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Thinking outside the map

August 19, 2012 12:10 am

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Fredericksburg's Colonial downtown helps to draw tourists to an entire region of historic and shopping destinations.

TODAY is National Aviation Day, which commemorates the birth of Orville Wright, who was born in 1871. Orville and his brother, Wilbur, invented the first successful airplane, which allowed human beings to travel beyond their geographical boundaries in a way that, before its invention, took place only in dreams.

The boundaries of local governments in Virginia were largely settled in the 18th and 19th centuries, in a different world with much less mobility than the one in which we live today. In the highly connected world of the 21st century, many of the programs and services provided by local government address issues that are regional in nature. Crime, transportation, economic development, emergency operations, environmental protection, and many other issues cross jurisdictional boundaries and challenge the local governments charged with addressing them.

Fortunately, the Rappahannock community has a long history of cooperation, innovation, and creativity, and flying beyond our "nests" is more the norm than the exception. From George Washington to Doris Buffett, our region has been home to people who have viewed the world from a slightly different perspective than most others, always seeing its possibilities, instead of its boundaries. This visionary approach is evident in our local governments today, especially when it comes to meeting our service challenges regionally.

Many of our residents may not be aware of the large extent to which important local government services in our area are provided on a regional basis. A recent inventory of our regional efforts revealed that there are at least 37 initiatives underway today. Many involve the city of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Caroline, and King George counties, as well as numerous localities in central and Northern Virginia.

Services that require large capital investments are often good candidates for regional provision because of the savings that can be achieved through economies of scale. This is particularly true if the need for public access is limited, which mitigates the loss of convenience to the general public of having one large facility rather than many smaller ones. For example, the Rappahannock Regional Jail and the Rappahannock Juvenile Center provide secure detention facilities for convicted criminals and those awaiting trial for our region.

Stafford County and the city of Fredericksburg participate together to provide a regional landfill for those two localities. In addition, Spotsylvania County provides all water treatment for itself and Fredericksburg through a regional service arrangement, eliminating the need for a separate water treatment plant in the city. Another example of our regional efforts is the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, which offers eight branches throughout our region (including Westmoreland County) and is a success story. The ability of our library to purchase in volume and move materials between branches improves service to the community.

FAMPO'S CHALLENGES

Without question, transportation is a regional service challenge, and many regional efforts are under way to meet transportation challenges today and in the future. The Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (FAMPO) is a key organization charged with planning for transportation improvements to meet future demand. The organization's strategy is to bring public and private interests together to better understand their roles in the economic and community development areas and to more effectively and efficiently deal with issues as partners rather than autonomous groups.

The George Washington Regional Commission works closely with FAMPO and provides a forum for elected officials and staff to meet regularly on regional issues.

The Virginia Railway Express is an important partnership of the federal, state, and regional authorities and local governments that provide commuter rail service to the nation's capital.

The FREDericksburg Regional Transit system is another partnership of federal, state, and local governments, providing 21 bus routes and more than 549,000 passenger trips during fiscal year 2012.

Orville and Wilbur Wright might have enjoyed taking off from the Stafford Regional Airport, a joint venture of Fredericksburg and the counties of Stafford and Prince William.

Public safety and emergency operations and planning provide many opportunities to pool resources. Local governments throughout the region enhance public safety response capability through mutual aid agreements. Planning for major incidents or emergencies is regional, assisted by the state and the regional health district. Training is also often provided regionally, through facilities such as the Rappahannock Criminal Justice Academy and the regional fire training center that serve Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg.

ENHANCING OUR ECONOMY

Despite the sometimes competitive nature of local economic development, there are plenty of efforts that enhance the economy of the region. The Fredericksburg Regional Alliance is a public-private economic development marketing partnership that works to diversify our economy and bring jobs to our area. Another example is the Fredericksburg Regional Tourism Partnership, a marketing effort promoting tourism visitation to Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford.

The Tourism Partnership launched a new website promoting regional lodging, dining, heritage, cultural, and recreational attractions. Operating under the "Timeless" brand, the new website was launched in February 2012. It is located at VisitFred .com and the theme, "The Greatest Vacation in History," recurs with imagery illustrating contemporary visitors enjoying historic attractions, events, and regional offerings.

Another example is FredTech, an award-winning educational venture that helps prepare students for employment in future growth industries. The Fredericksburg Region Business Seminar and Expo is another good example of a regional economic development effort.

We could not mention regionalism without discussing our combined efforts in human services. To create a more holistic approach in evaluating the needs of at-risk children and their families, our human services staff developed an evaluation process and regional referral and update form that assists families and members of the Family Assessment and Planning Team in finding duplication and maintaining credibility among service providers. The approach provides an easy-to-understand process for families who may access services in multiple localities. The process and form are used in Stafford and Spotsylvania counties and Fredericksburg.

The young people referred to the Office on Youth provide community service to Stafford even though their crimes may have occurred in another locality or they reside in another locality. The office also partners with the R-Board for trash cleanup along the roads of Stafford County.

Other regional human services initiatives include the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board, which aids citizens in Planning District 16 with mental health, intellectual disability, and substance abuse problems and assists in preventing the occurrence of these conditions. The Safe Harbor Counseling Center for victims of child abuse is another regional effort aimed at helping our younger citizens.

Last but not least is our very successful Youth First program, which has taken place every year since 2006. Youth First consists of a day of training, collaboration, and networking for human service professionals in each of the planning districts in the Fredericksburg region. This day also provides resources for those who are working with the at-risk families and children of our planning district.

UNIQUE, YET TOGETHER

Such combined efforts--past, present, and future--allow us to leverage resources and add value, while maintaining our communities' unique "personalities." Fredericksburg's quaint Colonial downtown and prestigious University of Mary Washington beckon visitors from all over the U.S. who wish to experience the city's connections to George Washington's family and its life as a bustling port town. Here at home, friends and families are drawn to Fredericksburg's familiar celebrations such as its annual Christmas parade or the Soap Box Derby. Spotsylvania is known as the "Crossroads of the Civil War" but is also attracting residents and visitors with its retail establishments and a growing health care industry. And Stafford continues to build its national reputation as a cradle of opportunity for individuals and businesses with its diverse business base and recreational and historic resources, including its own connection to George Washington at his childhood home, Ferry Farm.

Despite our distinctions, our regional efforts bind us, not just with each other, but with the rest of the planet. In fact, the more technology advances, the flatter and smaller our world becomes. Our region is tied directly not only to the National Capital Region, the Richmond area, and our rural neighbors to the east and west, but also to the international dynamics brought about by technology.

What Orville and Wilbur Wright accomplished with a heavier-than-air propeller-driven machine in the 20th century, we can accomplish today with a simple click of a mouse or a swipe on a cellphone. Local governments and regions that seize the opportunity of technology and innovation will lead in the global economy.




Anthony Romanello is county administrator of Stafford County, Beverly Cameron is city manager of Fredericksburg, and Douglas Barnes is county administrator of Spotsylvania County.




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