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Unemployment Office Moves to Hanover, Just Past the Swamp

The mission of the Virginia Employment Commission is to alleviate hardship for unemployed Richmonders seeking jobs.

But try accessing the VEC's new East End Richmond office. Not so easy.

The office is a half-mile from the Henrico County line and more than four miles from the nearest bus stop. Walkers must trudge along busy Mechanicsville Turnpike, at times a six-lane divided highway without sidewalks, crossing the desolate expanse of the Chickahominy Swamp to reach the office.

Why the VEC, which exists to assist the down-on-their-luck, would throw up such a barrier defies comprehension, says George T. Drumwright Jr., Henrico's deputy county manager for community services. Drumwright has been fielding plenty of calls from residents frustrated at the move.

"I have to sincerely say I don't know what they're doing," Drumwright says.

Previously, VEC had two locations in Henrico: one near Willow Lawn Mall and another on Nine Mile Road. Both were on bus lines and near other services.

The Willow Lawn location closed about a year ago and was consolidated with the Nine Mile Road office. Then VEC shuttered the Nine Mile Road location in December after its lease expired. The agency relocated the VEC office to Elm Drive in Hanover County's old town Mechanicsville Dec. 18.

"It caught the city folks and us by surprise," Drumwright says. "I checked with Hanover administration last week, and they didn't even know [VEC was] there."

And VEC didn't know GRTC Transit System's bus line didn't cross into Hanover. County officials have opposed extending bus service into their county, and that position stands, county spokesman Tom Harris says.

The county hasn't heard from VEC, he says, but as for a potential change, "It's premature for us to take a position, however, we have no plans to extend bus service."

The VEC provides a variety of services for unemployed Virginians, including paying temporary benefits and providing job-placement assistance.

Moving to Hanover, which has the region's lowest unemployment rate at 2 percent, runs counter to the public's needs, Drumwright says: "Their mandate under law was to serve the people."

VEC says it's working with what it has. "I know it'll be a political sticky wicket to get [bus service] out here," says Bill Walton, branch manager at the Mechanicsville location. But he insists the location's viability isn't dependent on bus service.

"I will say that since our move we have steadily seen an increase in traffic each week," Walton says.

Some other state offices around town can do double duty with VEC representatives available to help. And applications for unemployment services can be filed online at the VEC's Web site.

Walton doesn't want to paint the state's real estate office as the bad guys for putting his branch in outer orbit.

But Drumwright questions the process boiling down to some state number-crunching that failed to consider the consequences of the math: "The people that most need [the VEC] can't get to it." S

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