Shining the Light: Cape & Islands license plates show pride and support for the region
Andora Hamilton remembers the license plate. As a twenty-something working in hotels in Hyannis, Hamilton had seen the special Massachusetts plate—with its signature image of iconic Nauset Light overlooking the calm blue water and the words: CAPE COD & ISLANDS—on cars from Provincetown to Woods Hole. But she didn’t have one herself, and she never really understood the plate’s significance.
Then, a few years ago, Hamilton found herself returning to the area from Boston with dreams of opening her own boutique inn. She found the perfect place, a beautiful Victorian inn built in the 1830s in Yarmouth Port. She wanted to call it The Compass Rose. The property required a face-lift, and Hamilton, a single mother, needed help funding the project. One of her former hotel bosses pointed her to Coastal Community Capital, a nonprofit community development lender based on Cape Cod – and one of hundreds of organizations and programs funded, at least in part, by the Cape & Islands License Plate.
“I had no idea that the Cape & Islands License Plate supported all these businesses,” says Hamilton. “Without it, I would never have been able to purchase my business.”
First introduced in 1996, the plate provided a way for drivers to display their pride for the Cape & Islands, while the proceeds helped make the area a better place to live and visit. With more than 42,000 now on the road, it has since become the state’s most popular specialty plate. The revenue generated by annual renewal fees goes toward grants, loans, the arts, environmentally compatible development programs, and the growth of the local year-round economy.
The plate is focused on economic development in this coastal destination—both the tourism that comes to visit these shores and the residents that make their living from it.
“It’s the common binding interest of people who live here and visit here,” says Chris Adams, Chief of Staff at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “The environment is our economy.”
Adams heads up the Cape Cod Blue Economy Foundation, an initiative of the Chamber that is supported by Cape & Islands License Plate funds. The program tries to balance the Cape and Islands’ economic and environmental health by creating a singular regional identity to things that have always existed here—the seafood industry, fishing, boating, marine science and education, marine trades. These are the things that give the longtime seasonal vacation spot a way to sustain itself in terms of jobs and year-round revenue.
A major part of creating this identity is telling the story of the region and its strong maritime heritage.
“If we don’t have the water and coastal resources, this becomes a challenging place to live and make a living,” Adams said. “Money from the Cape & Islands License Plate fund is the seed that’s allowing us to grow this Blue Economy project.”
The license plate funds also aid the environment on a micro-level. Cape & Islands Green is an environmental initiative organized by the business community and supported by the fund to help small business owners through a certification process, in an effort to reduce the collective impact on the natural world in which they operate.
“It’s important for us to know that we are doing everything possible to exist lightly on the earth where we run our business,” says Shayna Ferullo, co-owner of Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters, which has two locations in Brewster and Chatham. “We have taken bold actions, such as refusing to sell water in plastic bottles, choosing to purchase single-use, compostable to-go ware, and offering discounts to customers who bring in their own cups. But there were several little actions that we were overlooking. The green certification helped us to see how some of these simple solutions make a big difference.”
License plate funds also bolster the tourism industry—even tourism that’s not directly related to the maritime geography. Entering its 134th season, the Cape Cod Baseball League is widely recognized as the premier amateur baseball league in the world. Every summer, thousands of baseball fans descend on the region to watch as some of the best college players from around the country play in a 10-team loop. Right now, there are more than 300 Cape Cod alums playing in Major League Baseball.
But while many of the players go on to make a fine living playing the game, and many of the visiting fans stay in area hotels and spend money in local restaurants and shops, the league staff and umpires still have to be paid. Wooden bats don’t last, and neither do pristine white baseballs. Much of those league-level expenses are paid for by the license plate fund.
“The Cape Cod Baseball League has been a recipient almost since the Cape & Islands License Plate fund’s inception,” says Peter Scarafile, vice president of the Hyannis Mets. “We don’t charge admission. There’s no revenue source other than merchandise sales, concessions, support from sponsors, and donations. It’s the only way the league can survive.”
That’s a sentiment no doubt shared by the more than 500 other organizations that benefit from the Cape & Islands License Plate Fund.
So if you’re driving in the state, flashing the Cape & Islands plate on the back bumper of your car—even if you only had a vague notion as to where the money was going and chose it because it was pretty and cool—know that you are doing your part to keep the region vibrant and successful. Find more information – or buy the plate online – at CapeAndIslandsPlate.com.