, 2014

Commonwealth sends economic
development reps to Northern Neck

KILMARNOCK —Representatives of Virginia government and the Northern Neck-Chesapeake Bay Region Economic Development Partnership recently conducted an all-day meeting March 27.

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The event included tours of Rappahannock Community College’s Kilmarnock Center and Rappahannock General Hospital, as well as drive-by inspections of Kilmarnock Technology Park and the Virginia Quality Life campus. Presentations from area business leaders were hosted by The Tides Inn in Irvington.

Chesapeake Bank chairman, chief executive officer and president Jeff Szyperski’s business profile compared the traditional economic mainstays of the Northern Neck to its present prospects, citing the area’s “can-do” attitude.

“If the economic pathfinders in the area had listened to feasibility studies rather than following their instincts and innate belief in the Northern Neck, neither the beautiful Tides Inn resort, the Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury retirement community, nor, more recently, the Quality Life Center would have ever been built,” said Szyperski. “Now they are thriving, and are great examples of what this area is capable of sustaining if given the chance.”

Paul Sciacchitano of Wells Fargo Investors gave an overview of Visions, an organization dedicated to reducing poverty and improving the lives of Lancaster and Northumberland residents. He detailed its economic development plans and discussed the challenges created by the Northern Neck’s geographic situation.

The size of the area fosters travel patterns that encourage residents to conduct business in Fredericksburg, Newport News, Williamsburg or Richmond rather than within the Northern Neck, said Sciacchitano. Visions would prefer to see people promote the local economy and drive economic development by transacting their business locally.

“We are in the country—but we are not in the sticks,” said Rappahannock General Hospital Foundation executive director Jimmie Carter.

He spoke about the many assets of the region—physical and cultural as well as “people” assets such as leadership—and how these can be used to drive economic development. “I believe that the Northern Neck is at a tipping point of a new era of development,” he said.

Members of the Richmond delegation praised local representatives for their firm grasp of what needs to be done to keep the area going and expanding. Several of them remarked that the Northern Neck has many opportunities for growth, if its leaders will focus on what they would like it to become.

However, one statistic they found alarming was a drop in the young adult population, showing that the potential workforce is going elsewhere. They emphasized the importance of improving education in the area, not only to train the workforce but to keep young parents from moving away to find better schools for their children.

“People want prosperity, but if the area doesn’t have the commitment to change, it will not work,” said Bob Sledd, Gov. Bob McDonnell’s senior economic advisor.

Others attending from Richmond were Secretary of Commerce and Trade James Cheng, Department of Housing and Community Development director Bill Shelton, Virginia Economic Development Partnership busines development director Liz Povar, Deputy Secretary for Rural Economic Development Mary Rae Carter, Virginia Economic Development Partnership representative Robin Bass, Del. Maraget Ransone staff member Jennifer Peters, Del. Keith Hodges and Sen. Ryan McDougle.

The event was coordinated by Visions director Joni Carter. Other representatives of local business and community interests were Lancaster County supervisor Wally Beauchamp, Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury president Stuart Bunting, Kilmarnock assistant town manager Susan Cockrell, RCC president Dr. Elizabeth Crowther, Lancaster Social Services director Edna Davenport and Northern Neck Planning District director Jerry Davis.

Also, Lancaster Community Library director Lindsy Gardner, Northern Neck Tourism Council director Lisa Hull, Northumberland County Economic Development Commission vice chairman Bill Kling, Hickory Ground Solutions chief executive officer Bart Morrison, Visions treasurer Bill Pennell; RCC vice president of workforce development Jason Perry, Lancaster County administrator Frank Pleva, Rappahannock Yachts owner Bruce Sanders and The Tides Inn general manager Gordon Slatford.

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