part of the good news, according to Harris.
A $1.4 million federal grant recently approved by the Hanover County Board of Supervisors will allow the county to place 12 new firefighters in the Mechanicsville area, the busiest station in the system. Harris said the station answered 4,200 calls last year.
“We’ll be able to double our workforce there,” Harris said.
Hanover’s Emergency Communications Department is the first in Virginia to be certified in all three protocols, Fire, EMS and Sheriff, one of only 15 such designated agencies in the U.S. “We’re showing others the way,” Harris said.
The Sheriff’s Office recorded the lowest crime rate since 1975.
Harris said Human Services are meeting the needs of an additional 1,700 clients due to Medicaid Expansion, and same day access has meant more prompt and more immediate service for those served.
“Wait times have been reduced by 80 percent,” Harris told the assembly of local business leaders, elected and appointed officials, and interested citizens.
Regarding infrastructure, Harris pointed to projects like the new Atlee Library, numerous improvements at the airport, including a new terminal building, and scheduled road projects like Sliding Hill and Pole Green widening and continued improvements along U.S. 360.
Harris said the recent formation of a Broadband Committee will search for solutions regarding internet access in far eastern and western portions of the county. Officials have partnered with Comcast to apply for state money to begin some of those upgrades that will supply reliable internet service to about 270 businesses and residents.
It all adds up to a county that has plenty to offer to those who live in Hanover, do business, or just visit.
Harris summed it up by pointing out key factors highlighting this year’s State of the County position.
He pointed to the best schools in the area with all schools fully accredited, the safest community in the metro area, the lowest real estate tax, and a flourishing business community.
He also noted that Hanover County maintains a AAA bond rating, one of only 70 counties in the U.S to boast that designation.
Harris said a team approach and working partnerships are key factors in the county’s success and described the county’s future as prosperous.
“You guys are making the difference every day,” he told the audience.
Thomas said the county continues to attract new business and create jobs, more than 2,200 of them last year. “We have a great story to tell,” he said.
More than 50 businesses announced intentions to locate in Hanover last year, and 11 existing companies announced expansion projects.
Thomas said the county continues to improve its tier-ready project sites to increase product for potential businesses or companies to build.
His department continues to reach out to those existing businesses through visits and surveys and more than 130 of them were visited last year.
He also pointed to a legacy program that recognized businesses with 50 years or more of service in the county, many of them family farms.
Thomas said a new website that features Google Translate is “more in line with our mission” and will allow the message to be interpreted and viewed globally.
Thomas said those economic development efforts would continue and the project pipeline is “robust”. Two new state agencies are relocating to Hanover, and efforts to improve site readiness and availability also will continue,.
His department also will revise its five-year strategic plan in the coming months.
Finally, Thomas said Hanover’s 2.4 percent unemployment rate reflects a robust economy that means jobs for Hanover County citizens. “Everybody in Hanover County who wants a job, has a job in Hanover County.”