The annual Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce Economic Forecast was held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk on Tuesday. Unlike the past few years, instead of one (hopefully) expert giving his view on the local economy, a four member panel talked about their areas of knowledge. What came out of the discussion was pretty interesting and gave a much more complete and nuanced view of the local economy
Although there are some trouble spots, the consensus was the Outer Banks economy will continue to expand–and most importantly for our rental property owners, tourism is forecast to continue to grow.
On market that is emerging for North Carolina in general and certainly the Outer Banks, is foreign visitors. According to Wit Tuttell, Director of Tourism Marketing for the NC Division of Tourism, the state is making a substantial investment in bringing visitors from other countries here–with much of the marketing targeting western Europe. “The international tourist stays longer and spends more,” Tuttell commented.
There was a pretty full discussion of the regional transportation network and the efforts being made to make it easier to get to the Outer Banks. However, if there was a disappointment in the presentation, mention of the Mid Currituck Bridge was given barely a sentence.
Taking the brief mention of the bridge out of the mix, though, and Vann Rogerson, President and CEO, NC Northeast Commission, gave a remarkably complete picture efforts to upgrade the regional transportation network–a network that extends into Virginia.
He did touch on the potential impact of the Port of Virginia (Hampton Roads) which may have longer term implications for the local economy. The port just had the second best year in its history and is expanding faster than any other eastern seaboard port. There are a lot of reasons for its strength–too many to go into detail here.
One of the more interesting aspects of the discussion was the clear sense that there is a growing year round employment base. Everything indicates tourism will continue to dominate our economy, but there are emerging areas of employment growth that will have an impact over time.
The Outer Banks is aging–and there are some problems that may create as skilled workers age out of the workforce, but in the short term an older population requires more care—and the number of health care workers in Dare County is the fastest growing segment of the population.
The Outer Banks has for quite a number of years been the home to some of the best boat builders in the world–and that employment base is also growing.
Gunboat International—an upper end sailboat manufacturer—recently relocated most of their building capacity to Wanchese, bringing a projected 100 plus direct and over 300 ancillary jobs to the area. According to owner, Peter Johnstone in a short video presentation at the end of the meeting, the skill and work ethic of the boat builders he found here was as good as if not better than any other place he had been.
An interesting morning–well worth the time. Overall, the picture that was painted was a steadily growing economy, with tourism very much at the center of it, but taking incremental steps to diversify.