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Image: Marsh

Northampton County,
Virginia

"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." 

County of Northampton Emblem
- Tom Harris, Northampton County Administrator   

ABSTRACT

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 sensitive business. 


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: 

  • Develop agriculture industry / Protect productive land
  • Develop seafood and aquaculture industry / Protect water quality
  • Develop heritage tourism industry / Protect natural and cultural assets
  • Develop arts, crafts, local products industry / Preserve culturally-diverse and authentic community
  • Develop research, education industry / Protect natural and cultural systems
  • Develop new industry / Protect sense of place, quality of life, and groundwater
  •  

This sustainable development strategy--balancing economy and environment--was developed with, and continues to depend on, substantial community participation. 

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 with included:

 Labor constraints

  • Limited professionally-skilled labor 
  • Low educational attainment rate of population
  • Out-migration of young people and accompanying loss of skill, energy, and talent
Infrastructure constraints
  • 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
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.

 
Investing in a Sustainable Future: Cost Savings and Community Consensus 

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 community consensus.

 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: 

  • 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.
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. 

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

 Location:
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. 

Size:
359 square miles 

Population:
13,000

 Per capita income:
$14,662

 Form of Government:
Board of Supervisors/County Administrator

 Context:
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 (STIP).

 

  • 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 oil refinery.

 

Other Communities Developing Eco-Industrial Parks

 Raymond, WA
Chattanooga, TN
Baltimore, MD
Brownsville, TX 


Other Sustainable Programs in Northampton County, Virginia

 Sustainability Plan:

 Sustainability Development Action Strategy
Links action to develop jobs with protection of natural, cultural, and human resources.

 National Association of Counties Presidential Leadership Award
Celebrates the county as a model for the sustainable development of communities throughout America.

 Economic Development:

Sustainable Technologies Industrial Park
Approved a $4.6 Million bond for development of a Sustainable Technologies Industrial Park.

 Water:
Water and Wastewater Facility-
Provides a $3.9 million water and wastewater treatment facility

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