The most recent figures from the N.C. Department of Commerce showed that unemployment rates increased across North Carolina’s 100 counties in January. Eastern counties like Craven (10.8 percent), Carteret (10.6), Jones (10.7), and Onslow (9.6) all saw increases in unemployment over the December 2012 rates.
This is bad news for recovery from the lengthy recession we’ve endured. And the furloughs that many federal employees are facing, possibly beginning next month, will add to those percentages and to our unemployment woes. More than 10,000 out-of-work human beings — 10,000 real people — are represented in just those numbers from those four counties.
One bright spot in the ugly unemployment picture is something I pass by every day driving from eastern Onslow County to work at Cherry Point. It is a little red-roofed business on Queens Creek Road just outside Swansboro. Every time I see this place, it reminds me of the human spirit, the will to succeed and the persistence spoken by President Calvin Coolidge who said, "Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."
"Press on" definitely defines the people whose business occupies this little white cinder block building with a red metal roof. The building started out as an empty, non-descript, windows-boarded-up, leaky-roofed, busted-up parking area, apparently abandoned since I transferred here from Washington, D.C., as an active-duty Marine in 2002. It was just there. Empty. Deserted. Overgrown. Surrendered to nature and human circumstances, whatever they may have been.
In a way, the building became a sad representative of the recession itself. Every day I passed by and wondered why it sat so lonely and forgotten for so long. Then one day activity bustled where the crickets had roamed!
The sad, non-descript building was soon transformed into a standout. Workers painted its dingy, gray cinderblock walls with a bright, white paint. New glass adorned its boarded-up, broken windows. The interior was cleaned and fixed up. The grounds were clipped and pruned and the parking lot repaired. A new red-painted metal roof topped the little building’s transformation.
What would occupy this pretty little space that just seemed to be aching for success? A sweepstakes business! Soon "sweepstakes" flags beckoned one and all to stop in and try their luck.
Ah, but then the General Assembly stepped in. Sweepstakes businesses competed with the state’s own "Education Lottery." And gambling is immoral — at least gambling not supported by the state through the "Education Lottery." The state made sweepstakes businesses illegal. The sweepstakes flags came down.
This is where Calvin Coolidge and his quote about persistence come in. At the same time the state was debating the wisdom of making sweepstakes businesses illegal, a sign went up alongside the sweepstakes flags at this pretty little building announcing "thrift store." Next to the sweepstakes machines, shelves filled with used items for sale lined the interior of the pretty little building.
The business is just a few miles from Queens Creek and prime fishing grounds. About the same time sheriff’s deputies — in compliance with state law — were finally shutting down the sweepstakes business, part of this pretty little building’s occupants’ multi-faceted attempts to make a go at it, "bait for sale" signs went up. The "bait for sale" signs took the place of the now confiscated sweepstakes signs. As I drove by each day, I couldn’t help but appreciate and respect the persistence of the people who owned this business, trying to remain free of the state’s unemployment statistics just announced.
The other day I drove by, and yet another business has sprouted from these folks’ persistent attempts to survive in our poor economy and the state’s attempt to shut them down. U-Haul trailers now line the grounds of their kaleido-business just a few minutes from the back gate of Camp Lejeune and legions of young Marines who move themselves quite often.
President Calvin Coolidge would be proud of these people. I wouldn’t be surprised to drive by to see new businesses added — even franchise ownership someday.
To be sure, our state has a steep hill of economic challenges to climb. But if the pretty little building with the red metal roof in Onslow County is any indication, persistence, determination, and optimism will carry us up and over to better days.
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.