Suffolk is stronger and prepared

Published 9:18 pm Tuesday, August 17, 2010

“When you least expected it.”

That phrase is often used in response to the timing of something surprising or something unfortunate. In Suffolk’s case last week, something happened that was both a surprise and unfortunate.

For months, those whose livelihood depends on the U.S. military, whether it be defense contracts, military service or running a business serving those in the military, had been a little nervous as the Defense Department looked at ways to cut spending, save money and bring the nation’s deficit somewhat under control.

Last week, the ax many had feared came crashing down when Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced his plans to shutter Joint Forces Command based in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The impact of such a closure would almost bring to a halt the accelerated growth in the North Suffolk area and eliminate thousands of jobs within Suffolk.

It was horrible news and came when we least expected it.

For years, Suffolk has been praised for its economic growth, its residential growth and retail growth. Never did we expect that a facility such as Joint Forces Command, a command crucial to the nation’s ongoing efforts throughout the world, would be targeted for cuts.

In particular, the Harbour View development, which plays host to the more than 600,000 square feet of Joint Forces Command and a number of large defense contractors that benefit from such close proximity to the facility, has flourished with new retail businesses and residential developments in recent years because of Joint Forces Command and the money those military personnel, contractors and civilian personnel spend in that area.

Far and away that area has been the fastest growing in Suffolk, and it showed what well-planned and well-funded development can truly do for this city.

While last week’s announcement hit everyone hard, though, it did prove that Republicans and Democrats can work together when a common foe arises.

This time, the common foe was the proposed closure, and the Democrats and Republicans who represent Virginia and specifically Hampton Roads have shown they can throw aside party politics for one, unified cause.

Maybe that is the silver lining to this grey cloud.

If the proposed cut of Joint Forces Command goes through and thousands of jobs are lost, Suffolk can fall back on the experience it gained from the transition it went through when the peanut industry slowed and forced the city to diversify.

Economic leaders in Suffolk regularly tout the diversified economy that Suffolk now hosts, and it is that diversity which must carry Suffolk over this bump in the road if political influence proves unsuccessful.

Suffolk is much more than one business and one industry, even if that industry is the military. Our city is much stronger than it has been in the past and much more resilient to overcome such a challenge.