#MakeOrientalCoolAgain

Over the last two weeks I’ve had a few people send me civil but contrary messages about using the #MakeOrientalCoolAgain hashtag. Seeing how this has garnered some attention I should probably now elaborate on its origin, meaning and context.

For one, I’m really pleased that it’s getting people’s attention. It’s an exceedingly difficult task to capture this elusive creature in our current climate of top 10s, best of’s and 160 character limits. The sentiments expressed make me think of Howard Beale in the movie Network. Getting mad isn’t always a bad thing and sometimes it’s the best thing for initiating what seems to be insurmountable change.

I told several friends and supporters early on I will either be successful or get run out of town. I said this because I see Oriental and Pamlico County stuck in dire economic straits. Before anyone can move forward with implementing change be it personal, professional, or civil it’s best to recognize the problem and call it by name. Don’t want to be an alcoholic? Best recognize you are one. Don’t want to be obese? Better step on that scale and swallow reality. Don’t want to be marginalized? Better explain how you are. Don’t want to stay a poor and depressed county… ?

The hashtag has nothing to do with Trump and for all I know he copied me. The idea came to me after having many conversations with people who lived and worked here from the late 80s to early 2000s. It seemed that the late 90s were the heyday of Pamlico prosperity. After hearing enough of these conversations it occurred to me that someone has to bring this back and #MakeOrientalCoolAgain. Or at least get a thorough understanding of why it can’t, won’t or shouldn’t happen. The scope of the projects I’m working on seemed like a good fit for taking the lead.

I lead with the fact that recent comments have been civil. I should also say that those comments have come from people who don’t currently live or work here. Ironically the uncivil comments have all come from people who do live here. Many of whom don’t actually have to WORK for a living. Which brings me to my first observation of why this economy struggles, the presence of poverty and oligarchies.

WHY IT CAN’T HAPPEN.

I use oligarchy in an economic context not a political one, though the political one may be just as valid. I say this with NO negative implications towards any business owner who thinks they fit the oligarchical bill. I’m just calling it like I see it. This observation has made me realize that perhaps this economy will never be thriving with diversity. I fault no farmer or fisherman who has had to resort to economies of scale to remain competitive. But through the ability to acquire capital intensive equipment that reduces the need for human labor the job pool shrinks and a small portion of individual wealth increases. It is well understood by economic leaders in Pamlico County and beyond that entry into the agricultural market by unestablished entities is all but impossible. I’m confident the same could be said for the commercial fishing industry too.

WHY IT WON’T HAPPEN.

The second hurdle is in a similar vein. Many people simply don’t want any economic change. My observation is that this group doesn’t have to actively participate in the local economy. They are taken care of regardless so embracing change, which is inherently uncomfortable, is of no interest to them. This demographic is mostly retirees and members of the oligarchies. A real dilemma in this scenario is that the people who want to or are capable of being the drivers of economic activity are often not “from here”, they’re like me a “come here” and we are not always well received. In fact I would say outside of Oriental the ideas of “come heres” are not well received at all. This is nothing unique to Pamlico County and is probably the status quo for rural America.

WHY IT SHOULDN’T HAPPEN.

This leaves the possibility of why economic growth shouldn’t happen here which is really just a combination of the two above. If a significant portion of the people that live here don’t want it and the economic landscape doesn’t naturally favor it then it stands to reason this area IS NOT a good candidate for economic revitalization. Every place isn’t great for everything and maybe Pamlico County and Oriental aren’t great places for economic growth. It’s entirely plausible that Oriental and Pamlico County need to remain a mostly impoverished economic region with a handful of interests controlling the vast amount of the wealth and resources. I’m not going to argue that’s inherently bad, again, I’m just calling it like I see it.

When I sit back and think about all the above I feel like I should start preparing for the inevitable migration back to urban America. But the stories of the “good ole days”, the encouragement of others who want to come enjoy a thriving economy and all it has to offer and the people who want their kids to grow up somewhere there’s an actual OPTION to stay and prosper keep me plowing forward. Now do I really think that I’m going to do this all by myself? Not at all. But I do think I am one of the few people willing to lay it out there in public, to do it in a professional and courteous way, and not be deterred by the haters and naysayers. What we need is leadership so others are inspired, encouraged, and empowered to pursue their vision of #Making_____CoolAgain. Basic laws of physics confirm that getting an object in motion is the hardest part. If you’ve ever lifted weights you really understand this. If you’ve ever started a business from scratch you will also be acutely aware. If we build it, they are certainly more likely to come.

Why Oriental and Pamlico County Are Cool

  1. Despite the naysayers the people down here are super cool. This is one of those rare places that by and large you’ll be welcomed with warm arms.
  2. The natural resources and opportunities for outdoor exploration.
  3. Artists, authors, and eccentrics.
  4. Rural, small town Americana vibes.
  5. Best sunrises and sunsets on the planet! I may be biased…

Why Oriental and Pamlico County Are Not Cool

  1. Poverty
  2. Vicious, life ruining illegal drug use
  3. Limited opportunities for upward mobility. If you’re poor now, you’ll probably be poor later unless you leave.
  4. Class Struggles, a product of #1
  5. Corruption. It is well documented that the least economically developed countries, states, and nations are also the most corrupt. Why? Because small pockets of vast wealth exert immense control on intermediary players and when the vast majority are poor they can’t fight back.

The first five reasons are why I’m here and why I want to stay. The last five reasons are why I’m motivated to #MakeOrientalCoolAgain. Even if the above don’t happen directly in Oriental we’re impacted just the same. If you’re a mid-level professional hoping to escape urban congestion and American gentrification Oriental and Pamlico County are probably some of the least cool places you could be.

How it Gets Done

I’m not the first to lead this charge, I’m just the most recent and maybe the most vocal. I believe this change comes through the creation of small businesses and entrepreneurship and here’s why.

  1. SMALL BUSINESS.

    When I look at the middle class business owners around the county I see most of them are able to sustain themselves and maybe a handful of employees at most. I think we’re kidding ourselves if we think that Pamlico County is going to be an appealing place for major industry to set up, bringing in hundreds or thousands of jobs. Why drive right past New Bern to what is essentially a cul-de-sac? (Of course we all know how great it is living in a cul-de-sac!)

  2. TECHNOLOGY.

    Pamlico Community College is a huge asset to our county but they aren’t doing their students any favors by offering generalized degrees. I emphatically don’t believe you need a college education to be successful. But having taught at the college I do know that students enter their respective programs with the expectation of job placement in a similar field and a living wage. The best job my Environmental Science students had in Pamlico County was mine at the time… teaching Environmental Science. A local business owner recently told me of a graduate in the Associate of Arts program who applied for an administrative position and expected $18/hr plus benefits. This should not be an unrealistic expectation for any college graduate
    but the reality of the matter… it is. I have approached the college about classes in programming, web development, graphic design and copy writing. A couple other curriculums that would be value added are CAD design and 3D modeling. Generalized degrees are awesome for teaching people how to think which is critical to success but when you’re in your 30s – 40s with real obligations you need a fast track to gainful employment, not theoretical applications of knowledge.The beauty of the above options are that you DON’T HAVE to rely on local demand. There are numerous opportunities online to provide these services for hire. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an ultra competitive market and you can’t make the same money as you could living in a city but my point is that it’s possible. I see a joint venture between a publicly funded institution like PCC and a consortium of tech based service providers working quite well. PCC becomes a well respected national leader in providing access to high quality, low cost designers, developers, programmers and draftsmen. Graduates are able to segue seamlessly from student to employee or better yet, employer.

  3. ENTREPRENEURSHIP.

    Following along with #1, salaried positions, though secure and the desire of most people, are the bane of incentive. The greatest incentive I ever had as a salaried employee was to do just enough to not get fired, which was not my style at all. My thirst for improvement and recognition for my contributions ultimately resulted in me being fired from two jobs. Both times my performance had been significantly greater than the norm. Do a good job, just not too good.This logic is ILLOGICAL in the world of entrepreneurs. You sink or you swim because of YOUR contributions. If you swim, then you can set the pace for those that follow (and if you’re swimming in the wake of others who are sinking you can bet that people will follow you) if you sink then you’ve got no one but yourself to blame. If you sink, you also just went through the BEST learning experience you’ll likely ever have, far better than a generalized degree.Being in charge of your future is intoxicating! Making money for someone else is unsatisfying at best. I think if we really want to super charge a struggling economy and build significant momentum it has to be done through a vessel that gets people pumped! Money is not the most powerful motivator, control is. Giving people ultimate control of their lives should be the end goal.

If you’ve read this far I hope you’ll now understand what I mean when I say lets #MakeOrientalCoolAgain. Perhaps a more accurate slogan would be #LetsGivePeopleControlOfTheirLivesAgain but I doubt that one would have garnered any attention. Awareness leads to discussion, discussion leads to progress, and progress leads to prosperity. I’m giving this my best effort, and in the spirit of entrepreneurship I’m prepared to accept any outcome. I’m fortunate to have a set of skills and experiences that will allow me to pick up and move on wherever I want but too many people in our county can’t do that. They have to accept their circumstances or hope that someone will come along and change it for them.

Lets Do This.

William Hughes Conkwright

February 14, 2017

4 replies
  1. MK Christiansen
    MK Christiansen says:

    Good words. You are quite honest about the hurdles that make real transformation of the county difficult. Poverty and drugs afflict the county. Oriental is a different creature, afflicted (I think) with a certain narcissism. Still, many retirees in the town give tirelessly to help alleviate the county poverty — Hope Clinic, Hospice, and HeartWorks are just three efforts that come to mind. I do hope PCC is able to enliven itself. When I’ve gone there, it feels like a dead campus. We opted to drive to Craven CC for our daughter’s classes simply because it actually feels like a real college campus. Unity, I think, is one thing the county desperately lacks. There’s too much Us/Them. We’ve lived in the village, and we now live in the county. I think about these things a lot.Thanks for your enthusiasm and drive. I hope you have success in rooting out some problems and rousting some participation. It’s no good dwelling on the past. With this county’s natural beauty, there’s no reason she can’t be very cool again!

  2. Maureen Mountcastle
    Maureen Mountcastle says:

    You raise some excellent points Will. Have you thought about running for office? As a person who has been a “come here” for the past 35 years I could see where some people might take offense at the “again” part of your mission statement because the cool factor has always been a part of Oriental although it can become depressed when a terrible storm hits or some outside unforeseen circumstances cause an economic downturn. It would be awesome to infuse our little shangri la with some excitement and get the economy flowing a little better for all who live and work there. I hope my upcoming Tv pilot will help in that area! Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

  3. Candy bohmert
    Candy bohmert says:

    You have a good grasp of whats been going on. This is a place of rich or poor, not much in between. The wealthy, for lavk of a better term, dont want economic growth. They came from that and like the quiet here. They are happy to shop online. The poor, again, for lack of a better term, need change. They have lost hope. Mount Olive college did a study and found out that the kids in eastern nc are very unique in that they dont want to leave. They are tied to the land. So they have geared their agricultural program to that distinction. Its a different way of looking at eco_development. I have been a believer that if we can help the highschoolers begin to think about what they love to do, and educate them along those lines , we would have much more vibrant economy. We are farmers, fisherman, hunters, foresters, and tour guides….what do those things need to keep them going? Just my two cents.

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