No debate on importance of North Suffolk

Published 7:53 pm Saturday, July 31, 2010

Many words on this page have been written in recent years about the destructive nature of the division between North Suffolk and the downtown area. People in the downtown area often say they’d rather go to Norfolk or Chesapeake than visit Suffolk’s growing commercial, residential and retail corridors in the northern part of the city. And folks in North Suffolk claim that limited retail options and parking availability make the historic downtown area unattractive to them.

Although people from both areas claim there is little in the “other” part of Suffolk to attract them, we have found that the most vitriolic comments normally come from those bemoaning what they see as a bedroom community up north that siphons tax dollars and opportunities from the downtown area. Their comments display a surprising amount of dislike for and misunderstanding of an area that some admit to not having seen in recent memory.

While it’s clear that the debate is moot over which is the more important — or perhaps more “Suffolk” — part of Suffolk, another thing should have become obvious to all in the city in recent weeks: North Suffolk plays host to a group of industries that have become vital to the city’s economic viability.

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Despite all of the wonderful things that Suffolk has to offer, from Whaleyville to Crittenden and from downtown to Harbour View, what recently put Suffolk on the list of the top 100 small cities in America was its economic situation, spurred by a growing job market and rising standards of living. And that economic station owes little to the agricultural sector or to the factories and warehouses of the southern part of the city. Instead, it has been driven in recent years by the explosion of industry and commerce in the northern part of Suffolk.

Just how important that part of the city is to Suffolk’s tax base came into sharp focus when a leak exposed the plan of a defense department group to recommend the closure of U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is headquartered in Norfolk, but has installations on the Peninsula and right here in Suffolk.

The command employs 2,200 people in Suffolk and more than 6,300 at its three Hampton Roads locations. With an operating budget of nearly $704 million, it provides contracts worth $534 million. Many of the other defense-related and modeling and simulation businesses that have contributed to the growth of North Suffolk and, thus, to tax collections in the city, are in Suffolk because of the command’s location here.

Never has it been more important to put aside the petty differences that drive this pointless debate. Never has it been more important for all of the citizens of Suffolk, from Holland to Hobson and from Riverview to Bennett’s Creek, to work together toward the same goal — saving Joint Forces Command. Though folks downtown might not think that what happens north of Obici Hospital has much bearing on their lives, they can be sure that the consequences of losing this major economic engine will be felt all over the city.