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Economic Development - in New Hanover County

Southeastern North Carolina is the fastest growing part of the state. Census figures show Brunswick and Pender Counties at the top of the list. New Hanover County – 328 square miles, almost half of it water – is no slouch either. It’s the 8th most populous county in the state and is also growing. WHQR has part 3 of our series on economic development in the Cape Fear Region.

New Hanover County is the second smallest county in the state in terms of land mass. Wilmington sits in the middle of the county, and takes up about half of it.

Like its neighbors Pender and Brunswick, New Hanover is growing. That economic growth brings challenges.

“We are singularly focused on ensuring we have a great quality of life and employment opportunities for everyone in our community.”

Natalie English is President and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.

“We have to watch our infrastructure of not just the transportation infrastructure, but certainly transportation, public schools, water and sewer. Those are the critical components to make sure we can accommodate the growth.”

(Scroll down for Parts 1 and 2 of our series)

The terms infrastructure and growth go hand in hand.

“We're extremely busy right now. Things are going extremely well.”

That’s Deputy County Manager Tim Burgess. His staff is keeping tabs on growth here, and making sure that developers – residential, commercial or industrial – are following the rules. And he says the county is working to improve the entire process.

“So once a Unified Development Ordinance has totally been approved by the board, it will provide clear processes and steps that people need to go to for approval. The eight new zoning districts, will just really give developers more options, as far as ways to develop. And all of that will help them in the process of looking at developing so it will help them.”

At a county meeting on July 1, commissioners approved the most substantial change to the county’s zoning ordinance since it was first adopted 50 years ago. It includes those eight new zoning districts. County officials say that was necessary to keep with the development strategy outlined in New Hanover County’s Comprehensive Plan.

New Hanover County is expected to have more than 315,000 people by 2038, according to the State Demographer’s Office. That’s a 36 percent increase from today.

Later this year, the county will finish rewriting its guide to development and growth - the Unified Development Ordinance or UDO.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says in Wilmington alone there are 2,300 available raw acres left to develop.

And he says as the region grows, Wilmington benefits.

“What we're beginning to see are outlying communities in Leland, in Hampstead, Burgaw, Brunswick County, in Pender County, that are starting to grow substantially. And with that growth in those areas and those regions, people coming into the city of Wilmington many days of the week for jobs, for shopping, for cultural events, and a lot of other things.”

It’s elected officials who ultimately make the decisions on growth and development. Adrienne Cox is an urban and transportation planner, and former board member of the Cape Fear Economic Development Council.

“So I think that the elected officials try and balance that, that you have people in the community that see change and they don't know what to expect from it. And elected officials have to rely on the experts that they have in the community or the people that they hire. There are experts that they hire to look at these things and look for similar cities with similar concerns.”

This week, New Hanover County may have received a boost to its economic development. On Tuesday, county officials announced that commissioners will consider putting the $1.25 billion dollar New Hanover Regional Medical Center system on the market at their September meeting.

County Manager Chris Coudriet says such a move – selling the county-owned medical center - would result in additional funds for things like more affordable housing in the county.

“Unquestionably, these dollars could aid significantly with economic development, job creation, small business growth and startup.”

Vince Winkel, WHQR News.