NORFOLK -- Every city loves to be a winner. Awards get you good publicity, often show citizens are engaged and help to attract businesses that beef up the tax base.
That’s a large part of what was behind Norfolk’s successful bid to become an ‘All-America City.’
At an upscale Denver hotel, Civic League Presidents and city leaders convinced the judges the way citizens and the city work together on neighborhood flooding and veterans issues was worthy of Norfolk being named an ‘All-America City.’
"It's certainly going to bring our level of visibility up. Norfolk is no longer the town where sailors and dogs have to stay off the grass," Freemason Civic League President Jack Kavanaugh said.
While some cities use private money to try and win the award, Norfolk spent more than $10,000 of your money on airfare, hotels, and meals for 10 people, plus t-shirts, props, and even a liquor bill.
Now with flags flying across the city celebrating the award, and Norfolk’s elevated image being talked about worldwide, city leaders say going after the award was money well spent in luring more visitors and economic opportunities.
"It says that Norfolk is part of a select few communities that have taken on issues and have found solutions to some very tough issues through civic engagement," City Manager Marcus Jones said.
But critics of the award nationally say the All America City Award is old and outdated, further arguing what’s special about an award 600 other cities can claim, including at one time Portsmouth and Hampton.
"The award helps you give a positive image," TCC Economics Professor Peter Shaw said of the award.
Shaw added a positive image may get you in the front door with CEO’s looking to expand their businesses, but there’s another hurdle - the very basic question of whether it makes good business sense to come here.
While Norfolk has a great location geographically, a great port, a strong military presence, and high tech facilities, the city also has its share of well-publicized challenges.
Half of the land is taken by state and federal governments. There still are no takers for the Ford plant and there are well-documented transportation issues.
And as the city hung the ‘All America City’ banners, the school board met late into the night trying to fend off a state takeover of its failing school system.
"You might have a great community and a great lifestyle, but if you don’t have the labor pool I need, I’m not coming," Shaw added.
Norfolk says the 'All-America City' Award itself will not solve the city’s biggest challenges. The city hopes the more immediate pay off is that more citizens will engage and feel that what they bring to the table counts at city hall.
“It’s almost contagious, that people are saying that it is great to be involved because the administration, the council, they actually listen to us,” Jones said.