STAFFORD IS one of the country’s richest counties. According to a 2012 survey done by the U.S. Census Bureau, it ranks sixth nationally in median household income ($97,606).

For many in Stafford, though, that big paycheck requires some serious drive time. High-paying military and other government jobs in Northern Virginia and Washington mean long commutes. More than a quarter of Stafford residents who work travel 60 minutes or more to their place of employment. The mean travel time is about 40 minutes. About three-quarters of workers drive alone. As of 2013, again according to the Census Bureau, only 36.3 percent of workers were employed within the county.

The good news is that this trend seems to be changing for the better. From 2003 to 2013, the number of jobs in Stafford has risen 42 percent, from 25,781 to 39,753. This is far ahead of the rise in the number of Stafford residents desiring jobs (21 percent). The bottom line: Stafford is growing jobs faster than other localities in the region, and it is adding them at a rate double the growth rate of job-seekers in the county.

This should be welcome news for the whole Fredericksburg area. Part of what makes a region a coherent whole instead of a collection of disparate localities is the ability to create jobs for residents within the region instead of relying on other areas for employment.

The Census Bureau defines areas around population centers as Metropolitan Statistical Areas. A qualifying factor for an MSA is that the majority of the residents of that area also work there. Fredericksburg and the counties of Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George and Carolina have about 350,000 residents, larger than all but three MSAs in Virginia. Yet we’re not considered a separate Metropolitan Statistical Area, mainly because so many of our residents work elsewhere.

Stafford’s job creation is one step further toward the Fredericksburg area being seen as what many of us feel it already is: a separate entity—not the D.C. suburbs on one end and rural counties on the other, some of it in the Washington MSA and some (Caroline County) in Richmond’s.

Plus, a job a few miles away, somewhere else in Stafford County, has got to make one’s quality of life better than a daily commute on Interstate 95.

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