From Suffolk to the World: Distribution centers helped city through pandemic

Published 7:25 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

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Distribution operations and other economic decisions from the past are helping to continue growth in Suffolk and have helped produce strong economic trends for the city.

With the increased demand during the first parts of the pandemic, officials said the city’s economy fared better in getting back to pre-COVID-19 levels.

A review of the city’s Gross Domestic Product, its employment numbers, median income and property values are all up in recent years, economic data provided by Old Dominion University.

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Bob McNab, director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy at ODU, pointed to the trends in each of the areas that show the city weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and has returned to growth above pre-coronavirus levels.

The city’s GDP based on real dollars adjusted for inflation is up by 15.3% over the four-year period, 2018 to 2021. He pointed to a report from the Department of Commerce shows Suffolk’s Real GDP grew to $3,859,749 thousands of chained dollars in 2021, up from $3,348,237 thousands of chained dollars in 2018. Chained dollars is a method of adjusting real dollar amounts for inflation over time, to allow the comparison of figures from different years that the U.S. Department of Commerce introduced in 1996.

“The city has grown quite well during this period,” McNab said. He added that its clear Suffolk has regained its growth after the shock of the pandemic.

McNab also pointed out that median income from 2018 to 2021 grew from $69,753 to $78,080, based on numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates program. The trend from 2018 to 2021 shows the city’s labor force has grown in this same period, while the number of unemployed has declined, he said. This also registered a slight decrease in the city’s poverty level, which slipped from 10.9% in 2018 to 10.6% in 2021, the latest numbers McNab said are available.

Suffolk’s population also grew in the four-year period to 96,194 in 2021 from 91,135 in 2018, McNab said as he referred to the trend in U.S. Census data. With this growth, he said housing values have also risen, averaging $355,865 in November 2022, which is up from $242,357 in January 2018. McNab said these numbers are based on reports from the website,

McNab said it’s clear with these trends that Suffolk “is a city that is growing.”

Suffolk Economic Development Director Nic Langford agreed that great things are happening in the city and it is experiencing tremendous economic growth.

“Suffolk is a large, attractive city,” Langford said. “Suffolk’s size, in my opinion, is also what makes it uniquely resilient and adaptable to changing economic times. The sheer amount of land allows for several potential developments to occur based on multiple economic factors such as inflation, lending rates, development patterns, demographic trends, and construction and labor costs.”

The success of the businesses that have located here is one of the key driving forces in the growth Suffolk continues to see.

“Yes, the city is projected to continue to attract and win big projects to create good-paying jobs for existing and new residents while also providing new revenue sources for services,” Langford said. “However, there will likely be some ebb and flow based on regional and national lending practices. If interest rates continue to rise, we will likely see a minor dip in industrial, commercial and housing starts as the majority of these projects require traditional financing.”

But he said he believes the long-term picture for Suffolk is very bright.

“The city is situated as a major growth area in Hampton Roads for the foreseeable future,” he said.

In order to thoughtfully phase development, the city is undergoing a very intensive planning exercise to flesh out how smart and sustainable growth patterns can occur. This includes if, when, and how land should be developed to best meet the needs of Suffolk’s growing citizenry. 

The Suffolk 2045 Comprehensive Plan is in motion and participation is encouraged, people should visit and attend upcoming listening and feedback sessions to partake in the plan and ensure they’re informed.