Bertie County, North Carolina
On a Path to Progress
With new infrastructure initiatives and a vision for sustainable growth, Bertie County is charting a course toward a brighter future.
Bertie County, situated in the heart of the Inner Banks region of North Carolina, is renowned for its lush farmlands and rich Southern tradition. Today, the rural county continues on its path of transformation, fostering economic prospects, and enriching the quality of life for its residents. Working to combine heritage and progress, Bertie County remains focused on preservation and innovation.
Bertie Beach: A Coastal Gem on the Albemarle Sound
Tagged as the “Tall Glass of Water”, the development of Bertie Beach represents a significant endeavor for the county. As the only public beach on the Albemarle Sound, Bertie Beach is a unique destination and a scenic delight for residents and visitors.
The completion of the first phase of this project has already enhanced the beach’s appeal, providing amenities like picnic areas, accessible walkways, restroom facilities, showers, and a restoration of the beach itself. With phase two on the horizon, the county has ambitious plans for further expansion, including Rivers to Sounds: Natural Resource and Cultural History Education Center as well as the eventual inclusion of a campground and RV Park. With an overall budget of $11,250,000, the initial phase required an investment of $1.5 million. Phase two is expected to cost another $5 million, and additional funding of approximately $8.7 million will be required to cover the rest of the project.
With its position in the coastal region, Bertie County offers a stunning environment for those seeking natural beauty and tranquility. While these attractions are evident, the challenge lies in building the necessary infrastructure to fulfill this vision.
County Chairman, Ron Wesson states that “Low wealth communities like Bertie County understand the importance of leveraging existing resources to create reasons and destinations that will attract visitors as well as enhance the quality of life for their citizens. Bertie Beach is a glowing example of a community investing in itself”. He goes on to say “We know we’re going to attract tourism because we have built the only “public beach” on the Albemarle Sound. Many of these visitors will be attracted to building second residences on our pristine waterways. As we enhance amenities at this site, we will partner with local and regional partners to support and grow mutual development. We understand that no one is going to save us, but us; and we are laser focused on our mission”.
Occano – A Resort Style Community on the Albemarle Sound
Wesson mentions another waterfront gem, known as Ocanno, which is expanding its resort community to complement its award-winning Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course, ranked in the top 50 in the southern US. As Occano grows, so will the list of luxury amenities. Best described by their new website, “With endless outdoor activities like golfing, biking, hiking, water sports, and more, plus spaces to relax or gather with friends and family, our impressive list of resort-style amenities will continue to grow as we develop Occano.”
Addressing Housing Challenges and Building Resilience
Wesson outlines some other initiatives that are underway, including the construction of a housing complex aimed at providing housing options for teachers, state employees, and county workers.
He admits, “In a small rural community, you need to attract and retain teachers and critical employees; local government, law enforcement, EMS, Sheriff, hospital and the like. Focusing on developing affordable, workforce housing will not only attract new residents, but will help retain our best and brightest”.” He remarks that the state is keen on investing in communities that have demonstrated resilience, noting that through initiatives like Rebuild N.C., Dream Point Teacher Apts., and Carolina Rebuilders Ministry, we are not only creating new housing opportunities, but investing in saving and improving existing housing”.
County Commissioner, John Trent adds that Bertie County has also been actively engaged in talks with Director Reginald Speight, who oversees the USDA state branch, partnering to find innovative solutions to housing challenges in the region. Pointing out that 67% of residents in the county are currently renting, he says, “We’ve been meeting with our largest employer, Purdue which has 2,700 employees.
Offering employees special rates regarding interest rates on housing, and attractive long-term mortgages to draw developers into our county is what the County needs. “We have developers that are trying to get started in this county now, and now we’re going to try to create that client base through the USDA because it gives people the opportunity to become homeowners in Bertie County.”
The housing challenges rural areas face are often compounded by what Trent refers to as “rural discrimination.” He offers the example of the policies of the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, which allocates state tax credits to developers based on specific criteria.
In this case, the agency requires that a grocery store or pharmacy be located within three miles of a housing project. Given Bertie County’s vast size of 741 square miles and limited resources, meeting this requirement is a significant hurdle.
Trent says to encourage future development these unrealistic policies need to be reworked.
“Change the rules so that it makes it fair and equitable for all people, not just people that are in urban areas. You will see the change, and you will see the developers come to this area,” he maintains.
“Ecotourism for Bertie County is one of the strongest assets’” Trent remarks. “You have hunters that come into town, and there is nowhere to stay. You have fishermen that come into town, again, nowhere to stay. What ends up happening is they build these little campsites wherever they can, but we want to try to put our fingerprint on that and make it a lot easier for people that are coming from out of state to come into Bertie County to enjoy the eco-tourism that we have.”
Infrastructure Developments and Strategic Location
Another exciting project on the horizon is the approval of Interstate 87, which is set to become the state’s premier transportation project, connecting Raleigh to Virginia. While the funding is still pending, the approval has sparked considerable interest in Bertie County and surrounding areas. This development is poised to make the county a key transportation hub, strategically located between Raleigh, the Outer Banks, and the ports of Morehead City and Virginia.
Trent recounts, “We’ve also talked to the DOT about putting an off-ramp there. We’re talking about putting in a rest area so we can advertise Bertie County Beach right there.” Other infrastructure investments include a 5 million dollar grant to redo all of the water lines in the western portion of the county. “That in turn attracts developers to come in to buy land to turn around and build these houses,” Trent stresses.
Part of Bertie County’s approach to development involves the repurposing of existing resources. When the Bertie County School District approached the County about options for the vacant Southwestern Early College Building, Wesson immediately saw an opportunity for adaptive reuse. The County purchased the complex and then signed a one hundred dollar per year ten-year lease with Carolina Rebuilding Ministry (CRM), a nonprofit that provides safety and health repairs for low-income homeowners in the tri-county region. CRM then provided space, to Good Shepard Food Pantry with a sublease agreement to cover utilities, a local organization dedicated to providing fresh foods to those in need.
“It’s a matter of maintaining what you have and not just building new things a lot of times,” shares Wesson. A long-term approach is also considered, with facilities like the Bertie County Hospital (East Carolina Univ. Health System), which is unique for a rural community our size. The County built the hospital facility to attract the expansion of a first-rate regional medical center. We have more surgeries done here in our hospital, from people outside of the county, than from inside the county.”
Additionally, Bertie County has invested in renovating a local correctional facility, a senior’s center, libraries, and a courthouse. “We have a courthouse that was built in 1877. We put $800,000 into it, instead of electing to build a $22 million courthouse,” Trent elaborates. “We had people shooting commercials in front of the courthouse after we finished it.”
Bertie County is making strides in the fields of arts and culture, with the recent launch of the inaugural “Pecan Pickling Short Film Festival” by Equity Films. “This new venture in the southern part of the state has done a tremendous job of attracting entrepreneurial and emerging film companies. When these filmmakers see what we have in beautiful Bertie, they are amazed”, describes Wesson.
The county is also a front-runner in the sustainable energy sector with a methane-capturing plant in West Bertie County. This facility captures methane emissions from Purdue, Darling, and other sources, supplying electricity to 12,000 homes. “Not only that, in our area of West Bertie County, it has lowered the carbon emission by 72%,” boasts Trent.
A Bright Future: Planning and Investment for Bertie County
Looking ahead, Bertie County’s future appears promising, guided by planning and investment. Wesson talks about the county’s progress in projects like Bertie Beach and the teacher housing complex, suggesting, “We’re already looking at the next phase of another kind of workforce housing project because we know that’s the key to keeping your best and brightest, but also inviting industry and businesses to come into the community.”
In conclusion, Chairman Wesson asserts, “We are a rural community, and we don’t want to change that. We want to create the kinds of things that will draw people in, but our focus must always be on our citizens here, who pay the bills and elect us. We need to continue to expand and bring new opportunities to them. We can’t leave a stone unturned, and we don’t want to.”
Click The Cover To View Or Download The Brochure
AT A GLANCE
Bertie County, North Carolina
What: A rural County with Intentional Growth and Possibility on the Horizon
Where: North Carolina’s Inner Banks Region
EDF Renewables – www.edf-re.com
For the past 35 years, EDF Renewables has worked with hundreds of communities across the country building long-standing relationships with local leaders and neighbors. We invest in our host communities and landowners and take great pride in their success. Our projects provide jobs, tax revenues, landowner payments and other sources of local economic development. EDF Renewables is committed to our host communities for the life of the project as a developer in the early stages and throughout as a long-term Operations & Maintenance provider and to helping North Carolina be among the top states in the nation for solar.