Mayor: City’s strength is in its unity

Published 10:46 pm Thursday, April 23, 2009

Working together. Playing together. Learning together. Celebrating together. Growing together. Healing together.

Those were the themes during Mayor Linda T. Johnson’s State of the City address on Thursday.

The message, though, was even simpler: “Suffolk is open for business.”

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The mayor bolstered that observation with a litany of positive statistics:

$164 million in new capital investment, including 756,000 square feet of added space ready to serve new businesses and 173,000 square feet of newly occupied space;

13 companies announced major expansions and 24 others decided to make Suffolk their new home;

More than 3,000 people are now employed in the modeling and simulation industry in Suffolk, with an average salary of $83,000 a year;

And CenterPoint Properties announced plans for a 5.8-million-square-foot intermodal commerce facility that will create up to 2,900 jobs, including construction workers, and produce about $3 million in tax revenues.

“Let me highlight the importance of warehouses to our local economy,” she said in apparent response to public criticism by a recently resigned member of the Economic Development Authority over the city’s preponderance of new and planned warehouse and distribution projects.

“They pay taxes, employ a wide range of people with diverse skill sets, work with local suppliers, spawn other industries and support services, in addition to being strong civic partners in the communities in which they operate.”

Johnson struck a largely upbeat tone throughout her speech, the last this year in the annual series of State of the City addresses sponsored by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

Acknowledging the challenges Suffolk faces in the midst of the global economic crisis, she encouraged citizens to look ahead, not backward.

“I’d prefer to look at it from the standpoint that breakdowns can create breakthroughs,” she said. “Things fall apart so things can fall together. We all share in this dynamic experience of what Suffolk is becoming. And we share a vision of an even brighter future.”

Johnson expressed pride in the fact that Suffolk has been able to retain much of its identity in the face of a region-leading growth rate of 28.2 percent since the census of 2000.

“Regardless of the fact that Suffolk is touted as one of Virginia’s fastest growing cities,” she said, “we’re still known for our true southern hospitality and down-home charm.”

Reflecting that hospitality, the mayor introduced several people in the audience whom she said exemplified various qualities found in Suffolk’s finest citizens.

Among them were King’s Fork High School Boys’ Basketball Coach Joshua Worrell, whom she pointed to as an example of what can be accomplished through dedication, hard work and teamwork; Suffolk Teacher of the Year John Tice, who proves, she said, that “You can change the world”; and the city’s public safety officers, who she said exhibit dedication and commitment to the community.

She also recognized Del. Chris Jones for his service to the city, both at the General Assembly in Richmond and in personal ways here at home, as in the days following last year’s tornado.

“After the storm clouds receded, you could say that the rainbow that shone through was the promise of healing and hope that was foremost on everyone’s mind as they reached out to their neighbors in their true time of need,” she said of the aftermath from that storm.

Again and again throughout the speech, Johnson returned to that theme of Suffolk’s citizens facing their problems together. It also guided her closing remarks.

“The current state of our city is strong,” she said. “We will meet our challenges with strength and creativity, and our future will be amazing as we embrace it together.”