Economic Vibrancy Still Very Much a Long Game

By on August 21, 2020

An Open Letter to Our Elected Officials, Past and Present

By Clark Twiddy

Clark Twiddy

We are connected more than ever of late to current headlines governing even our day-to-day actions. Here on the Outer Banks, the summer tourism season remains in full swing, and we attribute so much ongoing economic activity in part to the most recent COVID headlines making the Outer Banks more popular than ever.

While there is some strong anecdotal attribution to COVID impacting vacation decisions, sustainable local tourism remains a reflection not of a pandemic, but of an infrastructure long-game in which it’s much harder to link cause and effect across time. Because it is difficult, however, doesn’t mean we should neglect a deeper understanding of the “long-pole” in our economic tent. It is a deliberate story, not reactive, and well-considered as opposed to one in haste.

In short, the Outer Banks has always been resilient in the face of larger economic adversity because our elected officials, on behalf of our citizens, have made far-sighted strategic decisions with scarce resources to invest in the surest possible insulation against the ebbs and flows of economic turbulence — infrastructure. They took, in other words, an architectural perspective to our community.

First and foremost, the Outer Banks is popular because of what it was before COVID —

a truly remarkable natural environment that’s accessible to so much of America and beyond. Specifically, there are several local decisions over the years that have reaffirmed that environment:

  • Beach nourishment does work — our beaches have never been more enjoyable for families. We haven’t read much attribution of recent beach nourishment to current visitation. Still, the more attractive the beach is the more guests we’ll see and the more sustainable to stakeholders our local economy becomes. Nourishment is an investment.
  • Road networks — or more accurately road appropriations made many years ago led by Marc Basnight — make accessing the Outer Banks much easier than many competing locations for homeowners, visitors, and working families from across Eastern North Carolina. Many of these improvements were made years ago and in hindsight, it’s hard to find a better investment in a tourism economy other than perhaps education. For truly strategic returns on the taxpayer dollar, look no further than roads and bridges.
  • Zoning laws that made sure small-town environments didn’t erode in the face of development — town and county-wide visions for growth maintain the right balance between inevitable growth and keeping intact out unique environment.

Each of these items has been largely absent from much of the public discussion around travel and tourism locally and yet each item has played an integral role in the sustainability of our by-far largest industry in the face of the global question mark around COVID.

While we have become, as an information society, adept at blame for slow progress, we would do well to be equally adept at giving credit where it’s rightly due — the organizations, representatives, and most importantly taxpayers who invested many years ago in our success today. The late-night local planning meetings, crowded commissioner sessions and thankless statewide budget debates have made the Outer Banks vibrant not because of COVID but in spite of it.

Long after the COVID wave has passed, our economy will endure as a reflection not of the headlines but because of the vision of a relatively few public servants — some here, some already departed — dedicated to making this a great place to be for everyone. Their cause is our effect.

Clark Twiddy is president of Twiddy & Company.

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