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Wilmington's Economic Outlook: Highlights from UNCW's Regional Economist

Wilmington USA - 8 March 2015 - Cape Fear River river front in Wilmington North Carolina USA
Erix Schokker/Bennekom — Adobe
Wilmington USA - 8 March 2015 - Cape Fear River river front in Wilmington North Carolina USA

Wilmington’s population growth is driving a lot of change in the region, including in housing, employment, and demographics. UNCW Economic Outlook 2023 conference keynote speaker, Mouhcine Guettabi, shared some highlights.

Growth in the Cape Fear region is moving at a ferocious pace, according to UNCW’s regional economist, Mouhcine Guettabi.

“The Wilmington Metro is made up of the fastest growing county in the state, Brunswick, the third fastest growing county in the state, Pender, and the 14th fastest growing county in the state, New Hanover County," he said. "Again, this is a migration story.”

But without migration, all three counties would have shrunk, Geuttabi said. While two-thirds of the migrants here are from elsewhere in North Carolina, others are coming from higher cost-of-living states, especially New York.

“We tend to be receiving people who are better off than the ones who are moving out. That, again, has implications for housing, has implications for making reservations at fancy restaurants, has implications for willingness to spend money." Geuttabi explained. If you add the combined worth of all the added residents in the three counties, he said, "that's basically a billion dollars.”

That increased spending means about 5,000 more jobs — roughly half of all jobs added since 2019. But it also correlates with higher housing prices.

The average age of Brunswick County is now 57, and it’s only going up. That means many people are moving here to retire, or when they’re close to retirement, so it’s not clear that they’re contributing to the local labor force.

Still, locals are catching up a bit to the newcomers. Average wages have increased by 7% in the past year in Wilmington — although much of that is concentrated at the lower end of the income spectrum — in the leisure and hospitality sectors.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.