Survey: Northampton County on Wrong Economic Track

Cape Charles Wave

August 21, 2012

What do the people of Northampton County want for the future?


That’s according to two public surveys. One was done by the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, which telephoned 350 local residents. The other  was by the County Planning Commission, involving 221 residents in an extensive public meeting process.

“Some of the main messages are not dissimilar,” said Sandra Benson Thornton, Northampton County Director of Planning and Zoning and head staffer for both projects.

But the methods and objectives of the two groups are very different. The Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee (CPAC) began their process with the assumption that the County “was on the wrong track” in its planning and zoning process, and set out to prove it.

“It’s accurate to say they started with that assumption,” said Thornton. “I think they felt there were major issues that need correcting. They felt [the public meetings] didn’t draw from a broad enough representation of the population, and the input didn’t accurately reflect the feelings of the citizens and property owners.”

The CPAC telephone survey was funded by the National Association of Realtors. Its first goal was “to obtain community input on future land uses preferences for use in updating the Comprehensive plan.”

The CPAC survey included this statement: “The poll is an opportunity to create positive awareness of the valuable role that Realtors play in the planning and zoning process.”

Joe Goode of American Strategies conducted the survey. With input from the CPAC committee members, he created a 4-page questionnaire, every page of which is marked “Realtors Campaign Services Program.”

Minutes of the CPAC meetings show that after extensive discussion and editing of the survey questions, the committee voted not to show it to the Board of Supervisors for critique in advance “in order to preserve the scientific integrity of the survey.”

The pollsters called 350 people in Northampton County. The callers primarily accessed landline rather than cell phone numbers.  As a result, the survey is heavily weighted toward the opinions of older people, with 76 percent of the respondents age 50 and older — and a full 40 percent over age 65.

Fifty-six percent of those called said the County was “on the wrong track” regarding economic development.  However, survey results also showed that seniors are the age group most likely to call for looser regulations. College graduates under the age of 60 saw the current economic development approach as effective.

Sixty-four percent of those polled were white, with no Hispanic respondents at all (although the Hispanic population is growing in Northampton County, while the overall population is shrinking).

Schools and education proved to be the respondents’ second biggest concern, after the economy.

Scrutiny of the raw data reveals some surprising holes. For example, respondents were asked:

“And what would you say is the biggest issue facing Northampton County that local elected officials should focus on?” Fifty-two percent replied,  “Job creation/economic development & growth.”

But in the range of answers to that question, the survey showed that  no one — zero percent — believed that over-regulation of business or red tape was a concern, and only 2 percent saw zoning and land use issues as being a big issue facing Northampton County.

At the August 9 CPAC meeting, committee members were busy editing the report that would be shown to the Board of Supervisors next Monday,  August 27. They matched points on the executive summary to certain slides, and tossed the rest.

“We need to deliver them in a logical way that really delivers the message,” said CPAC member Bill Payne.  “This is a marketing, political thing. Not statistics.”

CPAC Chairman Bill Parr said the full presentation will be available to members of the public who request it, as well as the 200-page report.



3 Responses to “Survey: Northampton County on Wrong Economic Track”

  1. Donna Bozza on August 21st, 2012 8:20 am

    Investigative reporting! Got to love it. Thanks for digging deeper.

  2. Bobby Roberts on August 22nd, 2012 4:36 pm

    If I’m reading this right, the county Board of Supervisors appointed a committee to do a survey. Now the Committee doesn’t think the Board of Supervisors is smart enough to understand the results of the survey. So the committee decided to “cook the books” and give the Supervisors a ‘political marketing’ report instead? Sounds like a whole lot of disrespect going on here. Maybe the Supervisors need a new committee.

  3. Scott Walker on August 26th, 2012 8:50 am

    Yes, perhaps Northamptonians want jobs, but what they’re really coveting is a situation where they get paid to show up.