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Creating Community: Joe Casey

Chesterfield County may just be Virginia’s best-kept secret, and as County Administrator Joe Casey explains, with a focus on its people, the community is going from strength to strength.

There are plenty of reasons to consider a move to Chesterfield, Virginia. From the exemplary higher education systems to the proximity to natural water sources, as County Administrator Joe Casey explains to The CEO Magazine, Chesterfield is abundant in assets and opportunities.

However, it’s the deeply embedded sense of community that Casey believes is what truly makes this region so special.

“We see that from the teleworkers that have come here, that they have chosen to move here because of the quality of life of the region,” he says. “What attracted families here a generation or two ago is still relevant – the foundational roots. The public safety is top notch.

“We’re getting 20 new people a day, and it’s important to us that we send everybody who moves into Chesterfield a welcome letter, and give them ways to engage and connect with us. The existing people here, they are a welcoming body. It’s a very tolerant multicultural experience, treating everybody as if they’re part of your community.”

A Local Touch

Similarly, at Chesterfield County, the companies that it does business alongside are of the utmost importance. And for an organization that is dedicated to bettering the community it operates within, unsurprisingly, that also means partnering with local businesses, such as construction and development company Hourigan Group, which has remained a trusted collaborator for Chesterfield County for many years now.

“We’re fortunate in central Virginia, not just Chesterfield, to have many businesses that can compete and win local contracts,” Casey explains. “Our database lists local vendors first. So if we’ve got a good quote from two people, and one is local, then we choose local.

“We have 11,000 businesses now in Chesterfield County. They grew by almost 1,000 in the last year. So a 10 percent growth in the number of businesses shows you something – there’s a spirit of entrepreneurship that I’ve never seen before. There’s the ability to start and grow a small business, and I really respect that.”

“We have to keep reinventing ourselves again, whether it’s a good, or whether it’s a service.”

Even after the past eight years working with Chesterfield County, and additionally, roles with local governments dating back to 1990, Casey admits that every single day is different when working in this kind of environment.

“There’s a game I used to play when I was younger, a memory game where you had to remember where the matching cards were,” he says with a smile. “I always say that being a county administrator, you walk into a room and all the cards are hidden all over the place.

“So every day I have to remember how to connect dots and connect people and try to do good. And at the end of a good day, all the cards are matched and everyone can sleep well. Then the night custodian comes in and rearranges them all for the next day. So I start all over.”

The Trust Formula

As any good manager recognizes, staff retention is essential for any thriving organization, which is precisely why Casey has tailored his leadership approach to ensure that employees feel valued and respected.

“No matter how much effort I deploy during the day, I’m not the one on the front line,” he says. “I’m not the one responding to a 911 call or on the mental health crisis line or the teacher who is dealing with a student who is struggling.

“So I am very fortunate to be surrounded by so much talent. But having said that, talent is a precious commodity, and you want to retain it, you want to recruit it, and you don’t want to lose it.”

Casey attends the orientation of every single new employee at Chesterfield County, and credits having spoken to at least 2,000 employees since he began eight years ago.

“Chesterfield County’s impressive growth as a place to live and work aligns with our mission to enhance communities and advance the world. It’s created a great partnership for projects that support businesses and the quality of life for all.” – Mark Hourigan, CEO, Hourigan


“I tell them three things that I think are very important,” he says. “One is that there’s a trust formula. You have to all work together. Trust is engagement and how you engage is defined by the customer.

“The second is transparency. We have to be an open book. If you ask me a question and I know the answer to it, I’ll tell you. If I don’t know the answer, I’m going to talk with you and provide as much information as I can.”

And last but not least, he says, is accountability.

“Accountability is not punitive. Accountability is praising just as much as possible. If you recruit and train really well, you’re not necessarily in the punitive business ever; you shouldn’t be. You’re in the praising business. But then accountability falls to the employer.”

“I tell the new employees that they are our most valued commodity because they can come in and ask why we are doing something.”

Casey emphasizes that it’s about creating a safe work environment, as well as it being multicultural, accepting and tolerant, then also ensuring work–life balance, compensating employees properly and always being empathetic to their needs. Without these elements, he claims, a cohesive team, and therefore a cohesive business, fails to exist.

Ultimately, the way he sees it, at Chesterfield County, there is always more that can be done; more systems that can be improved and more ways that the community can be helped. Casey references a quote taken from the late 1800s, when it was thought that, “Everything that can be invented, has been invented.”

“I use that as my inspiration every day, saying, ‘No, we are never done,’” he enthuses.

“We have to keep reinventing ourselves again, whether it’s a good, or whether it’s a service. And we have to have faith in people to always be free to think and speak out about how to make something different.

“I tell the new employees that they are our most valued commodity because they can come in and ask why we are doing something. Because if you know why you’re doing something, then you can figure out how to change as the customer changes.”

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