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Can UMW bring us together?
HOW DO you effect regional cooperation? In Virginia, it's harder than it is in most states, not because we're more intractable but because of the way the deck is stacked.
Independent cities and counties are separate entities in Virginia, so there is less impetus to work together than in some places. Add to that the fact that our laws are about as averse to annexation as anywhere in the country, and progress can get gridlocked. Areas that look, to an outsider, as if they ought to be one entity are instead divided into several localities, often pulling in different directions.
All of which makes the University of Mary Washington's Regional Economic Development Plan a laudable effort. The plan's goal is, quite simply, to bring us together, to make the sum greater than the parts.
There are more than 340,000 people living in the city of Fredericksburg and the counties of Spotsylvania, Stafford, Caroline and King George. Despite the fact that we are not recognized as a Metropolitan Statistical Area by the Census Bureau, we have much in common, but with five localities all trying to look out for their own needs, pulling together is sometimes difficult.
The recent economic development summit, hosted by the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance, pointed out some things that would be good starting points for regional cooperation.
At the top of the list are infrastructure development and, especially, improving broadband access, a sore point for some time in an area that combines densely populated urban and suburban areas with hard-to-reach rural pockets. UMW assembled planners and utility directors from all five localities to, among other things, identify the gaps that need filling. Doing this would be good for everyone, and it would perhaps be a "win" on which to build future efforts.
Another laudable goal is the Climate, Environmental and Readiness (CLEAR) plan, which seeks to build "economic resilience and a sustainable high quality of life for our community through environmental readiness and disaster preparedness." CLEAR combines a desire to grow our community in an environmentally sustainable way and deal with the inevitable severe weather emergencies. It combines the long view (preserving the area's great natural bounty) and the more immediate (dealing with the next hurricane, tornado, earthquake or derecho).
We can achieve great things working together. There are more than a third of a million of us, greater than the population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh. Here's to UMW for trying to maximize our potential.