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State of city ‘strong’

Roughly 375 business and community leaders turned out Tuesday to hear about Suffolk’s past year, its current endeavors and its plan for the future.

The annual State of the City address, a Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce event, was delivered by Mayor Linda T. Johnson at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn. The event is produced in all five South Hampton Roads cities, and is a chance for the cities’ leaders to highlight the opportunities available in their communities.

“I submit to you the current state of our city is strong,” Johnson said. “It’s clear to see that in Suffolk, we didn’t simply weather the storm. Since we couldn’t change the wind, we adjusted our sails.”

Johnson addressed the growing business ventures in the city in the midst of an economic recession, additional health care options offered in the past year, new public buildings open for service, and some of the people who make the city great.

“We’re fortunate that our city has been more protected from the economic downturn compared to some of our neighbors,” Johnson said. “But, we don’t live on an economic island, and there is no true safe harbor from the ripple effect that we all face.”

Despite the economic troubles that have plagued the nation, however, Johnson reported Suffolk’s environment is “open for business.”

“Indeed, even in these challenging times, there’s lots of good news to report,” Johnson said. Existing and new businesses combined to produce capital investment totaling $112 million in 2009, and more than 500 new jobs were created in Suffolk in 2009.

Johnson mentioned the many existing businesses that expanded or did major renovations in the past year, as well as new businesses that set up house in Suffolk.

Health care options also played a big part in growth, Johnson said.

“Evident throughout our expanding and new businesses are the vast number of health care choices now available in our city,” Johnson said. “It’s obvious that not only are we a growing city, but also we’re a city who cares about the health and wellbeing of its citizens.”

She highlighted new facilities for Riverfront Family Medicine and Specialty Care, North Suffolk Family Medicine, Nansemond Pediatrics and the Obici Health Care Foundation, as well as expansions for Sentara Obici Hospital and Bon Secours Health Center at Harbour View.

Furthermore, Johnson called attention to the burgeoning modeling and simulation industry in the city.

“We are honored to be the location of choice for a number of high-tech firms working with the United States Joint Forces Command,” Johnson said. “We’ve taken the opportunity to establish a technology zone to further encourage this sector to develop and diversity for our city.”

Johnson also honored people in her speech, from 2010 First Citizen honoree Dr. Douglas Naismith to new Suffolk police officer Angela McRae. McRae, 60, found the Suffolk Police Department in a job fair after retiring from the financial industry.

In addition to Johnson’s speech, the event also included a video highlighting much of the city’s growth, luncheon for the attendees and a dessert reception. Money from ticket sales went to help cover expenses for the event, said Suffolk Chamber of Commerce director Dean McClain.

“Yes, it’s been a challenging, eventful year as we all navigate uncharted waters, both on a local, state, national and worldwide level, but we can’t wait on the shoreline and expect the storm clouds to pass over us,” Johnson said. “We must continue the course we’ve set to achieve our goals.”