If we've learned one thing from the financial crisis, its that the Outer Banks is still an economically vulnerable area. While it is obvious tourism is the premier revenue generator locally, the island-wide economy was even more dependent upon real estate and construction, in particular, tourism related real estate and construction. There does seem to be a need for our community to work towards economic diversity.
In Northeast North Carolina, when people talk about economic diversification, they automatically turn to industry. Thus, we have government owned office parks, natural gas lines, new by-passes and highways, and economic development agencies all vying to bring industrial concerns to our area. From what I have seen over the past 15 years, most of these efforts have failed to hit their mark.
We don't play to our strengths, we play to what everyone else is trying.
I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, including a greater push for eco-tourism, a natural strength, as well as organic farming, but today I wanted to focus on something different--an "Outer Banks University".
If you think about it, Dare County is the perfect place for a college. As an "industry", colleges are relatively clean, environmentally speaking. Students would be attracted to the relaxed beach atmosphere, and many might stay in the summer to provide needed part-time work. The influx of professors and administrators would bring a more stable middle-class to the area. The student population would help support local restaurants, retail stores, and services. Interest in the arts and other intellectual pursuits would increase.
I would imagine parents would find Dare County an appealing locale for their children attending college. It is crime free, remote, and sports a small town atmosphere.
We have a start with the UNC-Coastal Studies Institute. Dare County is a natural selection for such a school, and given our fragile environment, it is likely the school will eventually prove a useful tool in determining how we develop Dare and other coastal counties as we move forward.
It should be a long-term goal to couple the CSI with a four year college; either state run or private. There is plenty of land for such a site, and in fact, some areas under consideration for low income housing might be put to better use as a college. Likewise, areas on mainland Dare, or even southern Currituck would make good locations. If Currituck is worried about density and impacts on their school system from Dare "spillover", then perhaps a college or university would prove a useful compromise.
We need to look for diversity that will "smooth out" our economy, both seasonally and long-term. Any such diversity should be compatible with our life style and our environment. That rules out any form of industry in the traditional sense of the word, and rightly so.
A college or university might be something that suits our needs in our quest to provide a more stable economic environment.