Thinking regionally — and acting that way

Published 8:39 pm Saturday, August 28, 2010

If there’s a silver lining to the massive gray cloud that swept over Suffolk with the announcement that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to close U.S. Joint Forces Command, it could be the spirit of regionalism that seems to have taken hold amongst those who are trying to protect the thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in taxes that would be lost if the agency were shuttered.

Suffolk — whose JFCOM site employs 2,200 military staffers, civilians and contractors and is the single largest leased space in Hampton Roads — has the most to lose if JFCOM is shut down. Norfolk, where the military agency is headquartered, and Newport News, with a satellite facility, would also feel the pain to a lesser degree. The weeks since the announcement, however, have been filled with news of alliances between neighboring cities and even between competing political parties as the area’s political leadership comes to understand the potential wide-ranging effects of such a closure on the local economy, not to mention the devastating effects the closure could have on military readiness.

Just last week, the city of Franklin joined other Hampton Roads cities in weighing in on the proposed shutdown, issuing its own proclamation calling on Gates to reconsider his decision or the president to refuse to ratify it. The decision was an indication of just how important the facility is considered to be to the area. But it was also an acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of life in Hampton Roads.

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Former Suffolk Mayor Dana Dickens leads the Hampton Roads Partnership, which was created expressly to promote regionalism. A few months back, the partnership originated a “Declaration of Interdependence,” signed by 17 localities, including Suffolk. Delegates from each joined Gov. Bob McDonnell for a cheesy but fun replication of the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. A “regional crier” in full Colonial regalia hailed the localities’ intent to “speak together as one region,” “act together as one region” and together “ensure a wonderful future.”

Proclamations and ceremonies are easy, of course. The proof will be in future actions. But it’s encouraging at least to get our elected leaders “on the record” for regionalism.