Wilmington’s diverse economy has a strong footing in entrepreneurship. While flagship entrepreneurial successes like PPD, Live Oak Bank and nCino garner much-deserved attention, there are hundreds of other smaller ventures that add to the strength of our economy, increase the vitality of our community and provide jobs.
Eighty percent of businesses, a large majority of our local economy, are in the small business category. For this reason – and because today’s two-person outfit could be a Fortune 500 company tomorrow – encouraging the creation and growth of startups is key to area economic development efforts. Entrepreneurship should be supported in the same manner as recruiting industry and new business from outside the region.
The philosophy of growing from within needs to be a multi-tiered approach. Organizations like the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship should continue to be supported in their efforts to connect entrepreneurs to information, resources and venture capital. Similar support should be given to ventures like Castle Branch incubator tek- Mountain. Creation of workspaces such as Coworx at the Cargo District and GROW that provide office basics on a budget for a mobile workforce should be encouraged. And we need to continue to recruit great business minds to mentoring organizations.
Wilmington is blessed by an advantageous geography and assets that are attractive to luring entrepreneurial activity and talent. We need to take full advantage of those same assets by supporting further exploration of marine science-related industries and utilizing the amazing resources of the UNCW Center for Marine Sciences and MARBIONC, CREST Research Park and the NC Biotechnology Center. Commercialization of research conducted at UNCW is growing and has the potential to be a catalyst for significant entrepreneurial activity, especially if we can identify additional angel investors and grants.
The Wilmington Chamber’s role is to continue working with our local leaders to craft the type of community where new businesses can thrive. When PPD Founder Fred Eshelman accepted the Lifetime Achievement in Business Award at our 2018 Annual Meeting, he noted that a fair cost of living, available workforce with a good work ethic, a good living environment for enjoying time off and a good place for raising children were key in his decision to choose Wilmington. Our strategic plan emphasizes our goals to be the effective business advocate, promote the region, ensure the workforce is well-developed and trained and serve as the regional facilitator to position our community for prosperity by cultivating business growth.
While the Chamber’s 2017 Regional Economic Scorecard showed we rank highly compared to peer cities in entrepreneurial activity, there is untapped potential for growing fintech industries, CROs and more… areas in which we are already competing and quickly becoming industry leaders.
Natalie English is president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.