Thinking regionally

Published 10:52 am Saturday, August 28, 2010

The notion that what’s good economically for Suffolk and Greensville County is good for Western Tidewater might seem obvious when looking at a map, but that hasn’t always been the way we think in these parts.

As a newcomer, I’ve devoted considerable time over the past four years listening to old-timers reflect on Western Tidewater’s economic successes and failures over the years. To a person, they acknowledge that geographic pettiness has held us back.

Economic stability provided by the Franklin paper mill and a healthy agricultural sector allowed that sort of parochial thinking. In short, we didn’t need anyone else’s help. “We were fat and happy,” one old-timer told me.

So while it might seem unremarkable to an outside observer that, in simultaneous meetings Monday night, Southampton County supervisors would endorse an industrial “mega-site” near Emporia and the Franklin City Council would join a regional fight to reverse the Pentagon’s planned elimination of the Joint Forces Command in north Suffolk, I was heartened to read of both boards’ actions.

Southampton County Administrator Mike Johnson, a big-picture guy who understands the necessity of regional cooperation, prepped the county board well before its vote to endorse the Greensville County industrial site that has been looked at by a couple of automobile manufacturers.

“While conventional thinking might cause one to conclude that the project is competition against our own economic development initiatives, that type of thinking would really be pretty shortsighted,” Johnson told the board. “In addition to the employment opportunities that the center would provide, there is an opportunity for its suppliers to locate in our own industrial parks.”

Former Suffolk Mayor Dana Dickens is another who “gets it.”

Dickens leads the Hampton Roads Partnership, which was created expressly to promote regionalism. A few months back the partnership originated a “Declaration of Interdependence,” signed by 17 localities, including Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County. Delegates from each joined Gov. Bob McDonnell for a cheesy but fun replication of the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. A “regional crier” in full Colonial regalia hailed the localities’ intent to “speak together as one region,” “act together as one region” and together “ensure a wonderful future.”

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill, Southampton County Supervisor Anita Felts and Isle of Wight County Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw signed for their respective communities.

Proclamations and ceremonies are easy, of course. The proof will be in future actions. But it’s encouraging at least to get our elected leaders “on the record” for regionalism.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is