More than 400 attend State of the City event

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2005

Not so long ago, Suffolk was a diamond in the rough.

Much of downtown was boarded up and vacant. People left the city to go out for dinner and a movie.

All that has changed, evident during Mayor Bobby L. Ralph’s presentation during Thursday’s Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City address. More than 420 business and city leaders from across the region attended the event at the newly opened Hilton Garden Inn and Suffolk Conference Center.

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&uot;I hope you don’t mind if …I call Suffolk the jewel of Hampton Roads,&uot; said Ralph. &uot;Just as the individual facets of a diamond all contribute to its beauty and value, we are showing off the many aspects of our city that make it the sparkling jewel of the region.&uot;

He attributed the Suffolk City Council’s dedication to its five strategic priorities-economic development and tourism; downtown, neighborhood and village revitalization; smart growth; quality of life; and education – with the city’s successful growth.

Suffolk is basking in the glow of the city’s growing modeling and simulation industry, Ralph said. The city’s technology corridor in north Suffolk has recently welcomed several major

businesses, the most recent being Lockheed Martin Corp.’s $50 million Center for Innovation. The modeling and simulation industry is critical to both the nation’s homeland security and military defense worldwide.

Gov. Mark Warner recently announced plans to fund the Virginia Modeling and Simulation Initiative, which is designed to address challenges faced by the lucrative industry.

Modeling and simulation will have a major economic impact on Suffolk in the coming years, Ralph said.

Now, the modeling and simulation industry currently employs over 4,000 people and pumps more than $412 million dollars annually to the region’s economy, he said.

&uot;VIMSIM will pour even more high-dollar jobs and research into our area,&uot; Ralph said. &uot;Modeling and simulation has applications in finance, entertainment, medicine and areas we haven’t even dreamed of yet.&uot;

In the past year, 22 new businesses and nine expanding businesses have opened in the city, he said.

Over the past year, the new businesses have created more than $78 million dollars in new capital investment and 680 new jobs.

Tourism is picking up in Suffolk, evident both by the increasing revenue and number of visitors coming to the city, Ralph said.

Over the past five years, the city’s annual lodging tax revenues have increased by 29 percent while meal tax receipts are up by 50 percent, he said.

Last year, nearly 9,000 people stopped by the Prentis House Visitor Center, he said.

Ralph painted a bright picture for Suffolk’s future.

&uot;With economic development and the corresponding growth and diversity in our tax base, we will have the resources we need to invest in education, neighborhood and increase the level of city services,&uot; he said.

&uot;Suffolk’s accomplishments within our city limits add value to the entire region.&uot;

&uot;We will continue to polish this diamond, and as we focus on our priorities and work our plan, we will see this great city sparkle and shine even brighter.&uot;