Virginia’s third largest city is first place in regional population growth.
From 2015 to 2016, Chesapeake gained 2,509 new residents, growing to a population of 237,940, according to recently released population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a 1.06 percent increase.
Suffolk’s population saw the largest increase by percentage. The city grew by 1.3 percent or 1,157 people to 89,273, while Virginia Beach, the state’s largest city, saw 748 people join the community. With an estimated population of 452,602, Virginia Beach saw growth of less than 1 percent.
Four other cities in the region saw negligible population declines.
Portsmouth saw the largest decline, losing 1,104 residents, a 1.1 percent decrease; the city’s population was 95,252. Norfolk lost 1,015 people, which put the population of Virginia’s second largest city at 245,115 for a loss of less than 1 percent. Fairfax County is the state’s largest jurisdiction with a 2016 population of 1.13 million.
On the Peninsula, Hampton lost 944 people, resulting in a population of 135,410. And Newport News lost the fewest number of people, 160, resulting in an estimated 2016 population of 181,825. Those are declines of less than 1 percent.
Although the populations of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Newport News and Suffolk have grown since the 2010 U.S. Census, overall, the metro region’s population grew less than 1 percent from 2015. An estimated 1,726,907 people lived in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metropolitan area in 2016, according to the Census Bureau.
Virginia Beach’s growth in the last five years is encouraging, Mayor Will Sessoms said.
“Compared to the explosive growth Virginia Beach experienced in the 1970s and 80s, the pace is steady and manageable — about 8 people per day,” Sessoms said in an email. “We have been focused on establishing new employment clusters like biomedical and cybersecurity to expand job opportunities that attract new residents, especially younger people.”
Sessoms said population trends and economic development “are inextricably linked.” Growth results in economic vitality, which supports economic prosperity, which increases a community’s attractiveness to people and business that are looking to relocate.
“Then, we have the resources we need to invest in our city’s services and infrastructure,” Sessoms said. “Keeping Virginia Beach competitive is probably the most important job we have, and the fact that we are growing supports our overall direction.”
Mike Kuhns, president and CEO of the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, echoed that sentiment, saying in an email “population growth can always be a selling point and hopefully, the demographics of the growth are a result or compliment strategic investment initiatives.”
Bryan Stephens, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber, said population growth is usually associated with a good quality of life. Growing communities are places where people want to work, live and raise families. He said in an email the region’s growth is not likely connected to any particular economic project or event but rather the community’s positive attributes taken as a whole.
“We are blessed with a premier mid-Atlantic location which provides a spectacular quality of life, a variety of natural resources and leisure activities, diverse communities, abundant educational opportunities, low cost of living, a tremendous military presence, amazing people and, of course, a pro-business environment,” Stephens said.
As Hampton Roads continues to grow, Stephens said the region will need to continue to aggressively address its transportation challenges, not just on the roads but on the rails, in the air and through public transportation.
“Transportation is either an enabler or an inhibitor of business and quality of life,” Stephens said. “We need to ensure it’s an enabler in Hampton Roads.”
Stephens also said workforce development and forecasting will ensure Hampton Roads workers have the skills to match available jobs.
Kuhns echoed that sentiment, saying the entire region is working to develop and attract higher paying positions, that will in turn, hopefully attract millennials and military service members who are transitioning to civilian life.
In a region rich with potential and diverse resources, such as scientific and intellectual property, higher education institutions, advanced manufacturing operations, maritime interests, history, tourism and military interests, “only our unwillingness to partner and collaborate keeps us from reaching our potential,” Kuhns said.