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Economic Development In The Cape Fear Region

This week the North Carolina Economic Development Association held its annual conference in Wrightsville Beach. It brought those in the state and international economic development community together for a series of workshops. Here in the Cape Fear region, economic development is a high priority -- especially with the 421 Corridor now ripe for new development. The various groups involved here are not always on the same page.

“Well, economic development is a team sport.”

That’s Natalie English, President and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. She’s on the team.

Besides the chamber, other key players include Wilmington Business Development. WBD is tasked with bringing investment and jobs to the Greater Wilmington Region. Run by Scott Satterfield, they are contracted by the city and the county to recruit businesses.

Another player is the Cape Fear Economic Development Council.

Clark Henry is a board member. 

“Yeah, we're totally independent. We're not funded by anyone to perform any official economic development role in the region, whether for the county or any cities. We are a completely independent nonprofit organization that tries to gather a diverse set of opinions from public agencies and private stakeholders from economic development points of view to environmental conservation, small business, large business and try to balance those interests in a creating dialogue around different topics.”

Ann Revell-Pechar is CFEDC’s chairperson.

“Our focus right now is helping the region define a big vision for the region, what we've joined together with Renaissance Wilmington to identify as the moon shot idea. Cape Fear Future has started a fabulous direction for us. But what we'd like to be able to do is convene all of the nonprofit organizations and all the for profit organizations that are working toward an economic development outcome and bring the public into the discussion so that we can all buy into a very big new Wilmington.”

The vision is more than industry, manufacturing or smoke-stacks along route 421. It’s high-tech and filled with entrepreneurs. It includes an engineering school at UNCW, and more homegrown talent. Talent that sees no need to leave for Raleigh, Charlotte, Boulder or Boston.

“Entrepreneur Development to me is certainly a big part of economic development. If you look at the Raleigh area or the Durham area, that is the number one region in North Carolina for, the future of the state's economy.”

Jim Roberts is the Founder of The Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington.

“If you want to grow the future of the economy and looking for the future of where the jobs are going to come from, then supporting the entrepreneurs in your community is a vital part of economic development.”

Bill Graham is President of the Renaissance Wilmington Foundation. He’s looking for a fresh approach to economic development.

“We've had the same economic development to approach since probably 1960 and that is that you hunt for great businesses to bring into the region. You get lucky every once in a while or you work hard and somebody comes into your community. That's probably how we got GE, Corning and even PPD.

Graham says that old way of development is workable…

“But if you think about the idea of how to do this in an optimal way, what you want to do again is to build on what you already have because that is a natural attraction. I used to work at IBM and they used to say, well, 80 percent of what you do is, is protecting what you have. And the other 20 percent is bringing in something new.”

The population here in the Cape Fear Region is growing, and growing fast. Just what new companies will open here and employ all those people, rests in the hands of the economic development players.