We Need an Expanded View of Economic Vibrancy

By on August 28, 2020

By John Lewis

John Lewis

I read with interest Clark Twiddy’s August 21 opinion piece “Economic Vibrancy Still Very Much a Long Game.” Mr. Twiddy’s analysis is not wrong.  To have a truly vibrant community, however, we need a more expansive definition of what economic success looks like in Dare County.

From my perspective, here are four areas that require serious, immediate action.

Dare County, and the Outer Banks in general, are still overly reliant on tourism and supporting industries for our economic well-being. Talks of an economic diversification strategy have not, to date, resulted in any tangible accomplishments. This is not a sustainable economic model for the “long game.”

There have been no serious attempts to broadly address the affordable housing crisis in Dare County. There is a dearth of year-around rental housing and home ownership remains out of reach for much of the working population.  The lack of affordable housing options can be directly linked to the employee shortage many businesses experience. We cannot ignore the relationship among housing, employment and economic growth.

Infrastructure in 2020 means more than roads and bridges. Many more rural areas of the Outer Banks lack access to reliable high-speed internet. As we are witnessing during the COVID-19 pandemic, reliable internet access is essential to meet the remote education needs of our students. But beyond education, broadband is key to health care via telehealth, enabling residents to take advantage of telework opportunities and facilitating growth in new sectors that would bring jobs and strengthen our economy.

Finally, what is the post-pandemic plan to attract capital to our area to support local businesses and employees impacted by COVID-19? I have not seen one; there appears to be no “Plan B.”

By most accounts, this has been a “record” tourism season in Dare County. But who has really benefited? We must take a broader view of our economy and define success as something more than a “100% occupancy rate” from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

John Lewis is a nonprofit executive who resides in Kitty Hawk.

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