Life on the Edge
The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce
The Outer Banks is a string of barrier islands in North Carolina separating the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland of the United States. It has one hundred and twenty miles of uncrowded beachfront from Corolla to Ocracoke and basically one long sandbar that became a group of islands over time.
As a result of its location, the area has spawned a few interesting industries such as its commercial fishing fleet. The television series on the History Channel called Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks films at the commercial fishing fleet in Outer Banks. There is also a boat building industry that builds beautiful, custom yachts, worth millions of dollars.
A resident in Currituck County runs a business called Carolina Casual Furniture, where he makes outdoor furniture out of recycled plastic pellets that are compressed into a wood-like material. The furniture does not deteriorate over time and is not susceptible to water damage, which makes it ideal for outdoor furniture. His business has grown rapidly, and he is now selling to Target, Dillard’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond. The chamber continues to support the interesting and unique entrepreneurs who are attracted to the Outer Banks.
The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce was incorporated in 1974. There had previously been several smaller chambers in the area that decided to join together as one entity to represent all of the businesses in the community and to help them succeed. The chamber creates the necessary environment for business to grow and prosper in the community by offering programs, holding events and providing services and resources to help prospective businesses navigate the area and existing businesses with continued growth. It focuses on economic development and has a business retention and expansion survey to determine what makes its businesses successful. The chamber is also actively involved with local, state and federal legislation that affects the business community.
One of the reasons that Dare County brought in the chamber of commerce for economic development was to help diversify the economy. With heavy tourism comes a lot of employment in the service industry, in positions such as housekeepers and restaurant servers, which are not the highest-paying positions. The chamber does not plan to take away from the tourism service industry, but to add more year-round employment with livable wages and to develop more variety in the workforce.
“Finding those small, niche industries like the builder of outdoor furniture compliment the tourism industry but also bring new jobs that people can take on and make careers out of,” says Karen Brown, the president of the chamber of commerce for the Outer Banks.
The area has a population of forty-seven thousand people year round, but in the summer, it entertains a quarter of a million tourists per week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There are massive cottages with up to twenty-four bedrooms that are rented for up to $20,000 a week, and if all of the bedrooms are filled it is a luxurious and also affordable vacation for a large group of people. It is a popular draw for big families that want to vacation together, have family reunions, and it is also a common venue for weddings.
According to Karen Brown, “we have become quite the wedding destination. People will bring their whole wedding party here, rent out one of those houses and get married on the beach. They can do the whole thing right there at the house, it is incredible.” There are also plenty of smaller cottages for single families available in Outer Banks.
Shoulder seasons are from March to May and September to November, in between the high and low season in the travel market. Between the high prices of the peak season and the undesirable weather in the low season can be the perfect time to travel for many tourists. These seasons have become very popular in the here, and organizations have continued to add new festivals and events to attract additional tourists.
The Outer Banks Seafood Festival in October is a one-day event that draws about ten thousand people into the area. The economy here receives roughly seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars over that weekend. Events such as this have a very positive economic impact on the community. Outer Banks Sporting Events is an organization that holds four or five different races throughout the year, and it even has a Boston marathon qualifier race.
The tourist-driven economy is what inspires most of the business development in the area. It would not have been able to afford the new, standalone hospital that was built fifteen years ago if it were not for the economic growth created by tourism.
The school system in Outer Banks is ranked one of the top in the state of North Carolina and has a graduation rate of over ninety percent, which is impressive. “Ten years ago, the county really made a commitment to build new schools, making sure the students had the technology and access to resources that they needed to be successful,” says Karen.
The new and upgraded equipment in the schools makes a difference when it comes to keeping students interested and motivated. The chamber works with the school system to recruit new teachers when necessary, and there is also a community college located in the Outer Banks called College of the Ablemarle.
The quality of life in the Outer Banks is incredibly valuable, and the community prioritizes keeping it that way. “It is a beautiful place, and it has such a calm about it. We are very environmentally conscious out here; we want to take care of our environment. We don’t want to see any off-shore drilling. We’d rather see the windmills versus dirty energy,” explains Karen.
People are drawn to the area because of the beaches and are often surprised to find all of the interesting history in the area. When the weather in the area is occasionally less than ideal, it is the perfect time to explore the past and discover all of the exciting historical gems located in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
This is the location of the birthplace of Virginia Dare who was the first child of English parents to be born in the New World.
The Wright Brothers flew the first manned flight here in 1903. The flight that lasted twelve seconds in the air and covered one hundred and twenty feet of distance took off from Kill Devil Hills in Dare County, North Carolina.
The area is also known for the time in World War II when the German U-Boats patrolled along the coast and would get entangled in unpredictable, treacherous bodies of water or caught in storms and become shipwrecked along the coast, which gave the area the name, ‘the Graveyard of the Atlantic.’
Karen says, “We are also the birthplace of the first lifesaving station, which is the precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard, and we have our lighthouses to complement that.” Cape Hatteras lighthouse is the largest lighthouse on the East Coast, and there are other famous beacons in the area such as Bodie Island Lighthouse and Currituck Lighthouse.
This ideal location is also a challenge for the community at times. Out in the water, the closest international airport is an hour and a half away in Norfolk, Virginia, and there is no interstate highway. There are also housing challenges; the cost of housing is fairly high, which causes problems for the workforce in the area.
The weather is another significant issue. It is not prone to hurricanes, but it is sometimes affected by them and other storms. The winters in North Carolina are mild, with a couple of inches of snow and temperatures hovering around the freezing point.
Nowadays, many people can take advantage of telecommuting and can work from the comfort of home. The Outer Banks is an excellent choice for residents looking to live in paradise while working from home. “What we are uncovering is that there are a lot of people here with those types of jobs. They may have to fly to the corporate headquarters once a month, but they can live here and work from home the rest of the time. I think the atmosphere here and the culture make it a place they want to be,” says Karen. The many recreational activities available to these residents are incredible, surfing the coast is a fun and relaxing way to start any workday.