Within our regional visitor economy, one of our challenges to maintaining our area is knowing the difference between when to collaborate and when to do more unique things that make our own specific destinations (at the county or town level) more attractive by comparison.
In business language, that’s a strategy around maintaining competitive advantage.
At the government level, that’s a reflection of both local citizens electing local leaders to represent them at the local level and also local tax generation.
The challenge, in building our visitor economy, is knowing when to use both constructs to achieve an end result.
In short, our leaders face tough challenges in choosing their courses between the two options. In the words of Warren Buffett’s partner Charlie Munger, it’s not supposed to be easy. In practice, it’s exceedingly difficult.
As we acknowledge the difficulty in knowing when to collaborate and when to choose a unique course, it’s useful to point out a few rules of thumb.
First, from an economic lens one incentive for collaboration should lie in opportunities for cost efficiency and economies of scale.
For example, let’s look at beach nourishment along the Outer Banks; to date, Dare County (with supporting dollars from the state and federal level) has done extensive beach nourishment while adjacent-to-the-north Currituck has chosen not to invest in nourishment.
This is an interesting case study. Both counties feature a dominant visitor economy and both counties acknowledge the hugely expensive costs of nourishment–the two counties have chosen unique, rather than collaborative, courses.
Time will tell if the unique course option was correct, but if the limiting factor in the decision is cost then it makes sense to suggest nourishment is an opportunity for collaboration and not competition.
Further examples of this collaborate versus compete logic exist across the region.
In yet another example, the so-called economic “tier” system features competition for state resources particularly at the transportation level–top tier counties compete with other top tier counties for resources and, through a long-term lens, that becomes worrisome as rural counties (with declining populations) by extension come into competition with more urban areas (with rising populations).
It could make more sense in the future for rural collaborations here as opposed to county-specific comparisons; for example, perhaps the right name for the vaunted “Mid-Currituck bridge” should be the “Northeastern Bridge.”
Second, there is most clearly a place for competitive advantage as compared to collaboration and it’s perfectly fine to acknowledge that.
Our Virginia neighbors to the north, for example, placed both a toll road and a physical gate in place as one means of making it not-too-easy for visitors to ease to the south–that’s an excellent example of competition.
As we choose our course between the two, however, to best achieve intended outcomes it’s useful to know what that strategy is–in reality if it’s not communicated, it’s of no value.
Former President Barack Obama, in a memorable quote, once remarked that if he couldn’t understand something he couldn’t in turn communicate it.
That same sentiment holds true for strategy–counties can collaborate, in cohesion with a strategy, and they can also compete, cohesive to a strategy. It’s the lack of strategy – and the lack of subsequent communication – that gets us into trouble.
That’s not to sound a critical note. This again is tough work.
The future, of course, lies somewhere in the middle with a mix of things that make our regional destinations unique and compelling while also working together to bring down costs, seize opportunities for re-investment, and together do things that alone we are simply unable to accomplish.
Perhaps the bellwether to this lies in a sense of balance–where we see a lack of balance, that turbulence in turn destabilizes the future.
Where we see a balance, we in turn stabilize our future to the extent we can.
Three cheers for communicating first the difference between collaboration and competition and second for careful thinking around when to pull the right lever of the two.
If nothing else, simply having a road map between the two is a solid step toward the future. And that takes pure courage.
In the words of Winston Churchill, courage remained the most important of all human attributes, as in his mind it was the only one capable of guaranteeing all the others.
“Sound Strategy”, a weekly commentary from our publisher Clark Twiddy, features issues, ideas and information focused on our mission statement of “Covering the Business News of the Greater Outer Banks”.
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