Beaufort County July 2022

Population
47,436

County Seat
Washington

Median Income
$45,212

Population Density Designation
Rural

The Hackney restaurant is located on Main Street in Washington, and it served as the first stop on our tour of Beaufort County. As we stood outside of the restaurant, which is housed in a beautifully restored bank building, we could see the Pamlico Sound just a few short blocks away. Downtown Washington has benefited tremendously from a community investment into streetscapes and the boardwalk along the Sound, and The Hackney is a visual representation of the redevelopment according to Beaufort County Community College (BCCC) president Dave Loope.

Beaufort County had long been a hub for the agriculture industry and the textile industry. In time, numerous small farms gave way to a handful of large farms, and the textile mills either closed or relocated.

The county’s path to a more prosperous future was inspired by efforts such as The Hackney, according to the assembled community leaders who joined us for lunch. President Loope pointed out that the path Beaufort County has chosen includes a focus on entrepreneurship, small businesses, the hospitality industry and promoting the region’s natural assets, including access to the Pamlico. The businesses that are growing in Beaufort County are diverse and include a booming boat-building industry.

Following the lunchtime conversation, we walked down Main Street to visit the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum. The museum serves as a testament to the courage and ingenuity of both the enslaved people who sought freedom and those who risked their lives and livelihoods alike to power the Underground Railroad.

After visiting the museum, we walked up the block to the Washington Civic Center for additional community conversation.

Jim Madson, the Director of the Beaufort County Health Department, was among the assembled residents. Madson shared the importance of BCCC in powering the local health care industry. He pointed out that the college graduates roughly 60 nurses each year, as well as health care professionals who provide emergency medical services, such as paramedics and EMTs.

He noted health disparities including historic inequities among health care access for rural residents and the quality of care for people of color in the community might serve as the top and most persistent challenges. The rise of the opioid epidemic and mental health issues have also surged near the top of health concerns for the health department. And, finally, a common rural challenge that impacts the social determinants of health for residents includes access to workforce housing and transportation.

Catherine Glover, Executive Director of the Washington Beaufort Chamber of Commerce, echoed Madson, and also noted the need to stop out-migration so they can grow their own workforce. “When our kids come to knee-high on adults, they are told they need to move away,” said Glover. “And we need them to know the opportunities that exist right here at home.”

According to Meg Howdy, the Executive Director of the Washington Harbor District Alliance & Harbor District Market, one big step forward for Beaufort County has been the tens of millions of dollars invested in downtown Washington. Howdy pointed to the liveliness of downtown Washington as a key reminder of the potential quality of life for people considering places to plant roots.

Beyond continued investment in downtown and entrepreneurial growth, broadband was the number one issue identified as a potential driver for economic growth and opportunity in the region. Brad Hufford, the Economic Development Director for Beaufort County, told us that portions of the southern end of the county couldn’t even get a home phone installed.

The group was optimistic about the future of the county despite the challenges. Brian Alligood, the County Manager for Beaufort County, pointed out the changing trends of work-from-home provide significant opportunities for counties like Beaufort if they can provide broadband. “We have the most shoreline of any county in North Carolina,” declared Alligood. “And this should be the calling card for all of those entrepreneurs and remote workers who can work from anywhere.”

Blue Cross NC President and CEO Dr. Tunde Sotunde thanked the residents who spent the afternoon with us. “We came here to see firsthand the challenges and opportunities in Eastern North Carolina,” declared Sotunde. “And we also came here to understand your work because none of us can move the state forward on our own.”

Meet Dr. Algie Gatewood

Dr. Algie Gatewood is only the fourth President to lead Alamance Community College (ACC) since it opened in 1958. During Dr. Gatewood’s tenure at ACC, the college won its largest ever bond referendum – nearly $40 million – in 2018 to fund a number of major capital projects and expansions. The college also secured $16 million in county funding in 2014 to build the Advanced Applied Technology Center. Other notable accomplishments include creating a Biotechnology Center of Excellence, introducing an Early College, facilitating an apprenticeship program, and introducing nearly two dozen new academic programs and articulation agreements with state universities.

U39702, 9/22