LOCATION, location, location.
Since the 2010 census, the Fredericksburg region, which is on the far reaches of the Washington, D.C., solar system, enjoyed double-digit population growth through last July.
The city of Fredericksburg and the counties of Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George and Caroline, which comprise the George Washington Planning District, profit from being inside Virginia’s fertile crescent, which stretches from Tidewater to Richmond along Interstate 64 and then up along Interstate 95 to the Potomac River.
Would that the state as a whole was faring as well.
If there are two Americas, there certainly are two Virginias. According to the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, which is responsible for the state’s official population estimates, the commonwealth as a whole grew by 6.5 percent in that same period.
However, only 70 of our cities and counties enjoyed growth. The other 63 suffered shrinkage. It’s no surprise that most of those localities are in the southern and western parts of the state and on the Eastern Shore.
Every Virginia county touching North Carolina, Tennessee or Kentucky lost people over that same eight-year period. The coal and textile industries and agriculture have struggled. According to one demographer, 80,000 more people have left Virginia than have migrated here from other states over the last five years.
And the companies that come here seem to come mostly to places that are doing OK anyhow, Amazon’s recent decision to bring some 25,000 jobs to Northern Virginia being the latest example. HQ2 will help the state as a whole, but you’d have to be blind not to see that it will help those localities near the Capital Beltway more.
It feels pretty good here. Fredericksburg (16.9 percent) had the fourth-highest growth rate of the 133 localities, behind only Loudoun, King William and Falls Church. Stafford (15.6 percent) was seventh. King George (9.7 percent) and Spotsylvania (9 percent) were well ahead of the state average, and Caroline (6.1 percent) was just below it.
And while growth has its challenges, it is better than decline. Some counties in Southside and Southwest Virginia and on the Eastern Shore have fewer residents than they had in 1960.
However, we are one state. Virginia’s annual population growth this decade, according to the Cooper Center, has been the lowest since the 1920s. Over the last five years, we’ve grown slower than the nation as a whole.
State taxes deal with statewide problems. If one large part of the state is sinking, money from elsewhere flows in. Even in a place where growth is dependably vibrant, everyone loses a little when a Virginia city has to revert to town status because it can’t pay its bills, or a county can’t pay for the social services it needs.
And a downturn in statewide growth makes us seem less appealing to companies and individuals who might want to relocate here. Population breeds population.
Some of the most beautiful parts of Virginia are suffering the most right now, from the Southwest to the Eastern Shore. Surely, that trend will reverse itself at some point.
Now, though, it’s hard to see when.