A Charming Region with Natural BEauty
Located near the nexus of Washington, D.C., Norfolk, Virginia, Richmond, Virginia and other urban centers, the peninsulas that make up the Northern Neck represent an attractive opportunity for people who wish to vacation and/or live and work in one of its many charming small communities. Together, the four counties of the region form a confederation known as the Northern Neck Planning District Commission (NNPDC), which has been designated as an Economic Development District by the United States EDA. The NNPDC is responsible for updating the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.
Nearly surrounded by Virginia waters (the Rappahannock River, the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay), some of the greatest strengths of the Northern Neck Region are found within its natural beauty. Lovely accommodations, exceptional meals, and plenty of shopping can be found in busy small towns like Warsaw, Kilmarnock, Irvington and the other towns that dot the landscape. Tourism is an important component of the local economy, but the region also features both aquaculture and agriculture, light manufacturing, timber and a busy retail trade.
A stable Economy Poised
The preponderance of recent economic data indicates a regional economy that is neither declining nor growing, but is somewhat stalled. Yet, we interviewed numerous companies that are prospering and expect to experience growth, if certain challenges can be overcome.
Regionally, once growing populations have slowed, and in some cases, reversed growth. Between 2018 and 2019, populations declined in Lancaster and Northumberland Counties, and grew by less than 1% in both Richmond and Westmoreland Counties.
Median household incomes declined in Richmond and Westmoreland Counties and all four counties have lower numbers than the state and national figures.
Lancaster and Richmond Counties saw the percentage of population employed decline slightly and Westmoreland and Northumberland employed population grew by less than 1%.
Lancaster County, VA
Richmond County, VA
Northumberland County, VA
Westmoreland County, VA
The update of the Northern Neck CEDS began with a thorough review of the most recent available data. Delays in release of 2020 census necessitated a greater reliance on 2019 data when drafting the analysis. As such, the full impact of the pandemic is not yet fully reflected in the data. Nonetheless, it should be noted that there are serious concerns prompted by the available pre-pandemic data which are still relevant to current and predicted future economic conditions.
With the repair and replacement of aging infrastructure, increased coordination among employers and trainers, the exploration of opportunities to increase the supply of water, and more aggressive marketing to attract tourists and workers, greater opportunities for growth will arise in the Northern Neck. There are also strong regional resources available in the quality training and education offered by Rappahannock Community College, which has committed to meeting regional workforce needs, and a new broadband partnership among government agencies and private service providers who have received funding from the Commonwealth to provide universal service throughout the Northern Neck.
In sum, with appropriate moves by local and regional governments to stimulate factors that can accelerate growth, there is great opportunity to build on the existing industry base. Concurrently, there are also opportunities to attract new companies to the region, as suggested by a recent report from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.