More than 6,500 jobs were created or promised across the region in 2012, according to interviews with and announcements from city and business officials. The jobs range from computer analysts and engineers to freight handlers and supermarket cashiers.
In the largest single announcement, Suffolk will gain 1,500 employees in the Navy's Cyber Command, which focuses on computer security. They will move to the former headquarters of the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Suffolk in September, said Kevin Hughes, the city's economic development director.
The jobs are not included in the 6,500 total because they will not provide a net gain for the region: The employees are now stationed in Virginia Beach, Hughes said. But they're bound to propel retail and housing expansion in the city, he said.
The next biggest announcement: Norfolk's plan to revive Waterside as a food and entertainment complex, which carries the promise of 1,000 jobs. While the Navy jobs, like most others announced in Hampton Roads, will be full time, Chuck Rigney, interim development director in Norfolk, said he couldn't estimate how many at Waterside would be full time.
Officials throughout Hampton Roads spoke with pride about their progress in creating jobs, Rigney calling it "a terrific year." Local economists offered more measured assessments.
"Any new jobs we get are a benefit to us," said Greg Grootendorst, chief economist of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. But even if the region added 1,000 jobs a month - more than the total reported by the cities and companies - it wouldn't get back to its peak pre-recession employment level until the middle of 2019, he said.
Grootendorst and James Koch, an economics professor and former president at Old Dominion University, also said they doubted whether some projects, such as Waterside, would yield much job growth for Hampton Roads.
"Typically, restaurants don't attract much traffic outside the region," Koch said. When new restaurants appear, he said, they usually take customers from other restaurants, triggering job reductions there.
But Koch said the developments - which include such sectors as manufacturing, retail and technology - should be considered as a whole and should be seen as benefiting the entire region. "One city's prosperity ordinarily is the other city's prosperity as well," with people often shopping and living in cities where they don't work.
With that philosophy, Koch said he'd give the region a B for job creation this year, though he wished he'd seen more startups emanating from research at local universities and Eastern Virginia Medical School.
In only a few cases did employers or cities provide salary ranges.
Bauer Compressors' expansion of its manufacturing operation in Norfolk will yield 130 jobs paying $63,000 to $66,000 a year, Rigney said last month. Most recently, Virginia Beach reported two weeks ago that LoanCare, a loan-servicing company, will bring 178 jobs with an average salary of $37,500.
Almost in one voice, city officials said jobs with lower salaries are no less important. "Most successful cities have a diverse economy," said Scott Hall, business development coordinator at the Beach, who estimated that more than 1,700 jobs were created in the city this year. "You can't put all of your eggs in one basket."
Steven Wright, Chesapeake's development director, said: "We would obviously love to have everyone in Chesapeake making six figures, but that's not realistic. We want to be there to support all businesses. We believe if we provide a good environment for those businesses to grow and expand, hopefully we will see higher salaries."
The range of jobs, Koch said, fits the skill sets of the residents of Hampton Roads. "It isn't the same kind of labor force you see in Northern Virginia," he said.
Most of the jobs, city officials said, will be filled by people already living here.
Brenda Dennison worked sporadically in property management and real estate before she joined Whole Foods Market as a demo specialist when it opened at the Beach in October. Dennison, 60, helps set up food demonstrations by the store and its vendors. She's among Whole Foods' 97 full-time workers, marketing director Maria Miglioretti said.
Dennison, who lives at the Beach, said she appreciates Whole Foods' emphasis on health and the environment, as well as its benefits, including 401(k) and profit-sharing plans. Her salary started at $12 an hour, she said. "The potential to grow is there. It's a salary coming in all the time, not haphazardly as it is in real estate. It's something I can count on."
Dennison said she lost her home last year to foreclosure. "Look at the other people here," she said. "So many of them were on the verge of losing everything or already did. When they came here, it offered a new horizon."
It's nearly impossible to arrive at an exact number of new jobs. Even some development directors say they're not privy to every expansion in their cities.
Some job estimates are long-range. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters plans to employ 800 people at its new manufacturing and distribution center in Windsor within four years, spokeswoman Katie Gilroy said in an email. Now it has 115 employees, she said.
The numbers usually pan out, development directors said. "More times than not, they're either right on the money or sometimes we get a few more jobs than we initially anticipated," said Wright from Chesapeake.
Xerox Corp. said in August that it would add 300 employees to its call center in Chesapeake. It ended up adding 450, spokesman Alexander Charles said in an email.
Not all of the victories equate to big numbers. Wright pointed to Sumitomo Machinery Corp. of America's decision to expand its local presence.
"Other U.S. operations were considered for this expansion," he said, "but they decided to bring it here." Sumitomo has added 13 jobs so far to its Chesapeake manufacturing plant and opened a distribution center in Suffolk, employing 20, said James Travers, vice president of business operations.
Suffolk reported more than 300 jobs at other new distribution centers. "There are some highly paid managers and technology people that have to keep these things running," Koch said. "To the extent that there's some stability to them, these are attractive jobs."
Portsmouth's major gain is the probable development of a shopping center, anchored by a Kroger supermarket, on the site of the former I.C. Norcom High School property. That would bring 600 full- and part-time jobs to the city, said Patrick Small, Portsmouth's economic development director.
Aside from the jobs, Small said, the development would provide at least two huge benefits: more tax revenue for the city and greater convenience for its residents.
Norfolk's job growth also has hinged on retail. But that doesn't mean the city isn't going after "higher-paying opportunities," Rigney said. He pointed to high-tech gains in downtown Norfolk, where the software development firm xTuple added about 20 jobs in 2012.
Manufacturing experienced growth in almost every area. Western Tidewater was the biggest winner, with Green Mountain's start and the reopening of the International Paper mill near Franklin.
"I don't think any economy can be sustainable unless it's able to produce tangible goods," said Hall, the development coordinator at the Beach, where two manufacturers, IMS-Gear and Labels Unlimited, announced 151 new jobs. "A lot of people just want high-tech jobs. But a skilled machinist can pretty much write their ticket in any community around the world."
Philip Walzer, 757-222-3864, firstname.lastname@example.org