Entrepreneurs work and play at the Crystal Coast

The Crystal Coast isn't all play -- with local businesses and new growth flourishing, the Carteret County area offers an ideal work-life balance.

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

The Crystal Coast has long been known as a top vacation getaway — a place to escape work for a little rest and relaxation. But with an ever-growing number of entrepreneurs, small businesses and innovative companies setting up shop in Carteret County, the perception of it being just a place to play is quickly changing.

Just ask Lianne Won, daughter of I.J. Won, a former North Carolina State University professor and founder of Marshallberg Farm, the largest producer of Russian Sturgeon and Osetra caviar in the country, which is based right in Carteret County.

"Our facility is really state-of-the-art, one of the most advanced aquaculture facilities in the world," Lianne said. "Our grocery stores sell a lot of seafood here [in Carteret County] sourced from farms and other places that don't have the same regulations that we have here at Marshallberg Farm."

For I.J., it was a desire to create something locally sourced, as well as his passion for aquaculture and sustainability that led to the creation of the now renowned Marshallberg Farm. Originally a geophysicist, the senior Won moved to the area after retiring and fell in love with the Crystal Coast lifestyle, but he was concerned by the decline of locally sourced seafood.

He started Marshallberg Farm in response, and he worked to ensure the company didn't take away from the community, but rather built upon what was already there.

"We love the ecology here and we respect all life that's around here. We wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize that," Lianne said of her father's business and convictions. "As far as building the facility, that was all local — electricians, plumbers, builders — and we're just now starting to install solar panels on the entire farm so that we're not using as much electricity."

Operations like Marshallberg Farm create job opportunities for locals and skilled laborers, as Lianne mentioned. Additionally, with increased access to locally sourced products that businesses like Marshallberg Farm create, there also comes an opportunity for even more economic growth — namely, local restaurants looking to capitalize on these fresh ingredients.

In fact, eateries like the Chelsea in New Bern and the Beaufort Hotel in Beaufort use caviar and sturgeon specifically sourced from the Wons' farm.

Thanks to convenient access to an abundance of fresh seafood, produce and more, there are many new restaurants that open around the Crystal Coast every year. The food and culture scene in Carteret County is appealing to residents and tourists alike, and is also a profitable pursuit for many restaurateurs and culinary entrepreneurs.

Much like these local flavors are savored, so, too, are the recreational benefits of life on the coast. And for Ed Stack, vice president of Jarrett Bay Boatworks, his job allows him to blend business and pleasure every day.

"Jarrett Bay is a boat building company, so I think about boats every single day as part of my job," Stack said. "And then, personally, that's the most fun that my family has during the spring, fall and summer — when we hop on our boat and go somewhere. We go and meet other families and spend the day playing volleyball and grilling hamburgers and just being out on one of the islands or sandbars. ... It's part of everyday life for us here."

Stack is right — boating has always been a key component to the local life and economy on the Crystal Coast. In fact, the industry has been prevalent in the area for not just decades, but generations.

In addition to Jarrett Bay, which was started by Carteret County native Randy Ramsey, other local entrepreneurs have created Parker Boats, Jones Brothers Marine, Shearline Boats, Budsin Electric Boatworks, Salt Boatworks DIY and many other boatbuilding and component manufacturing, repair and design enterprises.

"It's just heritage. And really it goes all the way back to the time when the area was first settled," Stack explained. "It goes all the way back to Blackbeard — Blackbeard's boat is sunk 10 miles off the shore of Beaufort. They're excavating Blackbeard's flagship Queen Anne's Revenge as we speak."

Blackbeard, or Edward Teach, was a famed English-born pirate who spent his final years exploring and looting around the Atlantic coast. He settled for a time in Beaufort and was eventually killed on Ocracoke Island. His legacy is but one part of the sea-based culture that is embedded into the fabric of life and work on the Crystal Coast.

In addition to its historical roots, the Carteret County community is also embracing growth and innovation as it looks to the future, when more people will choose to "work where they vacation." Just look to developments like TIDAL Co-working, a brand new coworking space located in downtown Morehead City, and you'll see just how forward-thinking local Crystal Coast entrepreneurs are.

However, life on the coast isn't all about the hustle, bustle, and a 9-to-5 grind, but rather balancing a successful career with a robust personal and family life. There are plenty of opportunities for work, but also relaxation and recreation.

"I really do enjoy the curated business community around here. It's not overwhelming. There's not a million of the same things to choose from, and there's not a lot of traffic," Lianne offered. "It's a small-town feeling, but the Crystal Coast also has a perfect balance between nature and technology — I can be on the Internet and on screens just like everybody else, but then I've got this nice environment to balance all that out."

She added, "We can look out the window and see great blue herons and bald eagles, we can have chickens in our backyard and lots of space, and it's less expensive than larger cities too. We can be in a secluded place, but we can still be connected to everything."

The Crystal Coast lifestyle could work for anyone, Stack pointed out, from those who have spent their entire lives in Carteret County and couldn't bear to leave, to newcomers looking for a place to call home and set up a business or work too.

"There's opportunity here," Stack said. "It's not like you're coming to a spot that is dead. I mean, everybody that I talk to in other businesses and other industries around here, they're all looking for people. So there's plenty of opportunity here. Additionally, with Interstate 42 coming in from the Triangle, the area is just going to continue to grow."

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