Some good news after all

Published 9:12 pm Thursday, February 10, 2011

There’s really only one way in which an announcement that 25 percent of the jobs at one of the city’s largest employers will be lost can be considered good news — when one considers that things could have been so much worse.

And that’s precisely the situation the city of Suffolk wrestles with following Gen. Raymond T. Odierno’s announcement on Wednesday in which he described the broad outlines of a plan to disestablish U.S. Joint Forces Command. When the news first leaked in August that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates intended to close the command, which is headquartered in Norfolk but employs about 2,000 people in three buildings on a North Suffolk site, things looked much worse. At that point, officials at all levels of the government feared the Pentagon would shutter the command completely, costing Suffolk all 2,000 jobs and the armed services a valuable training resource.

A lot of well-connected people in Washington and Richmond, however, got involved and forced the Department of Defense to reconsider its plan, and the result is that half of JFCOM’s jobs will be protected, including 75 percent of those in Suffolk. Even more important are the vital military training and support functions that will remain intact, though not in the same organizational structure they are now.


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Without minimizing the pain of those people who will lose their jobs, one must not fail to acknowledge the fact that careful planning, marketing and development by both public and private entities helped position Suffolk as an important place for the Department of Defense to do business.

With its proximity to the Norfolk Naval Station and easy access to interstates and airports serving the Washington, D.C., area, the city is in a great location for defense industries. And the build-up of industries and educational opportunities in the modeling and simulation field puts Suffolk right in the middle of some of JFCOM’s most important work.

Now that officials know just how quickly the rug can be jerked from under their feet, there might be a tendency in Suffolk to try to limit the likelihood of future pain by pulling back on the commitment to the high-tech Harbour View industrial corridor. Instead, leaders from the public and private sectors should explore ways to give Suffolk’s modeling and simulation and technology sectors even more vitality, to make them even more indispensable to the Pentagon and other users.

The loss of 500 jobs is definitely bad news, but the silver lining to that gray cloud is the clout that Suffolk’s technology sector gained as a result of the Pentagon’s decision to stop the cutting with “just” 500 jobs. Now it’s time for the city to begin building on that “success.”