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Henrico hosts small business town hall

Romanello gives remarks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Anthony J. Romanello, Executive Director of Henrico Economic Development Authority, gives remarks during Henrico’s annual State of the County address on Thursday, November 16, 2023 in Henrico, Virginia.

County leaders spoke to local business owners about their biggest challenges.

Henrico County officials hosted a town hall for local business leaders to provide an opportunity for companies to discuss how local governments can contribute to their growth and success.

Thursday’s event at Hermitage High School's Advanced Career Education Center featured comments from County Manager John Vithoulkas alongside Anthony Romanello, executive director of Henrico’s EDA.

The pair spoke to local business owners about their biggest challenges, asked about their concerns and answered how the county can best support individual companies.

County leaders were joined by business professionals from InUnison, an independent business collaborative. Formerly known as the Retail Merchants Association, the company provides local businesses with data and resources to enhance their success.

“At InUnison, we recognize the opportunities and challenges these businesses face, and focus on offering the resources that will help them succeed,” InUnison President & CEO Nancy Thomas said in a statement. “Local businesses serve as engines of employment, provide meaningful work, shape our communities, and enrich our lives.”

InUnison developed a survey as a tool to measure the performance of independent businesses in the Richmond region.

The second annual State of Local report was conducted between Feb. 14 and March 15 with 120 individual businesses based in Richmond, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Powhatan and Henrico.

The data reveals that 77% of respondents reported a growth in revenue over the past six to 12 months for an estimated collective total of more than $192 million in revenue. And 80% of surveyed businesses ended 2023 at a profit or break-even point: 61% ended the year profitable, and at least 19% broke even by the end of last year.

Other notable findings from the report included companies' concerns regarding the overall economy. The majority or 47% expressed concern about inflation, followed by 23% revenue expectations. Others cited worries about the cost of labor and tax issues, the report states.

Romanello said this information helps the county better understand the day-to-day outlook of local business owners as Henrico explores methods to further its economic growth.

“I think the business environment here is really about thriving, it's about helping businesses succeed and even just events like this, where we take a couple hours out of a weekday to sit down with our small business community,” Romanello said. “They're telling us to try to make things even stronger.

As Romanello said, while the statistics tell a great story about the county, opportunities like Thursday’s forum reveal more than just numbers.

“The world economy, America's economy is strong, but there's some real challenges out there with commodity costs with interest rates,” Romanello said. “We want to hear what's on people's minds to see if there's things that we can do to make business be successful.”

Henrico has already taken steps toward strengthening its resources for local business, by expanding the county’s enterprise zone at an April 23 board of supervisors meeting.

The county plans to reclassify around 166 acres of residential developments and government-owned property. It also plans to add 194 acres to an area identified by the state for business development and job growth.

The Enterprise Zone, created in 2003, is currently 3,793 acres. Businesses within the Enterprise Zone can take advantage of state and county financial aid.

Over the past three years, Henrico businesses have received more than $8.6 million in direct financial benefits, thanks in part to the Henrico County Enterprise Zone.

The board of supervisors also introduced an ordinance that would affect local business license taxes: If passed, businesses earning between $500,000 and $1,000,000 would not have to pay license taxes.

The board will vote on the proposal during its May 28 meeting.

Editor’s note: InUnison, which conducted the survey, is a VPM sponsor.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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