Big changes call for state support

Published 8:59 pm Saturday, July 28, 2012

Thursday was a big day for Western Tidewater. As Suffolk celebrated the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ace Hardware distribution center, just a few miles west, state and local officials were in Southampton County to break ground for the Enviva pellet-manufacturing plant. In Suffolk, the distribution center has created 75 new jobs; the facility in Southampton will employ 72. The events were important enough to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration that he sent Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to the Southampton one and Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade James Cheng to the one in Suffolk.

With the economy all but stalled again around the nation and a presidential campaign in which Virginia will play a pivotal role, state officials are eager to be seen associating themselves with job-creating projects that will help transform local economies.

Both of these projects bode well for Western Tidewater and for their respective communities. The Southampton project will help re-energize the Franklin area, which is still hurting from the jobs lost when International Paper closed its paper mill. Even more important than the 75 jobs Ace brings to Suffolk, however, is the fact that the project marks the start of the CenterPoint Intermodal Center, which eventually will result in hundreds of new jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Suffolk.

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It’s becoming ever more clear that Suffolk is destined to be one of the most sought-after locations for companies looking to build warehouse and distribution centers. The city’s wide-open spaces are calling to companies looking to build huge new facilities where trucks and train cars can be loaded and unloaded. The same will be true of large swaths of southside Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, especially with the widening of the Panama Canal, which will open the East Coast of the United States to truly gargantuan ships and the massive amounts of cargo they can carry.

State officials are right to make a big deal of what’s happening here in Western Tidewater. But if they really want to show folks around here that they care, they’ll find a way to make sure that all this development that’s on the way will not clog the roads with truck traffic. Route 58, for example, is already a nightmare of speeding metal; failing to improve the road — or better yet, build a bypass — will relegate area residents and the trucks heading to and from these new facilities to years of frustration and danger.

It’s good to see people from the governor’s office in town for events like these. We can only hope that as they headed back to Richmond, they gave a little thought to the needs created by the projects they came to applaud.