December 8, 2017

Outer Banks Chamber Tackles Housing Crunch

By NEEL KELLER
The Outer Banks Sentinel


A local branding campaign called “OBX Made” and a community housing effort to remedy the shortage of residential units are two of the initiatives being launched by the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce as part of an economic development plan to diversify Dare County’s tourism-heavy economy.

During the presentation delivered at the Dec. 4 Dare Commissioners meeting by Chamber President Karen Brown and Chamber Board Chair Bob Peele, they identified the local housing crunch as a major challenge to economic expansion.

"We're coming together to see what we can do to address the housing crisis that currently exists on the Outer Banks," Brown explained. "It's really affecting the workforce."

The longstanding issue of whether and how to broaden the area’s economy — with its sharp seasonal swings — has gained momentum in the past few years.

In late 2015, the chamber produced an “Economic Development and Sustainability” white paper that urged the county to look into a strategic plan for year-round economic development. In 2016, the commissioners appropriated about $60,000 for the N.C. State, Research Triangle International and Economic Leadership LLC consultants to work on an economic development process, a plan they first unveiled last December.

Then, in March 2017, the commissioners spent $25,000 to authorize the chamber to implement the first stage of the consultants’ economic development plan — with potential “add on” elements that could be approved and funded later.

Brown said that work on the ‘OBX Made’ branding initiative actually predated the contract between the chamber and the county. "It's going to recognize things that are made locally," she said.

The initiative, she added, is designed to get the word out on the work of small manufacturers that do home construction, boat building, screen printing, cabinet making, etc., along with locally branded restaurants, retail shops, craft breweries, vineyards, distilleries and more.

The chamber is currently in the process of trademarking the logo and developing certification criteria for use of the logo, and is looking to set up an advisory board and officially launch the new initiative in the near future. Also planned is a separate website to allow local businesses and craftsmen to promote their products nationwide.

The community housing initiative, Brown said, is an outgrowth of comments heard "every day" on the subject and its adverse impact on finding employees for local businesses.

The recently formed housing initiative group includes people from the chamber, along with County Manager Bobby Outten, town managers, town planning staff and representatives from the area restaurant, real estate and home building industries.

Plans include speaking at several upcoming town meetings and getting on other town meeting and Currituck County agendas to encourage accessory dwelling unit amendments and initiatives. An accessory dwelling unit is a room or set of rooms in a single-family home in a single-family zone designed to be used as a separate dwelling unit and allowed by permit.

Peele also reported at the Dec. 4 meeting that two companies are currently looking at Dare County and appear to be "very interested" in locating here, while a third company has recently chosen Dare County as its relocation site.

In the past several months, Peele added, the chamber has identified five businesses that are planning to expand and is working with them in assisting with planning and connecting them to resources that can help.

The chamber is also conducting a Business Retention and Expansion program, he said, in which "we facilitate and connect businesses with other organizations...where they can get assistance to grow and survive."

The program is guided, Peele explained, by an annual survey the chamber sends out to its members to get an idea of what area businesses are facing on a wide array of issues. These include "their ability or inability to find a labor force. Housing is one issue that is continually being brought up."

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