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Publisher's Note: The Day Wilmington Turned A Page

By Rob Kaiser, posted Jul 14, 2020
It’s just another mid-July day in Wilmington – heat index of 100, a local tech company ringing the virtual bell at Nasdaq and the creation of a $1.25 billion community foundation.
 
Usually change in communities happens slowly. Often you have to be away for a while to even notice how the landscape – everything from buildings to attitudes – has shifted.
 
But if we’ve learned anything in the past four months, we also know change can happen all at once – for better, worse or something in between.
 
For Wilmington, today is a day of noticeable change. Our community now must ensure our landscape is changed for the better.
 
Of course, two very visible transactions are making this change apparent – NHRMC’s likely sale and nCino’s IPO.
 
Last night, New Hanover County’s commissioners voted 4-1 to sign a letter of intent to sell NHRMC to Novant Health. Nearly $2 billion would flow to New Hanover County if the sale is finalized.
 
The commissioners have wisely – and unanimously – decided they shouldn’t be the ones to spend this money. (Click here to see my earlier column on this.)
 
Most of the money would go into a community foundation. The basics of how this foundation will operate have been outlined. Many details are yet to be determined.
 
And the details are critical.
 
A massive foundation in our small region can impact lives and livelihoods for generations, as Commissioner Woody White put it last night, “in ways that I can’t even imagine today.”
 
How this foundation is structured, who’s running it, the problems it seeks to solve and its investment discipline will determine whether the foundation fulfills its massive potential.
 
Who serves on the initial board is critical.
 
I’ll submit two early nominations: Spence Broadhurst and Barb Biehner.
 
The pairing of the banker/politician (Broadhurst) and the health care executive (Biehner) to co-chair the Partnership Advisory Group was an inspired choice.
 
Biehner and Broadhurst proved they could take a complex, lengthy and politically-charged process and deliver a consensus. Our community has previously struggled with such tasks – for recent examples, read up on baseball, Titan and the international port.
 
Last night, within minutes of Broadhurst and Biehner delivering their recommendation and the commissioners’ vote, nCino issued a press release announcing the pricing of its IPO.
 
nCino shares soared today – the company went public at $31, and its stock jumped to around $80, up more than 150%.
 
IPOs have something of a mythical status. Popular culture likens a company going public to a baseball team winning the World Series.
 
Today, nCino CEO Pierre Naude put things in perspective by echoing what Live Oak CEO Chip Mahan said years ago when Live Oak was a new public company – “This is literally the first inning.”
 
Amid the IPO hoopla, it’s important to remember how nCino arrived at this point – the risk taken by investors, the recruiting of high-level talent and the willingness to take on massive challenges.
 
While nCino is a young company, it’s certainly not an overnight success.
 
Similarly, communities that develop into ecosystems for high-growth companies aren’t formed overnight.
 
Most regions want ecosystems that produce the riches and richness of a Silicon Valley, Boston or Austin. But creating this is a long-term endeavor to ensure we have the right mix of entrepreneurs, investors and ideas. 
 
Our region is fortunate that Chip Mahan moved here so now we have a cluster of fintech companies and that PPD founder Fred Eshelman moved here in 1986 so now we have a cluster of clinical research companies.
 
But it’s also important to note that PPD has more employees in Raleigh than in Wilmington. Why is this?
 
We should know the answer.
 
We should also be asking questions about how we can become a fintech center beyond the Live Oak universe.
 
We should have important groups like the PAG not only asking these questions, but also putting structures in place to deliver results.
 
The wealth and high-paying jobs delivered by companies like nCino will dwarf even the returns of a big foundation.
 
With the momentum of Live Oak and nCino as well as the possibilities created by NHRMC’s potential sale, our region has tremendous opportunities.
 
The question is whether we have the leadership and fortitude to take on these complex, lengthy and politically-charged challenges and deliver results.
 
We won’t have this answer overnight.
 
Remember, it’s just the first inning.
 
Rob Kaiser is the publisher of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] and (910) 343-8600 x204.
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