A better way to support historic Suffolk

Published 8:05 pm Saturday, February 2, 2013

Just like clockwork, the announcement last week that a Kroger Marketplace is planned for a North Suffolk community resulted in an outpouring of jealousy and bile from the nattering nabobs of negativism who use every such announcement as another opportunity to spread discord and disunity in a city that still struggles for a common identity nearly four decades after the merger that created its current boundaries.

Their constant refrain of “Why does North Suffolk get all the good stuff?” coupled with their demands that the city bring a Target or a Trader Joe’s or a Chipotle to the downtown area also reveals an unfortunate lack of understanding of how economic decisions like the opening of a new retail establishment are made in a free market.

Aside from the zoning decisions they make and the broad outline drawn by Suffolk’s comprehensive plan, city administrators, City Council and other elected officials have very little to do with the locations retailers choose within Suffolk.

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Economic development officials spend many hours working to attract a wide array of new retail outlets to Suffolk, and they have occasionally used enticements such as tax credits and grants to do so. But, with very few exceptions, those enticements are intended to bring the retailers to Suffolk, not to get them to locate in a certain area.

The companies’ site-selection officers take a look at the demographics of the city as a whole, of the surrounding communities and of neighborhoods within Suffolk and then choose a developable area where they believe a new outlet will help them meet their corporate goals, chief among which is profitability.

Nobody at City Hall is calling Kroger or Panera Bread or any other company and telling them they have to locate a store in North Suffolk or downtown or anywhere else, and the corporate executives wouldn’t pay much attention, even if they did.

There’s no question that historic Suffolk needs attention, and there are things that City Council and the city administration can and should do to show they’re renewing their attention on that important part of the city.

But every new retail announcement in North Suffolk does not prove city officials are intentionally favoring that part of Suffolk. What those announcements prove is that retailers see that area as the more profitable place for them to do business right now.

Instead of threatening to take their business to Chesapeake every time they hear one of those announcements, folks who love historic Suffolk and want to see it flourish can prove the viability of that area for business by shopping at the retailers located there and patronizing the many fine restaurants already open there.

That’s a much better plan.