Josh Moenning had four things in mind for Norfolk when he campaigned and ultimately won the race for mayor in 2016.
Those goals were to grow the city’s economy, increase quality of life in Norfolk, improve city services and develop infrastructure. And he said recently he has seen progress in all four areas, with plans to continue the positive momentum in the next four years.
Moenning is running for a second term and is assured to win as he is the only candidate on the ballot.
For his goal of economic growth, many things were necessary to accomplish that. Moenning said there has been a boom in construction, with new housing developments, refurbished roads and expanding businesses.
Housing ‘not slowing down’
Housing in particular is important to a growing city.
“There’s been more than 700 units permitted (for construction) in recent years,” he said. “That was a big need. We needed more housing options in the community. And I’m encouraged there’s no real indication that it’s slowing down. There’s hundreds more planned in future phases.”
One way to measure economic growth is through sales tax receipts, which Moenning said have been going up consistently.
“(Sales tax receipts) demonstrate how much money people are spending and investing in our community, and our sales tax receipts last year was a record high,” he said.
Even in the middle of a pandemic, sales tax receipts are even higher than last year.
“There’s confidence among people to invest in our future,” he said.
Major industries, including health care and banking, have expanded recently, with new facilities opening, and new small businesses have started and moved to Norfolk, such as the first two tenants at Bradford Business Park, under construction in western Norfolk. Investments in clean energy also have paid dividends for Norfolk, Moenning said.
Expanding the economy wouldn’t have been possible without expanding public infrastructure, another goal for Moenning in his first term.
“A lot of these construction activities were made possible by having the right infrastructure in place to accommodate them,” he said. “We placed a new focus on expanding utilities to accommodate housing and business growth.”
Backlog of road projects
Improving the city’s roads was also a priority.
“That’s been a major focus, and there’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “There’s a backlog of projects.”
Along with reconstructing major streets, such as Braasch Avenue and Benjamin Avenue, the city is utilizing new construction and engineering techniques to increase the lifespan of roads throughout the community.
“We put more resources into street construction and maintenance than we ever have in Norfolk before,” he said. “And I don’t want that to stop, I want that to continue. We need to catch up to the needs we have currently.”
‘Little steps’ made
Improving quality of life covers many different areas, Moenning said. Among those include bringing fiber internet to the city, which he said was a game changer for residents and businesses.
“Having that telecommunications infrastructure is especially important now, when anyone can do almost any kind of work,” he said.
Trails have been expanded and new parks such as the new skate park and River Point Square have been built or are under construction.
And one of the most ambitious projects, a restoration of the riverfront and downtown, is still underway. That project, he said, will make the area safer and more accessible for recreation and private redevelopment in the area.
Moenning said improving quality of life often takes a lot of little steps.
“Some are little steps leading into the broader goal of enhancing quality of life,” he said. “Creating an environment that’s unique compared to any other part of the state.”
The fourth major goal was improving city services.
Moenning said that meant improving efficiency in how public services are carried out.
For example, he said, snow removal was changed into a 24-hour staggered shift system, a new department of planning and development was created to give builders and developers a more streamlined system under one roof, and a new city website was launched.
“We’ve done some things to reform practices to become more efficient and provide better services to citizens,” he said.
Flood, COVID challenges
Moenning also faced two of the biggest challenges Norfolk has seen in recent memory: the flooding in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic this year.
Moenning said that while a third of the city’s population was forced to flee during the floods, Norfolk was spared from devastation seen in other communities.
“That was thanks to the wisdom and prudence of our city forefathers,” he said. “It was a tremendous threat to our people, and they wisely invested in flood control.”
He said that among his goals for the next term would be to continue to invest in flood control and the levee.
“We need to expand it where it needs expanded and be prepared for these climate realities,” he said.
The pandemic is still ongoing, and while Norfolk has appeared to move past the worst of it, mitigating and recovering from the pandemic will be a major task in Moenning’s next term.
“There was a shock to the system brought about by the pandemic,” he said. “Being able to engage in community life while staying vigilant about our personal health and the health of our neighbors will be important, especially over the next few months.”
Moenning said continuing to improve on his initial four goals will be a part of his next terms, and infrastructure development in particular is still much-needed, including the connecting of four-lane highways to Norfolk.
“There’s a lot of remaining work to do to get our infrastructure up to the level of a first-class city,” he said. “I think we built a foundation to get there; now it’s about making sure there’s resources designated year to year and smart management of those resources to get streets to a condition we can all be proud of.”
The top goal, he said, is to grow Norfolk.
“Growing the city is the number one goal for the next four years,” he said. “Building something special and unique here. And if we do that, we can achieve our goal of retaining and growing our population.”
Moenning said he thinks his terms as mayor could be best defined by the amount of time, effort and pride that citizens have invested in the community.
“Just driving around town, seeing new construction, people engaging in the community, that’s a sense of pride for me,” he said. “It’s that kind of confidence people have in building for the future that is one of the biggest points of pride for me.
“One of the goals I had early on was to shout to the world that Norfolk was open for business. That we welcome new ideas, and creative thinking, and new investment in the community. And I think we’re in the process of doing that, and it’s making a difference.”