Sound Strategy: Understanding the Outer Banks’ past can illuminate the present, future

Sound Strategy: Understanding the Outer Banks’ past can illuminate the present, future

June 1st, 2023

Entrepreneur is a French word, meaning to build something from nothing.  Looking at photographs of our region from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s it’s clear that the greater Outer Banks has seen a remarkable boom in entrepreneurship over the past few decades. 

The visionaries and barnstormers of the 80’s and 90’s were able to do something truly unique as they built the North Carolina oceanfront from a barren duneline to a famous destination. They were able to build their businesses while at the same time building the markets they served.

Much has correctly been said of late around the dynamics of change. Whether it’s the pace of change, the sheer amount of change, or what it all means for the future occupy much of our public dialogue at the moment. 

And yet, as we debate the future, we can also find that the past – the journey of how we got where we are – can illuminate the present as much as it does the past.  

Starting in the second half of the Carter administration, interest rates hit all time highs and then, in the early portions of the Regan administration, those same rates came soaring down to well under half in only a few years. 

Higher rates, of course, slow the real estate business by intentional design while lower rates encourage buying and developing.

That dynamic, notably beginning in 1986, defined much of what the Outer Banks has become today.

The brief story of that journey – from virtually nothing to a glittering something – is one of history, national financial policy, and daring local entrepreneurship.  

History, of course, begins with the designation of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore as America’s first national seashore (FDR’s election in 1932 in the wake of the Great Depression heralded a burst of public investment). 

It would take quite a few years to bring the national park to its opening, a process interrupted by the Second World War.

The first Oregon Inlet bridge (named after a protege of the Congressman who helped designate the national seashore) opened in the early sixties, about ten years after the park officially came into existence.  

The end of LBJ’s presidency ushered in a period of so-called “stagflation” that really ended with Reagan’s election (although Reagan’s administration benefited directly from Carter’s courage in combating inflation). 

Through Reagan’s terms into Bill Clinton’s eight years, the US economy grew at a pace unrivaled since World War II. 

Development locally really started when Reagan was elected and his landslide second term was notable for impacts on income taxation and investment. 

People, for example, may recall his campaign theme of a “morning in America” and, in turn, a morning on the Outer Banks.  

Lastly, those early visionaries just had drive, ambition, and charisma for days – and not just the formidable business ones. 

The improbable rise of state Senator Marc Basnight, a North Carolina combination of both LBJ and Harry S. Truman, made access and transportation enormous priorities for the region. Now the second bridge built over Oregon Inlet carries his name.

That access, by extension, created a market that simply never looked back.

To understand the present, we begin with the contexts of the past. It’s only by understanding that context that we can in turn place our own decisions in context relative to the future. 

Those early visionaries stand on a testament of having solved, historically, many of the challenges of their time and place. By understanding them, we position ourselves with the knowledge to solve our own in the place they built.

WOBX Publisher Clark Twiddy is the author of Outer Banks Visionaries:  Building North Carolina’s Oceanfront that launches next week.  This is his second book about the Outer Banks. “Sound Strategy”, a weekly commentary from 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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