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State Economic Development Leaders Tour Wilmington

By JP Finlay, posted Nov 19, 2010

In front of a captive audience with some of North Carolina’s highest ranking officials, various Wilmington leaders made a case for economic development in the region.

Raiford Trask hosted the two-day meeting, and opened up presentations at dinner Thursday night. “We are glad everyone is here to learn that Wilmington is not just a resort town,” Trask said. “We are open for business.”

Seated in the crowd were state officials Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, local officials State Rep. Danny McComas and newly elected State Rep. Susi Hamilton as well as Allen Joines, mayor of Winston-Salem, and leaders from across the state.

Trask pointed out the incredible growth in the region and the potential to make Wilmington a leading city in the state. He ceded the podium to Chris Boney, who explained that Wilmington is in the middle of a large downtown construction boom.

“Wilmington is a city with great things happening,” Boney said. “This is exciting stuff.”

As presentations continued, Melanie Cook of Coastal Carolina Tomorrow told the crowd that Wilmington will be ready when the economy picks back up, and Connie Majure-Rhett from the Chamber of Commerce challenged local and state officials to persevere in the fight for better public education throughout the state.

“We need to continue to focus on K-12 education. We shouldn’t be happy with average,” Majure-Rhett said, citing public schools as a key factor in attracting knowledge workers to the area.

Ed Murray, senior vice president of HR at PPD, pointed out the challenges PPD faces in recruiting high-end workers.

“Wilmington is not the best place to be headquartered from a recruiting standpoint, but Fred fell in love with the beach,” Murray said. “That is changing now.” Local hiring has significantly increased, and Murray expects to hire 30 percent more employees in 2011 than in 2010.

Developer David Spetrino concluded the night, imploring those in attendance with governmental roles to reconsider zoning laws. Building has become a series of roadblocks, and to navigate the process is daunting, Spetrino said.

“The culture of ‘No’ is too prevalent in our bureaucracy,” Spetrino told the crowd, many of whom worked for the state commerce department.

The NCEDB toured Wilmington earlier in the day, stopping at Screen Gem Studios and the new UNCW Nursing School before dinner held at the Coastline Conference Center downtown. Today the group will meet to discuss economic development throughout the state. Trask hopes that by showing the economic diversity of Wilmington, more projects will come to the area.

The board oversees state economic development research and planning, making policy recommendations to the commerce department, the governor and the general assembly. The 37-member board is composed of government officials, citizens appointed by the governor representing non-profits, economic development organizations, and private industry, and four members each from the North Carolina House and Senate.

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