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Mayor touts Suffolk’s resiliency

Suffolk Mayor Mike Duman touted the city’s resolve in “a time of great turmoil” during the coronavirus pandemic, but also pointed to it also as a time of opportunity during his State of the City Address on Tuesday afternoon at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

Though his address was given in person, most attendees watched the address virtually as Duman praised interim city manager Al Moor and city employees for their “unwavering commitment to the residents of our community.”

A pair of videos presented during his speech outlined city efforts in helping residents during the pandemic and touted the city’s accomplishments, but he also acknowledged the hardship faced by residents over the last year.

“To everyone that has suffered personal loss in this pandemic, our hearts are with you,” Duman said. “We must remember that there are far too many Suffolk families that will never be free of the impact of COVID-19. There is a saying, ‘Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.’ For those who are hurting, we will get through this together.”

Duman noted his own respect and appreciation of the military in recognizing the more than 3,000 military and non-military people who work in the city at Naval Information Forces, Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command, Naval Network Warfare Command, Joint Staff Hampton Roads and U.S. Fleet Cyber Command South.

Last year, the State of the City event was canceled as the pandemic was in its early months,  but said the city’s overcoming the pandemic, as well as several tornadoes in the last two years as it has reinforced the city’s resiliency.

“This city may experience hardship, but we are determined to make our community and the health of our residents even better than before,” Duman said.

A lengthy video highlighted residential and business developments throughout the city, including the bustling Harbour View area in North Suffolk, Amazon facilities in both Northgate Commerce Park and in nearby Western Branch in Chesapeake, the growing U.S. Route 58 corridor as well as downtown, and Duman noted during 2020 the start or expansion of more than 45 retail businesses, which added 287 jobs and impacted nearly 250,000 square feet of commercial space. He also pointed to the more than $84.4 million in capital investment, 475 new jobs created and more than 766,000 square feet impacted.

Noting what happened in 2019 also, Duman cited 2,530 new jobs, more than 4.5 million square feet impacted and close to $319 million in capital investment. “It just amazes me the diversity of our city,” Duman said.

The city’s third-quarter revenue projections, Duman said, were mostly positive, with personal property revenue up 10%, sales and use tax revenues up 36%, business license tax up 12%, recordation tax up 29%, lodging tax up 47% and meals tax revenues up 8% — “impressive numbers that indicate a strong economy positioned for future growth and prosperity.”

He also spoke to city staff securing more than $13.5 million in 2019 and 2020 for non-capital project grants, and in a proposed budget that “will maintain and enhance service levels with no tax increase,” with 62% of it invested in public education and public safety.

Duman also announced that GoGreen Farms and Greenhouses, a locally-founded and operated food distribution company, will expand its operations to the city’s Virginia Regional Commerce Park.

He said that with more announcements and positive news from the city forthcoming, the city has “a unique opportunity to carry the sense of common purpose, understanding and compassion we’ve shared over this last year forward.”

He said that moving forward, the city must promote “inclusivity, equality and diversity, while keeping the city “safe, healthy and hopeful” and reinforcing mutual respect between residents and law enforcement. He also called on everyone to get vaccinated in an effort to beat back COVID-19.

“We have highlighted our city’s accomplishments, financial stability, economic growth, diversity and vast resources that create a positive outlook, making our city the envy of Hampton Roads,” Duman said. “Moving forward, we must not rest on our laurels. We must be willing to acknowledge issues and our citizens’ concerns. We must continue to open means of communication and, most importantly, listen.”