In 1619, the Governor for the Virginia Colony, Sir George Yeardley established four incorporations, termed citties, for the developed portion of the colony. These formed the basis for colonial representative government in the newly minted House of Burgesses. What would become Norfolk was put under the Elizabeth Cittie incorporation.
Norfolk has a variety of historic neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods, such as Berkley, were formerly cities and towns. Others, such as Willoughby Spit and Ocean View, have a long history tied to the Chesapeake Bay. Today neighborhoods such as Downtown and Ghent have transformed with the revitalization that the city has undergone.
Since Norfolk serves as the commercial and cultural center for the unusual geographical region of Hampton Roads (and in its political structure of independent cities), it can be difficult to separate the economic characteristics of Norfolk from that of the region as a whole.
The waterways which almost completely surround the Hampton Roads region play an important part in the local economy. As a strategic location at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, its protected deep-water channels serve as a major trade artery for the import and export of goods from across the Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, and internationally.
In addition to commercial activities, Hampton Roads is a major military center, particularly for the United States Navy, and Norfolk serves as the home for the most important of these regional installations, Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval station. Located on Sewell’s Point Peninsula, in the northwest corner of the city, the installation is the current headquarters of the United States Fleet Forces Command (formerly known as the Atlantic Fleet), as well as being home port for the Second Fleet, which compromises approximately 62,000 active duty personnel, 75 ships, and 132 aircrafts. The base also serves as the headquarters to the Allied Command Transformation (NATO) and the United States Joint Forces Command.
The region also plays an important role in defense contracting, with particular emphasis in the shipbuilding and ship repair businesses for the city of Norfolk. Major private shipyards located in Norfolk or the Hampton Roads area include: Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding (formerly Northrop Grumman Newport News) in Newport News, BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair, Metro Machine Corporation, and Colonna’s Shipyard Inc., while the US Navy’s Norfolk Naval Shipyard is just across the Downtown Tunnel in Portsmouth. Most contracts fulfilled by these shipyards are issued by the Navy, though some private commercial repair also takes place. Over 35% of Gross Regional Product (which includes the entire Norfolk-Newport News-Virginia Beach MSA), is attributable to defense spending, and that 75% of all regional growth since 2001 is attributable to increases in defense spending.
Hampton Roads is home to four Fortune 500 companies. Representing the food industry, transportation, retail and healthcare, these four companies are located in Smithfield, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.