Looking back — and ahead — for Suffolk

Published 9:16 pm Thursday, January 3, 2013

By Mayor Linda T. Johnson

The members of the Suffolk City Council want to take a moment to send special greetings to the people of Suffolk, with our hopes that they enjoyed a happy holiday season. We also want to share with you a progress report for 2012. We certainly had a momentous year and are proud of the excellent ratings achieved across the board.

We’ve built on the progress we’ve seen over recent years and are watching plans for Suffolk change into reality. With an increasing population, continued business development and a number of initiatives on the plate, now is the time for Suffolk to continue to excel.

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The numbers included with the 2011 Economic Activity Report tell only part of the story, but the figures are especially notable, with the city adding more than 980 new jobs and $103 million in new investment.

The momentum continues, with economic development activity in 2012 adding even more variety and depth. In late October, we witnessed three ribbon cuttings in one week, including TowneBank’s newly expanded Member Service Center Campus in the Riverfront area of Harbour View, Sumitomo Machinery Corporation of America’s 60,000 square-foot centralized distribution center, and the Navy Exchange Service Command’s opening of a 350,000 square-foot warehouse at CenterPoint Intermodal Center. This site on Route 58 also welcomed the Ace Hardware Redistribution Center earlier this summer.

CNN Money Magazine, which in 2010 recognized Suffolk as one of the “Top 100 Best Small Cities to Live,” continues to take notice of our progress, and named Suffolk as the No. 9 community in its Best Places to Live National Top 25 list for “Where the jobs are in 2012.”

Even in challenging economic times, Suffolk has seen a 43-percent jump in the job growth rate from 2000 to 2011. Quality of life, schools, transportation and community were some of the reasons noted for businesses choosing to locate here.

Due to the robust business environment and the strong work ethic of a lean city staff under the direction of the city manager, Suffolk has seen five separate credit rating upgrades or outlook enhancements in the past four years. This included a reaffirming of the city’s credit ratings in the summer of 2012.

Why is this important? Because our credit rating strength reflects on the city’s ability to see real cost savings when it comes to refinancing bonds, as is evident by the $2.75 million savings from August 2012.

With an eye on progress and as the city continues to grow, so does our need for quality customer service. We’ll soon be breaking ground on the new Suffolk Municipal Center and 911 call center, which will be a “one-stop-shop” for conducting business with the city and will be a major impetus in the continued revitalization of our downtown.

Another downtown “jewel” is the new Pavilion adjacent to the award-winning Suffolk Visitor Center. This lovely site is now home to the expanded Farmer’s Market and the location for numerous interactive children’s programs, exhibitions, concerts, receptions and more.

We’ve not forgotten our youth. Suffolk Parks and Recreation continues to provide not only leisure and athletic opportunities, but also the chance for young people to learn more about themselves and develop real job skills so they are ready for the future. The Summer Youth Work Program gave 30 youth a summer job, but it was much more than just a paycheck, as they also learned skills that will help them build careers.

The Teen Summit in late August was a huge success, drawing a packed house and bringing teens and adults together to work on issues of the day and develop ways to build a bright future.

Our youth aren’t the only ones benefiting from programs offered through or by the City of Suffolk. Area charities and organizations are also being impacted by the generosity of employees and citizens. The City of Suffolk donated $21,000 from proceeds raised during the second annual City of Suffolk Relay for Life Golf Tournament at Sleepy Hole Golf Course in May.

Suffolk also hosted the American Diabetes Association’s annual Tour de Cure bike ride in April. The route took riders throughout Suffolk and raised more than $35,000 for diabetes research. Organizers were so impressed with our lovely rural landscape and the warm welcome they received, they’ve already planned to return in 2013.

Healthy living is more than just a slogan — it’s a way of life for a number of city employees, who have continued the push for a healthier workforce, helping the city earn the Virginia Business Coalition on Health 2012 Wellness in the Workplace Award for businesses.

The health of a different breed of citizens has also improved with the re-opening and much-needed expansion of the Suffolk Animal Care Facility this summer.

As part of the city’s effort to continually improve responsiveness to severe weather and other emergency situations, a matching grant has provided for free access to the “Suffolk On the Alert” system for all citizens. This system allows users to update the city on the best ways to reach them in times of emergency.

Citizens can also select various non-emergency updates, including traffic reports, water service news, and special event notices to ensure that they are always kept up-to-date.

We can continue to build a future on the basis of strong leadership, efficient planning and solid financial standing. “Progress” continues to be the word of the day, for no matter which borough you call home, progress can be seen across our city.

In closing, we remain united in purpose to deliver the very best service in 2013 to our citizens. May the New Year bring new hopes, new opportunities and new reasons to celebrate.

Linda T. Johnson is the mayor of Suffolk. She and other council members were sworn into office during an investiture ceremony on Wednesday. Email her at council@suffolkva.us.