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Economic Development - In Pender County

The Cape Fear Region is the fastest growing section in North Carolina. Census figures show Brunswick and Pender Counties at the top of the list. Pender County is 933 square miles stretching from the Atlantic coast inland towards Wallace, Atkinson and Ivanhoe. In Part One of our series on growth in the region, WHQR goes to Pender County.

(SFX – construction)

You don’t have to drive far in Pender County to find construction. Houses, apartments, businesses, industry and coastal vacation homes. There is a lot of building.

“It certainly is, there's a lot of a demand for housing in Pender, particularly all along the eastern side of the county.”

That’s Chad McEwen, Assistant County Manager.

“We're also seeing strong interest in residential development in the Rocky Point area and even drifting over into Burgaw. Our focus is supporting that and providing the utilities needed to continue that growth, but also making sure that those folks that are moving here or relocating here, have somewhere to work.”

(Scroll down for Part 2 of our series - Brunswick County) 

Work means economic development. And there is a lot of that going on.

The U.S. Census has Pender County listed as the second fastest growing county in the state. Brunswick County is number one.

“We have a nearly 30 year contractual partnership with Pender County.”

Scott Satterfield is CEO of Wilmington Business Development. WBD is a private, not-for-profit organization that recruits businesses and manufacturers to Pender County.

He is bullish on the county and in particular the 330-acre Pender Commerce Park.

“FedEx is completing a transit hub there for some of their operations. We have state of the art wastewater treatment, water treatment facilities on some of the finest property areas, anywhere to locate companies on with close proximity to I-140, right off of a four-lane highway, easy access for your needs coming in and out.”

However there are obstacles. We’ll get to infrastructure in a moment.

With such strong demand there is a shortage of turn-key facilities for companies wanting to relocate here.

“One of the biggest challenges we have right now in Pender County is, and I guess this is a good news, bad news story, and that is that we have no real available buildings left to put companies in most of our buildings.”

With business and residential growth comes the need to expand an area’s infrastructure. Water and sewer lines put down 50 years ago don’t have the capacity to handle today’s demands. And then there are the roads. The North Carolina Department of Transportation has committed to several major projects in the county in coming years, including the Hampstead Bypass, a widening of NC-53, US-17, and NC-210.

However there are concerns about the direction and speed of the development in Pender County. Clark Henry is on the board of the Cape Fear Economic Development Council, and once worked in planning and development for the City of Portland, Oregon.

“And what I tell people is that if it's not land that's held for conservation purposes or a park already, it's going to be built. It's going to be built on. So we have to assume that that's going to happen. And I think what we need is just a little more intentionality into how that changes and how those things get developed and older sites, how they get redeveloped.”

According to Pender County’s assistant manager, a lack of infrastructure is not slowing development. However, he says the county will need to increase its water and sewer capacity in the coming years to keep pace with the growing demand.

Vince Winkel, WHQR News.