Good news in Harbour View

Published 9:32 pm Thursday, June 7, 2012

It has been said before, but it bears repeating: The Harbour View community in North Suffolk has been a great benefit to the city, and it probably has saved Suffolk from the worst effects of the nation’s record-setting recession.

Through years of bad economic news, Harbour View has hosted a steady stream of new business openings, expansions and announcements. Even in the midst of what seemed disastrous news at the time — the surprise announcement about the disestablishment of U.S. Joint Forces Command — there always was a sense of hopefulness around the North Suffolk community — a public façade, at least, of confidence that Suffolk would find some way to replace the 2,200 jobs officials worried would be lost by the change at one of the city’s largest employers.

City officials have pointed to the level of diversification among Suffolk industries as the thing that would ultimately save the city from the ghost-town effect sometimes experienced by other cities when their largest employers have closed.

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Surely, they were concerned for the burgeoning modeling and simulation industry that was so closely connected to JFCOM — and private mod-sim contractors have, indeed, experienced some losses since disestablishment. But they were quick to highlight the medical facilities, the communications and banking industries, the retailers and restaurants and the light manufacturing that had filled spaces within the Harbour View commercial subdivision.

Though they were right to make the point, some observers wondered if Suffolk officials might just be whistling through the graveyard. Economic development experts are, after all, paid to be optimistic and to portray their communities in the very best possible light.

But Suffolk has weathered the storm of the nation’s recession relatively well, compared to most of the nation and, indeed, compared with much of Virginia. In April, for instance, though the city did not enjoy the near-full employment of, say Arlington, where unemployment registered 3.1 percent, it also didn’t suffer the fate of Martinsville, which despite a 2.5-point improvement from last year still registered 15.7 percent unemployment.

Even with the JFCOM disestablishment, Suffolk’s unemployment rate, which rose as high as 8.1 percent in the summer of 2010, is down to 6.3 percent as of April. The city and its champions were able to save about 1,100 of the JFCOM jobs, reducing the potential economic reverberations in Suffolk. And Wednesday’s announcement that the U.S. Navy plans to open offices for four different commands within the old confines of JFCOM means 1,000 new jobs will be created there, effectively replacing those lost to the JFCOM disestablishment.

It’s good news all around for Suffolk and especially good news for those who have come to depend on the amenities that have grown up in the Harbour View area.