WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Virginia (STPNS) -- Economic development strategies were a discussion topic when Westmoreland County Citizens Association launched the first of its 2009 monthly meetings at the firehouse in Montross this Monday night.
Economic development has been an ongoing discussion topic when those members gather. Shared concerns about the growing tax burden on land owners was an issue that helped motivate county residents to form the nonprofit organization more than one year ago.
Chip Jones was between tours in Iraq when he launched the Association?s discussion of low impact economic development activities just over six months ago. Jones also originated the concept of the Northern Neck motor vehicle license plate that expected to gain approval during the current General Assembly session.
Jones encouraged the Association to investigate what is known as heritage tourism. The effort would be undertaken at a regional level and would allow the Northern Neck to develop a vigorous tourism-based economy that would utilize historic and geographic assets while retaining the region?s rural character. Federal funding would help support the initiative.
During later Association meetings county resident Gary Hutt has shared some of his own parallel ideas. Hutt was a featured speaker this Monday and this time there was also help from inside the Town of Colonial Beach.
As the considerations unfolded, it became apparent that Hutt?s ideas paralleled concepts Colonial Beach Councilman Steve Kennedy previously shared with members of Westmoreland County?s Board of Supervisors.
Kennedy was accompanied this Monday evening by Trish King, the Colonial Beach Vice Mayor. Both of the elected officials from Westmoreland?s largest incorporated town articulated the need to work in concert in order to develop a tourism-based economy centered around the shared historic and geographic assets.
Kennedy and King emphasized Westmoreland?s proximity to one of the East Coast?s largest population centers. The agreement was that in tough economic times the optimally located Northern Neck could be a highly attractive vacation destination.
?A visit to Westmoreland County would provide stress mitigation. Washington. D/ C/ has to be the most stressful place in the world,? quipped Kennedy. ?We?re only seventy-some miles away and we could certainly give them a place to come and relieve their stress.
?What everyone will discover we have is a stress clinic that is known as Westmoreland County!?
Hutt was ready for that input. ?Did you know that illnesses associated with 63 percent of the first-time visits to doctors are stress related?
?People want to remove stress from their lives. It?s a condition that affords us a business opportunity to preserve our rural environment and [revive] our local economy. We can target the cause of stress and then provide the infrastructure and services to help them mitigate the stress.?
Hutt provided the example of a project he completed in the interior of his family?s 1,000-acre tract. He built a lake and people eagerly paid good money to come and fish when Hutt launched his fishing club.
?I started with fourteen members. Now there are thirty-two.?
Hutt advised that the $8,000 he earned from the fishing club during 2008 ?is the best pay that I got.?
The economic development initiative would attempt to link Colonial Beach, Leedstown and Montross to key historic destinations that already are in place. Utility rights-of-way paralleling the regions most heavily traveled roads would be developed as trails for horse back riding, hiking and bicycling.
At King and Kennedy?s suggestion, strategies would be borrowed from other parts of Virginia where such successful initiatives already have been launched. Corporations would be created and the holders of the corporate stocks would be the local residents.
More will be published on the subject of this grass roots initiative during the weeks ahead. If successful, new business opportunities would emerge and fewer rural properties would be converted into residential subdivisions.
The county?s rural character would be preserved and its economic vitality would be enhanced, despite the global economic trends.
?We?d simply be using what we have,? said Kennedy of the idea shared by multiple individuals who only now are beginning to actively share economic development ideas.
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