Of course, it’s a big deal

Published 9:28 pm Wednesday, August 25, 2010

For the better part of three weeks, this newspaper, along with media throughout Hampton Roads, has provided intense coverage of the proposed closure of Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Suffolk and the Peninsula.

From the military perspective to the business and economic development perspective, we have worked to cover each and every angle of this story, and yet, we’ve received criticism.

In a business where criticism is often expected, where name-calling is more common than accolades, you would have thought we would have developed a thick skin to such a thing. But this criticism was much different.

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“You and the rest of the media are blowing this out of proportion,” we’ve been told. “Why are you making such a big deal of this?” we’ve been asked. “Nothing’s official. Why all the coverage?” another inquired.

In this case, especially, we don’t think we could have ever “blown this out of proportion.”

Let’s look at some of the facts and figures related to the potential closing of Suffolk’s largest employer, U.S. Joint Forces Command:

  • If JFCOM closes, the city of Suffolk could potentially lose between $2.5 and $4 million dollars.
  • If JFCOM closes, the city of Suffolk would lose a corporate customer that leases an estimated 800,000 square feet of improved space.
  • If JFCOM closes, Suffolk would absorb an estimated 69 percent of all the lost jobs of Joint Forces Command facilities in Hampton Roads.
  • Oh, one more thing. If JFCOM closes, Suffolk would lose approximately 2,200 jobs.

Not to be smug, but just how could we have ever have blown this story out of proportion?

Let’s look at some other figures, figures we’re sure are being looked at by business owners throughout the North Suffolk area:

  • There are currently 15 Suffolk-based modeling and simulation contractors working with Joint Forces Command.
  • An estimated 2,000 jobs in Suffolk are tied to Suffolk-based modeling and simulation contractors.
  • Of the current modeling and simulation contracts tied to operations at Joint Forces Command, 70 percent of it is done by Suffolk-based contractors.
  • And, in case you were thinking those with modeling and simulation jobs are held by those people living in Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk or Virginia Beach, you’re partly right. But, 30 percent of those employees call Suffolk home.
  • To the hotel owners and operators in North Suffolk, this is a figure that hurts the most. An estimated 80 percent of their annual business is tied to Joint Forces Command and to Suffolk-based modeling and simulation contractors.

So we ask again, just how could we blow this out of proportion? The answer? We couldn’t.

The proposed closure of Joint Forces Command would ripple through the Suffolk economy far more than just hotels, restaurants or city tax collections. It would dramatically slow the economic engine that has been driving North Suffolk for the better part of a decade, and do so quickly.

To those who have passed along these comments, we ask this question. If this potential closing is not worthy of the coverage that we have been providing, then what is?