PART 1. 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's Vince Winkel 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.
NEXT WEEK IN PART TWO, WE LOOK AT THE RAPID GROWTH IN BRUNSWICK COUNTY.
PART 2. Design for the Brunswick County Northwest Water Treatment Plant upgrade and new pipeline are on schedule, according to County officials. That’s important, because water is a key to growth and development. Brunswick County in recent years has seen the largest population growth of all the state’s counties, according to the U.S. Census. It also ranked fourth in the nation for percentage growth for counties. WHQR continues its series on economic development, with a visit to Brunswick County.
(SFX – gulls on beach)
“I think Oak Island is one of the best places you could ever live. We've kept our taxes low….”
Jeff Winecoff loves Oak Island. He’s been here a long time. Today he’s Mayor Pro Tem on the Town Council.
“We wanted more development off the island on 211 in that part of the district of Oak Island. And we’re starting to see that benefit and grow.”
Oak Island, like most of Brunswick County, is growing. And it’s growing fast.
New houses along the beach, new businesses inland, all adding up to a growing tax base. That’s a common theme for the entire county. Ann Hardy is County Manager.
“We are very busy. A lot of a unique opportunities and a lot of challenges as well.”
“It's more weighted in the residential at this time, but I think that the commercial is coming in and we're certainly taking efforts to recruit industrial as well. I think it's just a matter of time before industry finds out how attractive our port is and the investments that have been made there as well as the recruitment of our two mega sites to our industrial parks.”
(SFX – Leland construction)
Residential means Leland. Home construction. Just across the river from Wilmington, Leland is booming.
“To say the least.”
Leland Senior Planner Ashli Pirozzi.
“I have been working with the town for about 11 years, and it's always been busy, but the past few years have been quite phenomenal. The town continues to build a team of people around us that can handle the business of that. So that's great. It's been a really exciting time to be here to learn a lot and to see all of the changes that are taking place.”
… and it’s hard work. Gary Vidmar is Leland’s Economic and Community Development Director.
“Well, it brings a number of challenges with respect to staffing requirements, with respect to infrastructure requirements, traffic, transportation, and managing that growth and the sustainment of that growth.”
Traffic is a concern, as is water.
Last month, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a sewer line moratorium at Brunswick County’s northern wastewater treatment plant. The move will slow new development in the northern reaches of the county.
Growth means sewage. DEQ has a regulation whereby sewer treatment plants can't exceed 90% of their capacity. County officials say the moratorium should be lifted in September. Then new sewer line permits for developments will start flowing again.
The county is in transition. It was once primarily tourism – with places like Southport, Oak Island, Holden Beach and points south. Today it is more residential, and if county leaders have their way, more industrial and manufacturing will follow. Leland’s Gary Vidmar says business will come.
“You know, you need rooftops before you can attract businesses. So now we're attracting the businesses to serve our population.”
Vince Winkel, WHQR News.
Next week, WHQR looks at economic development in New Hanover County.
PART 3. 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.”
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.
Vince Winkel, WHQR News.