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"Economic progress can be measured by both the ability to stabilize
budgetary needs, through the development of adequate reserve and
contingency funds, without resorting to increased taxes as well
as by the expansion of business development in the community."
- Tom Harris, Northampton County Administrator
Northampton County has addressed its economic decline
through a unique Sustainable Development Action Strategy. Since
its conception in September 1993, the strategy has won national
acclaim as a model of comprehensive public-private partnership
for small-town, rural development. One outcome of the strategy
is the Port of Cape Charles Sustainable Technologies Industrial
Park, which will provide fertile ground for the growth of environmentally
Fighting Poverty and Protecting the Environment:
Development of a Sustainable Technologies Industrial Park
Northampton County is undergoing a striking metamorphosis. It
is transforming itself from an economically depressed community
into a twenty-first century model of cohesive sustainable development.
Evidence of the change is visible but the transformation is not
yet complete: the county still suffers economic hardship, with
a declining population and steep job losses resulting from reversals
in its dominant seafood and agricultural industries. According
to the 1990 census, 27 percent of the County's 13,000 inhabitants
live below the poverty line.
Underlying this transfomation is Northampton's refusal to accept
these conditions. In choosing an eco-industrial development model
it also refuses to accept the tradeoff of natural and cultural
resources for short term economic gains. Further, it has refused
to incur debt to finance infrastructure development.
Northampton's Board of Supervisors translated this resolve into
action through a Sustainable Development Task Force, charged with
the mission of "providing leadership to capitalize on and protect
Northampton's world class natural and cultural resources for the
ongoing benefit of all citizens." The strategy integrates economic
development and resource protection. Facilitating sustainable
development through private investment, it identifies six target
industries and explicitly links each to the environmental resource
base on which it depends:
This sustainable development strategy--balancing economy and environment--was
developed with, and continues to depend on, substantial community
- Develop agriculture industry / Protect productive land
- Develop seafood and aquaculture industry / Protect water
- Develop heritage tourism industry / Protect natural and cultural
- Develop arts, crafts, local products industry / Preserve
culturally-diverse and authentic community
- Develop research, education industry / Protect natural and
- Develop new industry / Protect sense of place, quality of
life, and groundwater
Engineering an Economic Turnaround:
Northampton County's commitment to resource preservation stems
from its past experience with natural-resource-intensive industries.
As catches and harvests dwindled, seafood and agriculture based
industries shrank. When other industries were told to clean up
or close they closed. Realizing the the risks inherent in relying
on an erodable resource base, the people of Northampton have made
sustainability their number-one priority.
The anchor of Northampton's sustainable economic redevelopment
strategy is the Port of Cape Charles Sustainable Technologies
Industrial Park (STIP). The fruit of an innovative partnership
of local, federal, and private investors and stakeholders, the
STIP will attract national and multinational businesses committed
both to profitability and to environmental and social integrity.
It will house facilities that boast advanced features for resource
efficiency and pollution prevention. Although its infrastructure
is not yet in place the STIP has already attracted its first tenant--a
manufacturer of photovoltaic energy equipment.
Developing an eco-industrial park as the flagship of a
sustainability strategy capitalizes on the region's existing assets.
The Port of Cape Charles offers proximity to major East Coast
markets, multi-modal transportation facilities, central water
and waste-water treatment, a beautiful Chesapeake Bay setting,
and historic small-town charm. In addition, the Port of Cape Charles
was chosen by the President's Council on Sustainable Development
in 1994 as the site of a national prototype industrial facility.
Nonetheless, the community had to work hard to overcome barriers.
To make their strategy work Northamptonians needed to know
their weaknesses as well as they knew their strengths. Formulating
the Sustainable Development Action Strategy was, first and foremost,
a soul searching activity in which community leaders identified
barriers to private investment in the new STIP. Problems dealt
- Limited professionally-skilled labor
- Low educational attainment rate of population
- Out-migration of young people and accompanying loss of skill,
energy, and talent
Northampton needed to address these conditions before it could successfully
solicit outside investors for the STIP but a dwindling economic
base limited its ability to finance the infrastructure improvements
critical to change. While the vision and plan for sustainability
were clear, the immediate challenge was to lay the groundwork necessary
to catalyze the process.
- Limited freshwater supply and wastewater treatment facilities
- Substandard housing stock and lack of adequate housing
- Limited amenities, including restaurants and lodging, shopping
facilities, and conference and meeting facilities
Investing in a Sustainable Future: Cost Savings and Community
How did Northampton escape this "Catch-22" and convert years
of poverty into a winning combination of twenty-first-century
industry and environmental stewardship? The answer lies in a committed
leadership, a series of well-focused cost-saving measures, and
The town of Cape Charles also committed infrastructure
resources such as land, sewer services, and water; the county
of Northampton, in turn, committed money and services. Originally,
the Northampton County Board of Supervisors considered funding
the STIP with a $4.6 million public bond issue, but, preferring
self-reliance the Board ultimately decided to develop the STIP
without incurring debt or raising taxes. This left Northampton
with only one real option--to reduce program costs and government
expenditures through budget scrutiny and reorganization. The cost
saving measures it identified include:
The initial goal of the cost-saving efforts was to create a reserve
fund of $1.5 million, equal to 7.5 percent of the county's operating
budget. Northampton's strategy has begun to pay off. Its thrift
has not gone unnoticed or unrewarded. Since the reserve fund was
created, plans and activities to develop Northampton sustainably
have attracted considerable attention and grant monies. A grant
from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration partially
funded the county's Sustainable Development Action Strategy, which
the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's Coastal Resources
Management Program also supported. Indeed, a grant from the latter
helped Northampton County's Board of Supervisors create and fill
a new staff position: Director of Sustainable Development.
- Prioritizing service and programs;
- Reorganization of service delivery;
- Developing more cost-effective solid waste management practices;
- Reducing positions through attrition; and
- Securing regional, state, and federal technical assistance,
loans, and grants.
While a great deal of STIP funding has come from federal, state,
and private sources, Northampton itself has invested $300,000
and has committed an additional $320,000 to STIP development.
By choosing a fiscally conservative path, Northampton has successfully
commuted a potential debt note of $4.6 million to a debt-free
investment of $620,000.
The county leaders, acting as stewards of their community, made
a difficult short-term decision to cut spending. By doing so they
created a reserve of funds to be invested in the STIP that will
repay thier constituients rich dividends: no increased debt, a
sustainable future, and -perhaps most important--an unprecedented
feeling of community ownership. Without community buy-in,
Northampton's development efforts would resemble those of Anywhere,
America. The community's commitment to capitalizing on and protecting
Northampton's world-class natural and historic assets for the
ongoing benefit of all citizens--and government's resolve to act
on that commitment--ensure the STIP's ultimate success.
A Model for Sustainable Rural Development
Northampton's efforts to spark industrial development without
the environmental costs generally associated with such development
are a continuing success. County leaders' commitment to plan and
develop the Port of Cape Charles STIP generated not only grants
from state, federal, and private non-profit organizations, but
also recognition and support from many sources.
Northampton's strategies for sustainable development are
easily replicable elsewhere. Communities can create a reserve
of public funds for comparable projects, changing priorities in
short-term spending to set the stage for long-term sustainable
development activities. It is important to acknowledge, however,
that the greatest and most important component of Northampton's
efforts is the community-wide process that built a comprehensive
plan on the needs, desires, and concerns of the 13,000 residents
of Northampton County with the support of local government and
regional, state, and federal partners.
Northampton County's Sustainable Development initiative and the
Port of Cape Charles STIP testify to the power of a grassroots
vision of economic revitalization and enhanced quality of life
for all residents of Northampton County. Thanks to these efforts
Northampton is home to nationally recognized rural-development
model that is environmentally, culturally, and economically vital.
About Northampton County
The southernmost point of the Delaware, Maryland,
and Virginia Peninsula, a 70-mile strip of land located between
the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
359 square miles
Per capita income:
Form of Government:
Board of Supervisors/County Administrator
Northampton County faces severe economic and social
problems. Its major industries have suffered steep declines in
recent years. From 1988 to 1992 employment fell by 6 percent and
wages by 11 percent. Twenty seven percent of its residents live
in poverty and 20 percent of those over the age of 25 have less
than a ninth grade education.
It's a Fact
Just off the seaside of Virginia's Eastern
Shore, in Northampton County, lies the last intact, naturally
functioning coastal barrier island ecosystem on the Atlantic Coast.
In 1979, the United Nations designated this chain of islands as
a World Biosphere Reserve due to the habitat it provides for over
260 species of birds, as well as other wildlife.
Sustainable Development, One STIP at a Time
- On December 21, 1994, President Bill Clinton
announced the selection of portions of Northampton County as
a national enterprise community. Along with other benefits,
this designation provides local incentives for business investment
and industrial development within the designated community.
Thanks to the designation, Northampton County also enjoys priority
consideration by federal and state agencies for technical and
financial resources that will facilitate development of the
Port of Cape Charles Sustainable Technologies Industrial Park
- On February 6, 1995, Virginia Governor George
Allen designated this area as a Virginia Enterprise Zone. As
a result, Northampton Couunty received a package of state tax
and other incentives for industrial development and investment
in the park. Also made available were key resource personnel
from several state agencies to support local government and
private industry in the park's initiation and design.
- The University of Virginia's architecture dean
led an international team in a community design charette for
the STIP. A partnership of private firms and local, state, and
federal government created the park's master plan.
- U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration is committed as a STIP development
partner. The agency awards $74,000 in grants for planning, community
involvement, and design.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
is committed as a STIP development partner. EPA selects the
Port of Cape Charles as an economic redevelopment pilot project,
and awards a $200,000 grant.
- A $1,067,000 local/state/federal funding package
supports phase one infrastructure construction for STIP development.
- An international photovoltaic products manufacturer
is committed as first corporate anchor of Northampton's STIP
Benefits of Northampton Sustainable Development
Program/Sustainable Development Technologies Industrial Park
Northampton County has received the National Association
of Counties' Presidential Leadership Award for the Strategy and
was chosen as one of four sites by the President's Council on
Sustainable Development for an ecological industrial park. To
date, some of the benefits from taking a sustainable development
approach have included:
Business, Economics, Jobs
- As part of the Sustainable Development Action
Strategy, an Eastern Shore Birding Festival has been initiated
which brought in over $100,000 to the area in ecotourism dollars.
- As part of the Sustainable Development Action
Strategy, Northampton's aquaculture industry expanded from one
company and less than $1 million in sales in 1991 to four companies
with $5 million in sales in 1995.
Environment, Quality of Life
- Greater participation by community members
in determining their future.
[These estimates were not necessarily developed
by the sponsoring jurisdiction].
It's a Fact...
Eco-industrial parks (EIPs) are developed
with two principal goals: to promote economic activity and to
eliminate waste and pollution. Some EIPs aim to do this by recruiting
low pollution industries, others by fostering development of industries
that feed off each other's waste streams. In an example of the
latter, in Kalundborg, Denmark an electric utility provides residues
to a wallboard company and its waste-heat warms fish ponds speeding
fish growth, sludge from the fish ponds fertilizes local farmers'
fields, and the power plant itself uses waste water from a nearby
Other Communities Developing Eco-Industrial
Other Sustainable Programs in Northampton County,
Sustainability Development Action Strategy
Links action to develop jobs with protection of
natural, cultural, and human resources.
National Association of Counties Presidential
Celebrates the county as a model for the sustainable
development of communities throughout America.
Sustainable Technologies Industrial Park
Approved a $4.6 Million bond for development of
a Sustainable Technologies Industrial Park.
Water and Wastewater Facility-
Provides a $3.9 million water and wastewater treatment
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