IDA member hopes Suffolk goes wireless

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 14, 2005

Washington, D.C.'s gone wireless.

So has Boston.

Joining the growing number of cities nationwide investing in wireless Internet capabilities would boost Suffolk's efforts to become a leader in the modeling and simulation industry, said Dennis Gartman, a member of the Industrial Development Authority.

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"We need to wi-fi the whole northern part of the city," he said. "If we are going to draw people here who spend their days modeling on computers, we need to be able to give them the ability to do the same thing at home."

Northern Suffolk has wooed a growing number of modeling and simulation and other defense-related businesses in recent years: Lockheed Martin Corp., General Dynamics, Map Mobile and the like.

As the city's foothold in modeling and simulation grows, Suffolk is becoming to the military what Raleigh's Research Triangle Park is for the technology industry, Gartman said.

"If we do this right, we could become one of the wealthiest towns in Virginia," he said. "There's no question that we are on the right track. The question is how good can we really make it."

Wi-fi will be commonplace in cities in another 15 years, Gartman said. But for now, it is only available in pockets of Hampton Roads: downtown Norfolk, Oyster Point in Newport News, the Virginia Beach's new Town Center.

Wireless capabilities would be a selling point for the city, said E. Dana Dickens III, president of the Hampton Roads Partnership, which promotes economic development throughout the region.

"When we are marketing a technology region, prospects want to see that the area is up to date with the latest technology," he said.

There has been some conversation between the cities of Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk about teaming up to wi-fi the north Suffolk/Churchland area, Dickens said.

"All three localities would benefit from the move," he said.

Tom O'Grady, the city's director of economic development, agreed.

"Having the wi-fi capability in and around the technology-related office parks and nearby residences will be a nice asset to have," O'Grady said. "I think the IDA and city should encourage private sector utility providers with great reasons why it makes sense to provide wireless capability in north Suffolk."