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Bank Leaders Find Growth Opportunities in Northern Neck

Community Conversations VA Northern Neck

The Richmond Fed’s Community Conversations team discovered during a recent visit to Virginia’s Northern Neck the economic diversity among the towns and counties that make up this region.

The Northern Neck is the northernmost peninsula on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, bordered on the north by the Potomac River and on the south by the Rappahannock River. It includes the counties of Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond, King George and Westmoreland, with the towns of Kilmarnock and Warsaw having distinct character and potential for growth.

Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin, the Bank’s Chief Operating Officer and Northern Neck native Becky Bareford, economist Joe Mengedoth and Community Development regional manager Jarrod Elwell learned during a two-day visit in mid-October about the aging population in the Northern Neck, particularly in Northumberland and Lancaster counties. The median age of residents in those two counties make them the two localities in Virginia with the oldest citizens. This is in large part attributable to an influx of retirement-aged affluent homeowners, many of whom have taken up permanent residence on the Northern Neck in what is their second home.

The Bank’s Community Conversations team also learned that throughout the region, which is known for its natural resources and tourism, there is a need for workers. “A lot of the younger generation leaves after high school, and there is a lot of concern about where employees are going to come from in the future,” Mengedoth said.

Currently, there are jobs available in the skilled trades, including welding and at a local sawmill. There are also hospitality and tourism roles, along with available jobs for teachers and nurses.

Leaders in the region acknowledged that their efforts to lure employees and new residents must come with expanded housing options. Currently, there are few options, in part due to the lack of public water and sewer outside of town limits. The trend of turning single family homes into short-term rental properties and the lack of multifamily rental housing options exacerbates the region’s housing challenges.

“It’s hard to recruit people when they can’t find a place to live,” Mengedoth said, noting that a housing study is underway. “Part of the challenge is the peninsula itself. There is a lot of land, but it’s difficult to develop because of limited access to water, sewer and natural gas.”

One outlier to these concerns is Warsaw, which has seen a significant increase in residents over the past six years. That growth has been the result of intentional efforts to redesign downtown, creating a draw with boutique shops, a brewery and other locally owned small businesses.

The Community Conversations team noted some examples of creative leadership among the public and private sectors. The Town of Warsaw, for example, has been proactive in supporting investment in its downtown revitalization efforts. Also, leadership at the Tides Inn in Irvington has been investing in the restoration of its shoreline, oyster habitat and experiential ecotourism opportunities.

The team came away with a better sense of how each locality in the Northern Neck is working within its own boundaries to remain sustainable and welcoming.

“This region has great potential as a growth market,” Elwell said. “In part, due to its location and the anticipated regionwide expansion of fiber-run broadband by mid-2024. That will be a huge boost for the communities and will allow employees who work hybrid to potentially live in the Northern Neck and occasionally commute to Washington, D.C., Fredericksburg, Richmond or Virginia Beach.”

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Jim Strader (804) 697-8956 (804) 332-0207 (mobile)