CARTERET COUNTY — With the national and state economy expected to hold strong in 2020, county economic development officials will focus on attracting new, full-time residents to Carteret County in the upcoming year.
In fact, resident attraction is one of the County Economic Development Department’s top goals for the new year and beyond, according to Director Don Kirkman. He said growing the full-time population could provide a number of benefits, including addressing what he considers the county’s greatest present economic challenge: a lack of workers.
The county unemployment rate is sitting around 3.5%, a near-record low number Mr. Kirkman said effectively represents full employment. He said the pool of potential workers is so narrow, it is difficult for new or existing businesses to expand in the county.
“One of our roles that we always talk about is working with existing businesses, and universally, the biggest challenge that they face is the labor market,” he told the News-Times recently.
Mr. Kirkman’s solution to the labor problem, then, is a simple one: expand the labor force by growing the full-time population of Carteret County. He said the more people who live here, the larger the pool of available workers and the more opportunities for economic growth.
“The goal here is to grow our economy incrementally without disrupting the very tight labor market that we have by getting people to move here,” he said. “The benefits of that are many, but it will grow the labor force, which is great for our existing businesses. It’s going to help grow our tax base because the more people that move here, they’re going to be buying homes, living here permanently.”
Mr. Kirkman expects some population growth to happen organically with the anticipated completion of Interstate 42 in the next decade, but the county has a few specific ideas in mind for attracting new residents. To that end, the Carteret County Economic Development Foundation, a nonprofit entity that works alongside, but separate, of the county-funded Economic Development Department, has partnered with Raleigh-based news site WRAL to produce a series of articles and videos touting the benefits of living in Carteret County.
Mr. Kirkman said the year-long campaign launched in November with six initial articles and accompanying videos, and will eventually produce 24 sponsored stories focused on the Crystal Coast.
“A couple of the themes that are going to run throughout the campaign are our great education systems, including our great public schools, the community college, our university marine science assets and our health care system,” Mr. Kirkman said.
The first few articles and videos were well received and garnered more attention than expected, Mr. Kirkman said, especially in the state’s metro areas. The campaign targets a broad range of demographics, but the economic development director said there are a few groups in particular he’d like to focus on attracting.
Retirees are one demographic the county has a special interest in recruiting. Economic Development Officer Michele Querry is part of a retiree attraction committee that met for the first time recently. The ultimate goal in 2020 is for Carteret County to become a N.C. Certified Retirement Community, a program which provides state funds to approved communities recognized for providing ample amenities, resources and opportunities for retirees.
“Retiree is not the traditional thought process any more. We’re looking at people now who are retiring at 45, 50, starting second careers. A large proportion of new businesses are created by people in the 45-50 age range,” Ms. Querry said. “So we’re talking about attracting retirees, but we also expect their innovation, their experience, their entrepreneurial spirit to really contribute to our local economic development, as well.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Kirkman also wants to attract young families and remote workers. He said modern technology allows people to work from just about anywhere in the world, and the state’s Triangle region is a technology hub ripe with potential remote workers. He has been pushing the county’s top-ranked school system as a benefit for young families looking to relocate.
The department has a few other goals for 2020, as well. Ms. Querry said she is working on growing the digital footprint, and she hopes to utilize social media more going forward. She will also organize career fairs and maintain the department’s relationships with other organizations in the workforce pipeline.
Managing population growth will require careful advance planning, Mr. Kirkman said, but he thinks Carteret County will be smart about it. He said it’s a balancing act between encouraging growth and preserving the area’s natural beauty, but he wants to help the county’s leadership prepare for the future.
“What we have to do now, and I’m glad we have time, is to focus on managing that growth in a way that will not jeopardize the quality of life that we’re marketing as one of the reasons to live here,” he said. “So for our local governments as they plan for the future … we’re going to see them very much engaged in this conversation in planning for what we anticipate is a significant upward trajectory in our population growth.”
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.