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Economic Development
Apr 21, 2014

The Case For A Strong Regional Plan

Sponsored Content provided by Al Sharp - Project Director, FOCUS

Our Cape Fear Region is in an enviable position. We’re not only experiencing a steady recovery from the 2008 recession, but according to recent trends and predictions, we should anticipate yet another huge growth spurt and market expansion over the next 25 years through net natural increases and expanded incoming relocations.

Our outlook is bright and optimistic. We’ve turned a corner and many concerns for the future are a thing of the past. Our region is thriving again. We can sit back and enjoy. Well, not quite just yet. 

Growth and development can also pose many challenges and advantages to the region. If we’re not looking and anticipating the possible scenarios for these changes, it may be difficult to maintain the quality of life and every day services that we love about this area.

During a recent public forum in Southport, I had the opportunity to hear a local citizen share his observations about traffic in his town. As a lifelong resident, he’d seen traffic tie-ups in his area go from nonexistent to daily occurrences. He described the changes seeming like a sudden shift overnight. “Where did they all come from?” he asked himself. Sure, the population in Southport area had increased, but even more significant was incoming tourism and business traffic from surrounding towns and the growth of New Hanover County. This is just one example of how unanticipated growth can greatly impact our quality of life.

So, how can we be ready for the future without losing the very qualities that make our region so attractive? The answer is in developing a comprehensive regional plan. Planning is the key to thoughtful growth and development and we have our best opportunity to engage in this process now.

Regional planning isn’t a novel idea. Every major metropolitan area strives to plan growth regionally. Those that are successful are able to expand the economy, support business development, improve the quality of life and expand opportunities for its citizens. Successful regions ultimately attract capital, talent and even more success. Successful cities and their neighbors do all this without losing their special community identities, but by understanding that there is strength in numbers. 

Areas with robust, well-developed regions understand the advantages of managed growth. Take the thriving Charleston, South Carolina, area as an example. For years, leadership from the three counties that comprise the Greater Charleston region have worked together to share local thoughts, initiatives, and ideas with the goal of empowering the greater area. The strength of the region as a whole has established Charleston as having an incredibly strong sense of place and the tri-county area is viewed as the coastal engine for the state. 

By working together to establish a regional plan, the Greater Wilmington region has that same opportunity to seize the opportunity and to ensure the things we hold important are still available to us in the future. Regionally we can also position ourselves as an increasingly influential, enviable coastal locality both statewide and beyond. 

At this point, you may be wondering exactly what regional planning is about. 

  • Regional planning is the collaborative process of setting goals for multiple jurisdictions and their citizens to direct resources and increase the effectiveness of public investments.
  • Regional planning is the recognition that political boundaries are decision-making units, but social, economic and cultural forces and patterns transcend these lines.
  • Regional planning is a way of organizing public policy and financial decisions to increase the return on investments.
  • Regional planning is the extension of municipal growth and enterprise and recognizes the integration of the broader economy: supply and demand, labor and capital, investment and production. For example, what does it take to get a container of hogs raised in Duplin County, processed into ham, prepared for sale, exported through Port of Wilmington and delivered to Shanghai, bought by a Chinese family with its emerging family income?
  • Regional planning links the rural, suburban and urban dimensions of American life a two-way supply chain. This connectivity can be seen every day at our local farmers markets and on our highways
Regional planning begins at the community level. By thinking regionally while we act locally, the benefits can be limitless to our area. Regional planning takes the participation and input of all our residents and businesses. In turn, we all will benefit from the process in a variety of ways.
  • Regional planning activities allow us to share important data, patterns, trends and ideals so we can gain direction and make balanced decisions. 
  • Planning gives us all an opportunity to shape our destiny. Choice matters.
  • Planning opens the consideration of alternatives. Decisions can be made that best reflect the values and intentions of the citizens in our region.
  • It affords better utilization of resources. Instead of researching the same issue, groups and individuals can share data, insights and ideas, and set direction.
  • A regional planning process brings people together to share common goals.
  • Regional planning empowers us. It gives us a voice in the process and supports our leaders who have authority to make decisions. The planning process not only strengthens our local communities, but empowers our greater region as a whole. 
  • There is strength and wisdom in numbers.

Communities throughout Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender counties are interlinked in mutually shared interests, business activities and values. By working together, we’ll be able to facilitate thoughtful, orderly development over the coming decades, while still protecting each community’s quality of life and unique sense of place.

Next month, I’ll introduce you to these leaders and organizations that are working with FOCUS to create a regional plan and you’ll also learn more about the opportunity to participate in defining our region’s Alternative Futures on May 22.

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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