County’s economic fabric more than meets the eye

Published 7:07 pm Monday, March 6, 2017

Washington has diversity down pat, but when it comes to education, housing and income, there’s more work to do.

That’s the overall message of “Micropolitan America: A Statistical Guide to Small Cities Across the Nation,” by G. Scott Thomas, which analyzes 551 economic areas similar to Washington and breaks down their strengths and weaknesses.

Thomas take an in-depth look at the Washington and greater Beaufort County area, assessing 75 sets of data and rating quality-of-life factors based on a five-star scale, according to a press release.

The ratings are as follows:

  • Children: 2 stars; stable family lives, extended educational opportunities and financial safety nets
  • Diversity/equality: 5 stars; embracing racial and geographic diversity, as well as economic equality
  • Education: 2 stars; percentages of adults holding high school diplomas and college degrees
  • Employment: 4 stars; low unemployment, strong entrepreneurial spirit and good-paying jobs
  • Growth potential: 2 stars; demographic factors that suggest the possibility of future growth
  • Housing: 2 stars; low vacancy percentages, high rates of home ownership and mixture of different types of homes
  • Income: 2 stars; income levels and poverty rates
  • Seniors: 3 stars; senior citizens are self-sufficient and active in their families and communities
  • Stability: 3 stars; strong local roots, especially married couples and young adults
  • Transportation: 1 star; length of commutes and diversity of transportation options


These ratings offer a snapshot into the Washington-Beaufort County area, but they don’t tell the whole story, according to two county officials.

Dr. Don Phipps, superintendent of Beaufort County Schools, said graduation rates are moving in a positive direction, while dropout rates continue to decrease.

From 2009-2016, the school district has seen its graduation rate improve from 64.7 percent to 88.5 percent, according to BCS data.

The dropout rate peaked at its highest during the 2004-2005 school year, with 163 students, but it has since fallen as low as 44 students in 2012-2013 and 59 in 2014-2015, the data shows.

“Our graduation rate is up significantly over the last 10 years, and many of our students are earning college credit while in high school. Likewise, our dropout rate has been significantly lowered,” Phipps said in an email. “There are many great things that we are doing in pre-K and on. Our goal is to prepare students for academic and vocational success, and we want them ready for the next phase of their life; that may mean life after high school, but it can also mean the transition from one grade in school to the next.”

Martyn Johnson, Beaufort County economic development director, said the school district, Beaufort County Community College and East Carolina University have made strides to provide students with skills needed in the area’s workforce, especially in manufacturing.

Johnson said improving the county’s lack of manufacturing buildings is a priority for many. Increased demand for food worldwide signals a good market for the county’s strong agriculture economy, as well, he said.

“The service sector, as a result of the explosion of the internet, is no longer limited by geographic constraints. Small businesses providing services through the web can now locate anywhere and take advantage of the quality of life places like Beaufort County have to offer,” Johnson said via email.

He continued: “Transportation corridors such as US 70, US 264 and US 64 are being converted into interstate highways, plus the improvements at the Washington Airport, will provide greater access for homeowners and businesses, and with greater access comes economic growth.”

According to “Micropolitan America” data, about 70 percent of houses in Beaufort County are occupied by their owners, and the remaining ones are rental units.

Johnson said the county is working to expand its retirement housing in particular and is pushing efforts such as RetireNC certification. An improving economy on the national and state levels also means less risk for investors, he said.

“As North Carolina has grown, the attributes of Beaufort County have become more valuable both to businesses and homeowners,” Johnson said. “As Beaufort County’s public, private and nonprofit sectors focus on and invest in the future, the livelihood of Beaufort County residents will improve.”