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Joint Forces Command has big local impact

As the single largest corporate tenant and employer in Suffolk, Joint Forces Command makes an unmistakable impact on the city’s economy. But its influence on Suffolk can be measured in ways that are far more personal than any statistics could show.

With the Pentagon set to hear a recommendation that the command be closed down, those statistics are important: 2,200 jobs; more than 642,000 square feet of office space leased in North Suffolk at an annual cost of $16 million.

But for many in the area, the numbers that would become important in the event of the command’s closure are much smaller.

“People from [Joint Forces Command] make up about 85 percent of our lunch crowd,” Applebee’s manager Mike Morgan said. “Our lunch shift makes roughly $2,000 a day, so if you do the math that’s probably about $1,600 a day that comes from the center. But they have diverse taste. We get different groups on different days. They rotate to different restaurants in the area.”

On Friday, area leaders learned the Defense Business Board, an independent board of economic and business advisers to the Pentagon, is expected to outline suggested savings that would include the elimination of Joint Forces Command.

Robert Williams, CEO and president of Tri-City Developers, the developer of Harbour View, said that he believes the command center has served as a draw to many other government contractors because of its close proximity to the command center and other agencies in Hampton Roads.

Northrop Grumman, Cobham Defense Systems, Lockheed Martin’s Center for Innovation, Boeing and General Dynamics are a handful of government contractors that have built branches in Suffolk.

In turn, their presence has helped establish the area as one of the three hubs in the nation for modeling and simulation, a technology with its roots in military use.

Combined, the center, government contractors and associated industry fuel much North Suffolk business.

“They’re our bread and butter around here,” said Melissa Robles, Director of Sales at Courtyard Marriott and TownePlace Suites hotels. “Many hotels and restaurants rely on them. A large percentage of our business is reliant on the government. It’s because of our ideal location near [Joint Forces Command] and [other government contractors] that we have done so well and maintained our market shares during these times.”

While many of the regular employees don’t make use of the hotels in the area, the command center and government contractors do a large part to keep the hotels in business.

“They bring people in from all over the world,” said David Stiteler, director of sales and marketing at Comfort Suites. “They’re holding a three-hour seminar here tomorrow, and in the beginning of August they’re having a conference. They have 50 rooms for seven days. We have people stay with us for a few days up to three weeks.”

Since ground was broken in Harbour View, there more than 3,000 housing units, 8,000 jobs, a school and 35,000 residents have come to the area.

It boasts its own golf course; Rose and Womble headquarters; Towne Bank operations center; Harbour View Grand Theatre and shops; SunTrust Bank; medical facilities; a Super Walmart and additional retail space.

“There is no question that if something were to happen to Joint Forces Command it would be a blow,” CEO and President of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce Jack Hornbeck said. “We have to take it with a grain of salt, though. There are many, many, many, many, many more steps that would have to be completed first. It would take years.”