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Economic Development
May 21, 2014

Is A More United Regional Approach To Growth And Development Possible? Signs Point To “Yes”

Sponsored Content provided by Al Sharp - Project Director, FOCUS

Remember the Magic 8-Ball toy? Ask it a question, give it a shake, and wait for the reply to appear from the murky depths. It seems like we’ve all been asking the Magic 8-Ball a common question – Can we cooperatively grow our future and develop our region? While our future is too important to toy with, we seem to be getting to an answer. Signs point to “yes.”

At a recent Cape Fear Economic Development (CFEDC) session, hosted by WHQR, a panel that was convened to discuss the recently released New Hanover County’s Garner Report was asked to identify the top three priorities for action. On the top of that list was “working together as a region on growth and development initiatives.” Ironically, just by joining in on the conversation, they’d already taken the first important step in making our hope a reality.

Moreover, the Land Trust has recently explored placemaking as a development generator. WDI explored the vitality of downtown development and pointed to the future of investment. Wilmington is working on its comprehensive plan by meeting with neighborhoods citywide. New Hanover County is studying important quality of life themes for its new comprehensive plan. There are positive and constructive efforts all over the region.

FOCUS  – an umbrella planning initiative made up of more than 14 agencies dedicated to the Cape Fear Region – is another example of how organized interests devoted to the economic, industrial, health and welfare, environmental and transportation issues are being faced as the region is poised for substantial population growth.

The list of FOCUS consortium members who are sharing information and ideas may actually surprise you: 
New Hanover County, Pender County, City of Wilmington, Town of Carolina Beach, Town of Leland, Town of Burgaw, Town of Surf City, WAVE Transit, Wilmington Metropolitan Planning Organization, Wilmington Housing Authority, AMEZ Housing, Brunswick Housing Opportunities, Cape Fear Regional Community Development Corporation, and the Cape Fear Council of Governments
These FOCUS members understand that now is the time to build a bank of ideas for what Wilmington and New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick Counties can become.  There is a convergence of ideas and actions. They all understand that by sharing data, insights, and concepts, it gives us a remarkable advantage in making decisions that empower us locally, regionally and competitively. 

While our local governments and the various business, civic, economic, environmental and housing organizations work tirelessly to make our area a better place to live and work, they aren’t able to fully satisfy the public’s needs without broad participation at the grass-roots level and a shared set of regional goals and strategies.

As residents who care about maintaining our area’s amazing quality of life, we each need to share our wants, hopes and wishes as we begin to map out our future. 

How can you add your voice to the discussion and see if your ideas will take root? It’s simple: get involved. 

  • Join a regional impact group or a local planning initiative that shares your passion toward the advancement of your community. 
  • Attend one of the breakfasts, lunches, meetings and gatherings that serve as places for open dialogue to incubate ideas on our region’s future. 
  • Check the FOCUS calendar that notes public meetings and events that relate to community development specific to health, governing, economic, environmental, housing, planning, transportation, policy, outreach and opportunity on www. 
  • Make your thoughts known on online forums and message boards where you can participate in a productive exchange of thoughts and ideas – online forums like,, and the FOCUS Forum (

As fun as it may be, now is time to put the Magic 8-Ball toy away and create our own shared answers for a prosperous future. 

Al Sharp is Project Director for FOCUS, a community-based planning consortium. FOCUS empowers local planning groups, businesses, and civic organizations through data gathering and public input, helping them to zero in on new opportunities to thoughtfully grow their own communities and our region. To learn more about FOCUS, sign up to receive our newsletter at

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