News about the possible shuttering of the six year old Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City and a recommended reduction in the operating hours at the Visitor Center in Edenton is certainly not welcome news. The General Assembly’s non-partisan ‘Program Evaluation Division’ was charged with reviewing the costs of operation for many sites across the state and then asked to make recommendations as to how best cut costs. Raleigh is in the midst of an ongoing effort to streamline North Carolina finances to avoid under funding mandates without raising taxes.
While I applaud fiscal responsibility and abhor tax increases, in these two instances the panel needs to take a broader look at the potential negative economic impact these changes could bring to a northeast region of the state that has been struggling economically for decades. The northeast has had consistently high unemployment, numerous underachieving schools and unacceptable poverty levels with few opportunities for escape.
The region began to experience a mass exodus of jobs when the textile industry left for foreign shores in search of cheaper labor. State and federal dollars were infused, often with borrowed money, to try and stem the tide. For this and other reasons our state and federal government continue to grapple with debt that is retarding efforts to achieve a meaningful and sustained economic recovery. The General Assembly continues to try and right the course and in doing so is faced with making difficult decisions that won’t please everyone.
As with every dark cloud, there is still potential for a silver lining. Over the last 10 years or more there are individuals here who chose not to give up on the northeast in spite of what appeared to be dire circumstances. They decided to not only embrace the resources we have, but to also expand upon their utilization as economic tools: our unique and richly impressive colonial history; our temperate climate; the natural beauty of the land and its impressive and abundant agriculture; our meandering waterways and shore lines.
These individuals put a great deal of time and energy on several fronts: a renewed emphasis on tourism; encouraging the expansion and editions to technical curriculum offerings at COA and ECSU, and the increased marketing of our region as a great place to retire. Collectively these entities, along with agriculture, represent a large portion of our regions economic bread basket. We need to be fostering the expanding of these initiatives, not retreating from them.
One way to help accomplish that is for citizens and government to work together and find a way to keep the ‘Museum’ and the ‘Visitor Center’ conveniently open to the public. Achieving that may mean that some state salaried positions at these locations may have to be eliminated. The use of community volunteers can help with staffing. Perhaps dimming the lights and a few less trolley tours would help. Everything needs to be looked at. The primary objective must remain keeping the doors open as we continue to try and find our way out of our economic doldrums.
In the end, if a serious and timely effort is put forth to the state by the leadership of the Museum and the Visitor Center, we should be able to make a strong case to keep both operations up and running full time, albeit more frugally. Dare County tourism represents $1 Billion in revenue annually to their economy. We should be doing a better job of tapping into those numbers without negatively impacting Dare in any way, and we aren’t. The folks are already in the region and spending money. We need to get more of them them here for a day or two.
There is a line from Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ that someone recently shared with me that would be good for all of us to think about in these stressful times: “A salesman has to dream; it comes with the territory.” Well the time has come when we all need to be salesman for our region and communities, now more than ever. Let’s work together to keep the Museum and Visitor Center alive and then lets stay together and build upon that success as we look forward to better tomorrows which then will surely follow.