Wish list highlights need for economic development

Published 11:37 am Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Once again, Southampton County’s wish list includes significant capital improvements for Capron Elementary School and the county jail.

And once again, neither facility will receive them.

Both, well past their prime, house nearly twice the number of people than intended. The county jail built 63 years ago was designed for 38 prisoners, but houses 61. Capron Elementary, which will turn 60 in 2014, was designed to hold 89 students. Today it is home to 174.

Almost everyone agrees both need major upgrades, or ideally to be replaced.

Given the estimated price tag for both projects — between $16 million and $20 million combined — and the state of the county’s financial statements — roughly $70 million of debt — it is difficult to imagine either happening anytime soon.

All of which serves to further highlight the desperate need for significant investment in economic development.

This region has much to offer prospective investors; an ideal location in relation to the ports and major interstates; amenities such as a college, YMCA, libraries and a golf course; abundant natural resources; and a skilled workforce. We have all the assets that a potential investor would want, except a place to build.

Much like an overcrowded school or jail, Southampton County has nearly run out of space to offer investors. While that may sound odd in a locality that encompasses 600 square miles, in terms of land that is zoned for industrial development and under the county’s control for negotiating purposes, there’s almost none available.

County leaders have few choices.

They can choose to do nothing, which will ultimately lead to higher taxes and less money for schools and jails.

Or they can make the decision to invest in economic development, which will lead to a lower tax burden and the funds required to pay for the things county residents need. We hope they choose the latter.