May 2022


Reach Out and Touch Someone

I saw a pay phone the other day.

I turned my car around to go back and make sure I saw what I thought I saw.

It was a public pay phone alright. Just hanging outside on the wall. The directory was long gone, but the chain it was attached to dangled in the breeze.

Two questions came to mind…

One, “WHO is still making public pay phones?”

And two, “Did we really used to put those filthy receivers on our face and so close to our mouths?”

Sure, it might come in handy during an emergency, but I’m not sure I even know anyone’s phone number by heart. Do you?

We’ve become so used to technology today that the idea of getting out of the car, putting coins in a slot and punching in one digit at a time seems crazy.

We have everything we need in our pocket. The internet has us covered. Just ask Google, Siri or Alexa.

We don’t need pay phones anymore. They’re just another invention that’s become obsolete, like fax machines, DVDs and turn signals.

These days, even people seem in danger of becoming phased out.

Cars are driving themselves. Robots are working the warehouses. Drones deliver our packages.

There’s a website for anything you can imagine and apps for all the things you can’t.

In 2022, you can buy everything from a taco to a three-bedroom house online without having a single human conversation.

Convenience is great, but here’s one thing I know for certain: businesses can’t exist without people.

Every business is made of people.

You want to grow businesses, you have to focus on the people.

Those people are what I’ve loved the most about working in economic development.

I’m especially proud of how much light we’ve shined on our local small businesses. Over the last five years, I’ve been amazed by how many unique and incredible companies have been launched right here in Currituck County.

Each one of them belongs to people who have great stories to tell.

We've covered everything from diesel engines to decoys and monster trucks to microbrews.

We've heard from florists, fishermen, craftspeople, contractors, plumbers, pizza makers and pyrotechnic experts.

We’ve even literally shown you how the sausage is made.

I’ve always believed that the most important strategy for economic development growth is to start in your own backyard.

State and big city governments spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to hit the jackpot by landing a billion-dollar deal with a big company. But like most lotteries, the odds are stacked against them.

That’s why I've always believed it was a better idea to gamble less and invest more.

With the right kind of support, small local businesses can become big local businesses. And big local businesses can go on to conquer the world.

80% of net new jobs and capital investment in any economy are generated by existing firms. And existing firms provide even more return on investment in smaller, rural market areas.

And as any successful business knows, it’s 10 times more cost effective to work with existing customers than to continually cultivate new ones.

I’m not saying that recruiting outside companies shouldn’t be part of economic development. I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be the ONLY part of economic development.

And for places like Currituck County, it doesn't make much sense at all.

That's why I've made it my mission to do everything possible to make business easier for the business owners.

But there's still plenty that small business owners can do for themselves.  

Small businesses need to encourage local government to adopt policies that encourage growth. Lobby them to remove restrictions that drive up operating costs.

Ask local officials to clear the path... grease the gears... remove the obstacle course. At the very least, give them someone to answer their questions.

In my experience the best way to support the drivers of our local economy is face to face. Forget about messaging apps and emails. Skip the video calls. 

Just go reach out and touch someone with a handshake, a fist-bump or a high-five and then ask "How can I help? What do you need?"

Who knows what the future holds?

Decades from now, everything could be different.

Maybe robots and computers will run everything. Maybe human owners will be replaced by algorithms and lines of code. 

Maybe one day, small businesses WON'T be made of people.

But luckily for me, when that day comes, I’ll be long gone.



Larry Lombardi
Director of Economic Development

Clean & Elegant
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