At last week's Cape Fear Economic Development Council Presents event, “How Do We Go From Good to Great,” Patricia Mitchell, Ph.D., recognized that economic development is no longer about “big game hunting,” but rather about “place-making.” It was refreshing to hear North Carolina’s Assistant Secretary of State for Rural Economic Development acknowledge the importance of precisely the kind of economic development the Cape Fear Economic Development Council stands for.
The natural assets of the Cape Fear Region make it a great place to live, work and play. Water is a key natural asset in our region. The Atlantic Ocean, Cape Fear River, and a productive system of wetlands, tidal creeks, estuaries and underground aquifers support our way of life in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties.
Businesses and industries rely on the region’s natural resources just as individual residents do. These assets attract customers and help recruit employees and investors.
Water is a particularly important natural resource to business. Groundwater aquifers provide clean and healthy drinking water to sustain employees and customers. Surface water is important to our fisheries and tourism. The region’s tourism and amenities-driven industries generated nearly $1 billion in revenues in 2011, supporting more than 10,000 jobs. North Carolina’s fisheries generated $780 million in revenues, supporting more than 8,800 jobs in 2012. This is just the tip of the iceberg, since we know that for the vast majority of us, water is paramount among the natural assets that attract us and keep us here, regardless of what line of business we are in.
Growth is exploding along the southeast coast, and population in our three-county region is projected to grow by as many as 325,000 people in the next 25 years. This growth comes with opportunities and challenges. A growing population requires an increasing amount of water. Most importantly, an increasing population will come with increased job creation and growing industrial demand for water. Since our community is committed to maintaining a high standard of living for its citizens, we will need to create an immense number of jobs to maintain or increase the standard of living for existing and new members of our community.
How do we maintain or increase our standard of living in the face of rapid population growth and increasing demand for water for individual and industrial use? Either growth needs to be curbed, or we need to manage our critical resources better as time goes on. No one wants to curb growth and development, so we need to take steps to grow responsibly.
In the fall of 2015, the North Carolina Coastal Federation, the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors, and UNC Wilmington hosted the region’s first water summit, where water experts made recommendations to local officials, planners and water providers. N.C. Rep. Rick Catlin, a professional hydrogeologist, said, “Protection of our water resources is one of the most critical responsibilities we face, and if we ignore the warnings we will end up with a public health problem and a water resource sustainability crisis.” He added: “Water resources are the most important asset we have and the most dangerous to lose.”
Local governments are responsible for sustaining their drinking water – there are no federal or state regulations on groundwater use. New Hanover County’s Special Use Permit (SUP), adopted in 2011, is a good example of local government taking necessary steps to embrace and manage prospective industrial water users. Catlin was a member of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners at the time the SUP was adopted, and later stated, “… the Special Use Permit process is one of the most important things we accomplished during my time as a New Hanover County Commissioner.”
Revisions to this permitting process that add clarity and predictability for business users are now headed to the county commissioners for their consideration. These revisions encourage industries that are compatible with the county’s fragile environment, while requiring proactive examination of the effects of proposed heavy industries that could deplete drinking water supplies and pollute our coastal environment. Maintaining control over our water supply while implementing common sense improvements to the SUP process to reduce uncertainty for business will be yet another shining example of our local government taking the necessary steps to ensure the region’s long-term economic viability.
Cape Fear Economic Development Council is pleased that our elected officials and county staff understand the tight relationship between sustained job creation and careful cultivation of our natural resources.
The CFEDC brings together industry, community leaders, and the public to foster collaboration, transparency, inspiration and alignment around a shared regional vision. To learn more about the Cape Fear Economic Development Council or become a member, go to www.capefearedc.org or call (910) 471-1616.
Christina Haley O'Neal - Dec 10, 2018
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