Entrepreneurs catalyzing Crystal Coast's growth and generating community support

As local businesses in Carteret County create more local job opportunities, grow their companies, and generate national acclaim, they choose to pour their success back into the community.

Posted Updated

Abbey Slattery
, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, Crystal Coast Economic Development Foundation.

As technology advances, so does the ability to do business from just about anywhere. Thanks to remote work capabilities and video conferences, major companies don't have to get their start in a major city like Raleigh or Charlotte to find success.

In fact, for the local businesses of Carteret County, the smaller size of the community hasn't adversely affected their success — instead, the support and connection has helped bolster their growth. And that goes for locally owned lifestyle businesses and enterprising technology start-ups.

Mindy and Matt Fitzpatrick's general contracting business was hit hard by the Great Recession. The Carteret County locals took an inventory of what other options they had and decided to fill an area of need in the community, using vacant property left to Mindy by her parents to run a makeshift farmer's market — the likes of which Morehead City hadn't previously had.

Mindy, previously a professional basketball player and surfer, put her skill sets to use.

"I jokingly tell people that Matt was trying to figure out a way to get me to work. I was never trained to bake or to cook, but I came from a family of really excellent eaters, including myself," Fitzpatrick said. "I was recruited as one of the Saturday vendors to prepare and sell baked goods. I was required to be there on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but I was hopeful that produce sales and a nursery with plants and flowers could eventually grow into seven days a week."

That's how the Fitzpatricks started out in 2008, and since those early days, the parking lot farmer's market has grown to become the multi-faceted Friendly Market it is today, featuring freshly baked meals and treats, local goods and produce, and an on-site nursery.

Now, the Fitzpatricks have a team with more than 40 members, a state-of-the-art kitchen, and a massive following on Facebook that brings in permanent residents, second home owners and a surge of tourists throughout the year.

For Mindy, standing out from the crowd was a key to success, and the Friendly Market's famous tomato pie, a recipe passed down from Fitzpatrick's mother, is the perfect example of how her business sets itself apart from others. While their creativity helped get them to where they are now, Mindy believes none of it would have been possible without the support she and Matt found in the Carteret County community.

"We try to make sure that when we do something, it's really from our hearts, and we're so appreciative of this community. It has literally built us, from staff to customers, and it'll blow your mind to see how far we've come. Everything we've done we've been fortunate enough to do through word-of-mouth, which is so powerful — I cannot begin to explain and emphasize how important this community has been," Mindy said. "The number-one thing that we've done to grow the Friendly Market is that through our business plan we have really been able to listen to our customers and let them dictate our growth. I don't think a lot of businesses have the luxury of that — it's just amazing. If a customer says we need to try to do more of something or try something new, we listen and make the adjustment."

One addition that was overwhelmingly requested by customers? Wine.

After receiving multiple requests, Fitzpatrick added it to the inventory and it soon became one of the most popular offerings at the market.

The Friendly Market isn't the only Carteret County business that's generated widespread buzz. Tech also thrives at the Crystal Coast.

At Transportation Impact — an Emerald Isle-based company that identifies supply chain savings through small package rate negotiation, parcel invoice audit, and freight services — there is a lot going on. The company has been named one of Inc. Magazine's Best Workplaces, is a winner of the Business North Carolina Small Business of the Year award, and has been included in the Inc. 5000 — a list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country, multiple times.

Since starting in 2008, Transportation Impact has expanded their office space multiple times, bringing job opportunities and an economic boost to the county. Its Emerald Isle headquarters building also includes the award-winning Caribsea Restaurant and a rooftop bar with views of the ocean and Bogue Sound.

"From an economic standpoint, we now have 89 employees, and 79 percent of those reside locally. We're so excited to have found such great talent here in Carteret County, and we've also hired folks from outside Carteret County who have moved here with their families. Our employees love living here. The quality of life is just so amazing — getting to go to the beach after work or drop a fishing line in the sound," said Jamie Vogel, the company's Vice President of Sales and Marketing. "We've grown so quickly that we're needing to recruit from outside the local labor market to fill positions requiring very specific skill sets."

Similar to the Fitzpatricks at the Friendly Market, the team at Transportation Impact credits much of their success to the support of the Carteret County community — even though many of their clients aren't based in the area. Still, the company is dedicated to showing their gratitude and returning some of their success to the community through their IMPACT1 initiative, or Improvements Made by People Acting as 1.

Through the initiative, the company gives 1 percent of its profits back to the community through goodwill services and volunteer employee time. Started in 2016, the initiative provided more than $150,000 in community support in its first year alone.

"Many people in our community don't fully understand what Transportation Impact actually does as far as our businesses are concerned —they know us more for our giving back and our IMPACT1 initiative. Travis Burt (co-founder of Transportation Impact) said it best in one interview," said Jillian Farrington, senior marketing coordinator at Transportation Impact. "He said, 'All day long, if that's what Transportation Impact is known for in the community, I'll take that any day. It makes me proud that the first thing people think about is how much benefit we provide to the community.'"

While the Friendly Market's services and offerings are more directly involved with the community, the support and feedback they've received have been similar to that of Transportation Impact.

"We really have a good line of communication with our customers — we like that feedback, we welcome it, and it has changed us drastically," Mindy said. "People trust us, and we don't want to sacrifice that ever. We want to make sure that anything we do, we have personally tried and we like. Our palette is very different and it may not work anywhere else in the world, but it seems to do pretty well on this little corner of Friendly Road in Morehead City."

With such a strong reputation for workplace culture and rapid growth over the past few years, both the Friendly Market and Transportation Impact are proving you don't have to be in a big city to be successful — entrepreneurs can and do excel in Carteret County.

"We have experienced nothing short of positivity and community support since we started IMPACT1, but in addition to that, we've also been able to hire folks from the local community," said Transportation Impact's Vogel. "We have lots of big goals. We're striving to double what we are today, so we'll definitely be adding more jobs. Even during this challenging time, we've hired 21 people so far this year, so with that quick growth we'll need talent to support it, and we look forward to having that talent right here in Carteret County."

This article was written for our sponsor, Crystal Coast Economic Development Foundation.