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NHC roles out new 'Economic Mobility' report identifying job scene problems and potential solutions

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NHC
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In 2014, New Hanover County put out the Garner report, a document outlining economic goals for New Hanover County. In 2018, they updated it and since then, they’ve fulfilled many of the goals outlined — but there are still serious issues that need addressing.

On April 18 the county rolled out a new document titled “New Hanover County Economic Mobility - Economic Development Strategic Update.” It’s over 100 pages and the county paid about $60,000 to Greenfield, a local economic development firm, to update workforce and demographic data, identify county assets, and potential issues.

There are four main takeaways from the analysis:

  • “Unbalanced economy”
  • Limited land for long term industrial and commercial development
  • Growing but aging population
  • COVID disruptions changing the landscape

Unbalanced economy

The general economic landscape of New Hanover County is being skewed in two directions: well-paying and low-paying. And the middle is virtually absent altogether. This is what has led to an “unbalanced economy,” the report said.

Local economic growth, on the whole, has been positive. However, there is a group of people that has been left behind: the manufacturing middle class has decreased significantly, while the number of both high-end, well-paying jobs and low-paying jobs has increased. This has created a situation where economic mobility is virtually impossible for many people at the bottom.

The solution? Bring in more manufacturing companies and factories to the region, according to the report.

Limited land

The county runs into another problem, though: zoning and land usage.

According to the report, the Wilmington Business Development website lists only six industrial sites in New Hanover County. The sites range in size from 5 to 140 acres of land. But the sites are plagued by a myriad of limitations that range from “lease only” stipulations to complicated access routes.

Besides the land, there are 10 available buildings listed as “industrial” on the WBD website, ranging in size and number of tenets allowed.

And while 10 industrial sites may not seem like a lot, people who have been living in Wilmington for many years don’t welcome the change as much as some others might. Wilmington is known for being a tourist center during spring and summer, and members of the community want to keep it looking nice without big factories and industrial development, making the area less welcoming to big firms that may consider investing in the region's future.

In interviews with some of the big firms operating in New Hanover County, Greenfield heard more concerns related to land usage. Without the opportunity to build, companies would be less likely to consider the region as a location.

Population problems

According to the report, more than half of the businesses in the state of North Carolina are owned by the Baby Boomer generation. These owners don’t have concrete exit plans for when they retire — which puts who they employ at risk. That’s the same case in Wilmington. While we have educational institutions in town that offer great educational opportunities to the younger generation, it’s harder to keep them in town once they graduate, and there’s a lack of job opportunities for this age group in particular.

Companies that are already here are having a hard time employing minorities due to the fact that the black population in Wilmington has been declining over the past ten years.

The potential solutions presented in the report are focused on marketing and branding the region to be appealing for all age groups and different business owners, but the specifics on how to go about that is still a bit up in the air.

Covid issues

Covid disruption of the workplace has changed how companies view in-person working and its value. Firms in the region are taking a look at their real estate and reassessing what they want their workforce to look like.

The pandemic has also disrupted supply chains — globally, nationally, and locally — and that's been an issue for a wide variety of industries.

Solutions

Also in the report: a list of potential business sectors to target to facilitate growth in the region, and some suggestions on how to go about seeing to the economic success of the region.

Marketing to a younger and/or out-of-town audience makes up the bulk of potential solutions to the issues we’re seeing. Making the area more attractive and enticing for the younger crowd to stay after they graduate, and even come here for work, is important to help balance out the aging population. Another tactic is advertising to tourists what New Hanover County has to offer and enticing them into moving to the region and bringing the business they own with them.