Beating the Brain Drain: How northeast North Carolina is convincing young people to stay

North Carolina

DARE COUNTY, N.C. (WAVY) — In northeast North Carolina, a key part of the population is declining, causing a ripple effect on the local economy. 

According to data from NCWorks, the working-age population is declining across the region, including in Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.  

Emily Nicholson has studied the problem as part of her work with the Northeastern Workforce Development Board

Businesses and economies can’t thrive without a robust labor force, so Nicholson has made it her mission to show young people they can stay in the region and find success. 

“I think northeast North Carolina has a lot to offer and I just want to make sure our kids understand they don’t have to go away in order to find that fulfillment,” Nicholson said. 

A new initiative from Nicholson and the NWDB called #WorkLocal aims to prove that. 

Posters of county residents who stayed in the area and found good jobs have gone up in local high schools.  

In Dare County, NCDOT ferry oiler Matt Nuckles is featured. 

Nuckles grew up in Frisco and never felt the urge to leave. 

“It’s a nice little place to grow up, it’s nice and quiet, right on the water,” he said.  

The job suits him as well. 

“It’s a good, steady job,” he said. “You get to see pretty sunrises and sunsets and you work with a lot of good people.” 

Nicholson could have featured herself in the initiative; born and raised in Chowan County, she’s now raising three daughters there.  

Nicholson did leave for college, but found it to be an unnecessary expense. 

Part of her #WorkLocal message is that people don’t need to load on student debt to be successful.  

“Looking back, I could have saved a lot of money going to a technical school,” she said. “You don’t have to go away and get a 4-year degree to find a sustainable position here.” 

Nuckles, for example, had to get some transportation certifications and completes ongoing job training. 

NCDOT provides him insurance and benefits, a schedule that suits him and a retirement plan he looks forward to decades from now.  

“I’m very happy right here doing this with all my coworkers and my little island, I love it.” he said. 

NCDOT is hiring ferry workers. For more information, visit the agency’s website.

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