Sound Strategy: Long-term success of Greater Outer Banks economy is chess, not checkers

Sound Strategy: Long-term success of Greater Outer Banks economy is chess, not checkers

May 25th, 2023

Listening across our region to voices and thinking about what kind of future we are designing in our efforts, it’s clear that eastern North Carolina is a unique place with both unique opportunities and unique challenges unlike any other part of the state.

What’s striking in many of these hopes is the amount of future investment that will be required to make our ambitions become our reality –world class medical care, for example, that will cost many hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Education options that compete with urban areas, in addition, and those hoped-for facilities are funded in part through competitive student headcounts and strained rural county budgets.

Transportation networks that are achievable only through federal-level investment.

And so on.

In short, if we are to go where we hope to go then in turn we will need a consensus, not only in a destination, but in the means of achieving those dreams. Like faith, our consensus will be judged not in our abstraction but through our acts.

We’ll need, in other words, a collection of strong core economic engines that sustain public sector investment.

Said differently, the path forward must include doing everything we can to support the growth of the private sector as the surest insulator of future budgets.

While that notion seems simple, we must be aware of the tendency to confuse Benjamin’s Graham’s weighing wisdom–in a paraphrase, he means that our regional economy in the short-term tends to be a voting machine, but in the long-run it tends to be a weighing machine.

We must not forget that dictum–in other words, we must be cautious of things in the short-term that become temptingly popular but, through their popularity, ultimately erode the value creation that is the engine of the future.

In a more Twitter-able summary, ours is a long-term game. Call it the “Freakonomics” of our visitor engine.

To make the strategic linkage, we’ll need not only to support and sustain our businesses of the day but also to grow and develop our businesses of the future in their ability to create value for others.

That means business-friendly policies, efficient tax structures, and the fewest possible regulatory hurdles.

I’m not suggesting a free-for-all, of course, but I am suggesting the notion that as government grows in its reach the private sector tends to shrink in its innovation.

Our challenge, going back to our collective hopes, is encouraging a private sector that fuels our future and doesn’t limit it.

Now this may all sound like gobbledygook, but the trend is already out there–a sense of too much tourism, for example, can have an tendency to constrict it for the long-term (going back to Graham’s dictum).

In another example, a government tendency to supply housing actually shrinks the housing market.

Large segments of our regional population without healthcare, in yet another example, raise healthcare costs overall.

And so on.

To summon a book analogy, we’re well served to consider the “Freakonomics” of our visitor economy and work actively to avoid, to an extent, short-termism in favor of the long-termism that supports our dreams.

Said simply, checkers is a short-term game. Chess, on the other hand, is the long-term game of timed moves.

Interestingly, new chess research suggests that expertise is limited in impact as time to make decisions shrinks. In other words, plan ahead.

We’ll have to ask ourselves some tough questions in our decisions.

Are we playing checkers or chess as we grow our economic base? And where in the end do those two games lead us, knowing that they are not the same place.

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