In a special meeting on Monday, Dec. 19, the Dare County Board of Commissioners heard the final presentation of the year-long economic development study that was conducted by outside consultants from North Carolina State, Research Triangle International (RTI) and Economic Leadership LLC.
The initiative began in January of 2016, when the board approved $58,640 for the project in an effort to find ways to diversify the economy while optimizing the region’s economic resources, chief among which is tourism.
The consultants gave a presentation to community leaders two weeks ago on Dec. 5 and used the feedback from that meeting to modify its final presentation to the commissioners.
The board members asked questions and made comments during and after the presentation, but made no decisions.
“I am sure we will be discussing (this report) in detail in the months to come,” said Bob Woodard, board chairman.
The presentation during both meetings was comprised of different sections, which included an outline of the methodology — such as interviews and similar region case studies — the results of the research, and recommendations on what to do next.
In preparing their strategies and recommendations, the consultants engaged in 40 interviews with local community business owners and leaders and sent out an online survey that generated 887 responses – with 15 percent of the responses from Hatteras Island.
“I think you’ll see reflected back a lot of our conversations [in the plan],” said North Carolina State University’s Dan Parks at the Dec. 5 meeting. “…There still is a real spirit of collaboration here, and we don’t always see that.”
The results from the interviews were not entirely unexpected, with many respondents listing clean beaches, the environment, and tourism as the driving support of the economy, and noting that barriers to economic growth included land availability, skills gap for diverse industry, and seasonality of the tourism industry.
In addition to looking at survey and interview results, the consultants also reviewed a number of past economic studies that focused on or were related to Dare County and also looked at global trends, as well as similar areas – including Cape Cod, Cape May County in New Jersey, southwest Virginia, and Wilmington, Asheville, and other western North Carolina areas.
After reviewing this data, the consultants presented the Dare County Economic Development Plan Overview, which outlined the consultants’ recommendations and included a variety of goals and strategies.
The phrase “Land of Beginnings” was highlighted, and among the multi-faceted overview, the consultants focused on six specific goals that were followed with a list of proposed strategies to accomplish each specific ambition. The complete list of goals and ensuing strategies is listed below.
Among the results, there were several key ideas that were highlighted by the consultants themselves, as well as by attendees at the Dec. 5 Community Leader Forum and the Dec. 19 BOC meeting.
There were a number of positive comments about the idea to pursue a National Sailing Institute at the Community Forum meeting, with several attendees noting that the regional winds and water were ideal for the sport. Board member Danny Couch noted at the Dec. 19 meeting that the suggestion to create an educational center on the Outer Banks – similar to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod, could work well on Hatteras Island, alluding to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras Village as a prospective site.
In addition, there was much emphasis by both the consultants and the ensuing comments from attendees on attracting a wave of “work from home” businesses and employees. A growing number of companies and / or employees, such as computer programmers and freelancers, are working 100 percent remotely, and can therefore live and work anywhere in the world. The consultants suggested that this segment of the population would be attracted by the Outer Banks, because of its natural beauty. Commissioner Jack Shea noted at the commissioners’ meeting that marketing to CEOs of national businesses could help with attracting a new demographic.
The consultants also noted the prospective gains of working with and / or focusing on already established resources, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Visitors Bureau, the Outer Banks Hospital, the College of the Albemarle, and the Coastal Studies Institute to find additional economic growth opportunities and attract new residents and / or visitors.
From these broad results, the consultants outlined a series of strategies that could be implemented over the course of two years.
For the first year, the consultants suggested that the county do the following:
For the second year, the consultants suggested that the county do the following:
The need to hire or designate a point person to oversee the county’s economic development was especially highlighted, as Parks noted that having a singular person in charge of the operation enhanced accountability and productivity.
The two meetings lasted three hours and two hours, respectively, with presentations from the various agencies involved, including N.C. State and RTI.
The BOC will now decide how to proceed with these results and determine any new initiatives and / or adjustments in current economic strategies moving forward.
The Consultants’ Six Goals and Focus Areas, and the Corresponding Strategy Suggestions:
I. OPTIMIZATION OF TRADITIONAL ECONOMY
Goal 1: Focus on growing the dominant and traditional economic sectors in Dare County.
1. Focus on tourism as the prime economic driver; collaborate with and support the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau strategic plan.
2. Leverage the Outer Banks Chamber, including its economic development experience and business networks.
3. Collaborate with the Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park to promote, enhance, and offer business opportunities for marine-related enterprises.
4. Leverage partners to provide existing industry support services to all key, identified businesses in real estate, construction, agri-business, commercial fishing, and retail businesses.
II. TARGETED GROWTH & ATTRACTION FOR ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION
Goal 2: Develop new economic initiatives to diversify the traditional Dare County economy.
1. Leverage the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau to advance innovative directions, including expanding the shoulder season, sports recreation, and expansion of events.
2. Engage and support the Outer Banks Hospital in diversifying healthcare resources and options.
3. Expand/diversity retirement options; link to healthcare and tourism.
4. Refine criteria; pursue attraction of professional firms that can live/work anywhere (telework).
5. Leverage the distinctive asset, the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), to attract allied industries, develop an entrepreneur ecosystem, and the teaching mission to include year-round students.
6. Focus on wind and water assets; advance the business plan for a proposed National Sailing Center.
III. INFRASTRUCTURE (ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT “PRODUCT”)
Goal 3: Ensure the sustainability and enhancement of tangible assets needed for economic development.
1. Recognize water and water access as prime assets; develop policies to protect and enhance.
2. Provide resources for critical infrastructure (i.e., inlet dredging, beach re-nourishment, broadband).
3. Coordinate with resources to assess the potential impact of sea level rise; pursue grants and associated funding.
4. Pursue programs and funding to establish more affordable housing.
5. Explore partnerships with neighboring counties to leverage respective resources for mutual benefit.
IV. EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE
Goal 4: Align the workforce to best serve the traditional and emerging business sectors.
1. Build workforce and existing industry partnerships; leverage the College of the Albemarle.
2. Work with the Outer Banks Chamber and other key partners to identify and focus on targeted business sectors.
3. Identify the essential workforce skills needed and gaps.
4. Align educational needs of the “work anywhere” segment; partner with educational resources.
V. ENTREPRENEURSHIP & SMALL BUSINESS
Goal 5: Work with specialist small business service providers to target and enhance support to small businesses throughout Dare County.
1. Catalog resources and their services (e.g., Small Business and Technology Development Center, Cooperative Extension Service, Industry Expansion Solutions, Workforce Boards).
2. Identify needs and opportunities by each small business sector (e.g., commercial fishing, agri-business, retail, sports recreation, entertainment).
3. Pursue “creative economy” initiatives (e.g. “Fish to table”).
4. Continue to connect with the Coastal Studies Institute; explore the potential to build an entrepreneur ecosystem related to CSI’s work.