Economic Outlook assesses prospects for marine biotech, economy, real estate
October 9, 2012By Jenny Callison
The Wilmington area should expect continued slow growth in the through 2013. That’s according to William W. “Woody” Hall Jr., senior economist at the Swain Center for Business and Economic Services at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Hall said Tuesday that total output in the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area (Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties) is forecast to grow 1.7 percent during 2013, slightly more than that forecast for the state of North Carolina (1.5 percent), but below the predicted rate for the nation (2.1 percent).
Hall gave his cautious prediction for the area, which included a slight shrinkage in area unemployment, as part of Tuesday’s ninth annual Economic Outlook Conference, presented by the Cameron School of Business and the Swain Center.
The conference began with a national economic snapshot from Thomas Simpson, executive in residence at the Cameron School of Business. Sampson, a retired member of the Federal Reserve System’s Board of Governors, warned of numerous risks facing the country caused by the federal deficit and the approach of the “fiscal cliff”; by Eurozone instability and by a volatile Middle East.
Sampson emphasized that a growth rate of 2.1 percent is not sufficient to absorb new entrants into the job market.
Keynote speaker at the conference was Deborah Mosca, CEO of Wilmington-based Marine Bio-Technologies Center of Innovation (MBTCOI). Mosca, a believer in the power of serendipity, describes some of the world’s best inventions and innovations as the result of serendipity, or “happy accident.” Serendipity is also what she hopes will occur as her fledgling organization brings together many partners in North Carolina’s effort to advance and commercialize marine biotechnology.
Mosca outlined the mission of the fledgling MBTCOI, which she said was to be the focal point of all marine biotechnology in the state, and to serve as a catalyst for development of those technologies into marketable applications in health care, diagnostics, food and energy.
“It’s important to understand the inventory of marine assets that exists in North Carolina,” she said, citing the state’s wealth of human as well as intellectual capital that could be focused on marine biotechnology in a collaborative way. “The proximity of MBTCOI to UNCW is helpful in working on commercialization of technology.”
She also said the center will match business professionals with marine researchers to write applications for grant funding to develop commercial applications from research findings.
“Keep your minds open; keep those ideas coming,” she concluded.
Following Mosca’s talk, a panel of three biotechnology experts discussed their work and what they consider to be a bright future in North Carolina for marine-based innovation.
To conclude the conference, three real estate specialists gave an overview of residential and commercial markets.
Theresa Huffmon, an agent with Coldwell Banker Commercial, referred to the current environment as one of “suspended expectations” for commercial real estate. She said that vacant office space locally is at 16.3 percent, slightly higher than the national average; industrial vacancies are at 14 percent, about 3 percent higher than the national average; retail vacancies are at 13 percent, compared to a national average of 11 percent; and multifamily vacancies are at 5.7 percent, more than a percentage point higher than the national rate.
Chris Livengood, an agent with Intracoastal Realty, was more upbeat in his assessment of the area’s residential market. He said that local sales have risen 18 percent, thanks to historically low interest rates and generally low housing prices. The inventory of homes on the market has fallen from a 16 or 17-month supply to about a nine-month supply, he said.
Haywood Newkirk, an appraiser with the firm of Clontz Newkirk Real Estate Group, shared the results of his ten-year study of commercial sales and leasing rates in the metro area. His examination of the rise in prices from 2002 to 2007 and the decline that followed to 2012 showed that in some markets -- notably Wilmington’s medical and central business districts, Mayfaire and restaurant properties – prices are still higher than they were in 2002.
Read more about the Economic Outlook Conference in Friday's print issue of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.