For the past three years, the city's economic development department has targeted a surprising industry - people.
The department has put most of its $115,000 marketing budget into an effort to attract new residents to the city.
City Council members had directed the focus in 2010 because the city's population was shrinking.
And fewer people means dwindling tax dollars and fewer shoppers for the retailers that city leaders hope to lure into town, according to Patrick J. Small, the city's economic development director.
The department has paid for TV commercials, radio spots, billboards and a MoveToPortsmouthVa.com website.
Viewers see sweeping waterfront scenes. They watch the paddle-wheel ferry sail into a downtown landing. And they see steeples rise above Olde Towne.
"Built by patriots and filled with families," the voice in the commercial says of the city's first neighborhood.
The ads also feature new neighborhoods such as New Port and old favorites including Glensheallah, where stately 1940s homes face the Western Branch of the Elizabeth River.
"Tell your Realtor," each intones at the end.
The city's head count had dropped from almost 104,000 in 1990 to 95,535 in 2010.
The numbers are edging upward now - to about 96,500 in 2012 - and Portsmouth officials want to keep the moving vans coming.
"Any way you shake it, having more people living within your boundaries floats a lot of boats," said Councilman Bill Moody.
City leaders said Portsmouth's real estate setting offers a competitive edge. Small said there is a national and regional trend of people moving back to urban centers.
And Portsmouth has a reputation for being affordable.
Home sale prices are lower in the old seaport, according to the Real Estate Information Network and Old Dominion University Economic Forecasting Project.
In 2012, the median sale price for an existing home was $78,000 less than the Hampton Roads median. For new construction, it was about $65,000 less.
The same statistics showed that sales of homes in Portsmouth are climbing. The number of existing homes sold went from 936 in 2010 to 1,022 in 2012. And new-home sales rose from 38 in 2010 to 66 in 2012.
At a recent council work session, members were updated on the campaign and a survey, which will try to measure the impact of the effort.
Both Mayor Kenny Wright and Moody say that, at this point, the survey establishes a benchmark.
So far, there have been 6,845 visitors to the MoveToPortsmouthVa.com website - about 54 percent from Virginia and almost 1,700 from neighboring South Hampton Roads cities. Others hail from 50 states and several countries.
And, not surprisingly, the initial results indicate that more than half of the city's newest homebuyers made their decisions based on lower prices.
Wright believes that the city's timing in trying to woo homebuyers and residents is perfect. Lessons were learned from the recession and the bursting of the housing bubble, he said - many people lost homes or found themselves underwater.
Janie Bryant, 757-446-2453,firstname.lastname@example.org