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2013: Year In Review

By J. Elias O'Neal and Jenny Callison , posted Jan 6, 2014
The Wilmington-area business community saw a number of developments in 2013 including expansion announcements from local companies and the start of sizable construction projects, bringing the promise of new jobs and continued economic recovery. But setbacks also were unavoidable as workers faced layoffs at several companies.

From housing to film, local industries marked another year moving ahead in the post-recession recovery.

Wilmington’s RESIDENTIAL MARKET gained some much-needed momentum in 2013.

A number of new homebuilders, including Columbia, S.C.-based Mungo Homes and Raleigh-based ForeverEver Homes, began snatching up lots in existing developments across the region. And many new subdivisions, first proposed in 2012, saw construction actually begin.

But it’s the area’s multifamily market that grabbed headlines in 2013, as thousands of new units were added to the area.

According to a recent report released by Raleigh-based Multifamily Realty Advisors LLC, there are six pending apartment developments that could be under construction by 2014 – adding more than 1,200 units to the region.

Meanwhile, regional developers and brokers saw COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE activity spike, occupancy numbers increase and a number of high profile properties sell during 2013.

In November, officials for USA InvestCo, which continues to press forward with its Northern Riverfront development, sold the city of Wilmington a 6.63-acre parcel fronting the Cape Fear River for about $4 million to be used as a park.

The Swains also sold The Forum shopping center for $29 million. And in December, Adam Sosne – a local multifamily developer – sold the Wilshire Landing and Camden Forest complexes for $29 million. The historic Murchison building, located in downtown Wilmington, was placed on the market by Charleston-based Ziff Properties Inc.

New commercial developments also were announced, including a 250,000-square-foot retail development that will house a new Walmart Supercenter in Porters Neck; Dicks Sporting Goods and Marshalls joining the Mayfaire Community Center development; and continued growth at the Offices at Mayfaire and the Hampstead Town Center that will keep brokers busy in 2014.

In the spring, local, state and federal officials learned the U.S. Office of Budget and Management decided to pair Brunswick County, the region’s fastest-growing county, with Myrtle Beach’s METROPOLITAN STATISTICAL AREA (MSA) and break it off from Wilmington’s MSA.
Regional business and civic leaders, many concerned with how the deletion could affect economic development efforts, signed resolutions and met with federal officials in Washington, D.C., to have Brunswick County returned to the Wilmington MSA.

But the lobbying efforts failed, leaving Brunswick County to be counted as part of the Myrtle Beach MSA during the 2020 U.S. Census.

Several FILM PROJECTS shot in the region in 2012 and 2013 did well at the box office.

Iron Man 3 proved a box-office smash. Safe Haven, We’re the Millers and The Conjuring received wide distribution and hit the top of the revenue charts during their respective runs.

TV series Revolution, which wrapped filming of its first season in Wilmington in early 2013, was picked up for a second year but moved its operations to Texas. Two other hit shows: Under the Dome and Sleepy Hollow, are returning to shoot their second seasons in 2014.

The local film scene also was well represented at the 2013 Cucalorus Film Festival, which logged record numbers of attendees and works screened, as well as an expanded range of festival-related activities.

Wilmington’s COLLEGES also saw an active year.

In early 2013, University of North Carolina Wilmington purchased office space on South College Road to house its renamed Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In May, UNCW hired Jim Roberts as director of the center. The new facility officially opened in early September.

UNCW’s much-anticipated MARBIONC center, the newest component of the university’s CREST Research Park, opened in November.

Cape Fear Community College opened its new Union Station building in time for fall semester. The new facility enables CFCC to offer more health care-related courses to more students. The college also broke ground on its Humanities and Fine Arts building in downtown Wilmington and its new campus in Surf City. It is also expanding course offerings at its Burgaw campus.

And NEW BUSINESS PROJECTS came to the Cape Fear area last year.
Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Acme Smoked Fish began work on a 100,000-square-foot seafood processing facility in Pender County. The company, RC Creations, plans to hire 120 people when it opens in October.

Lee Controls LLC, a manufacturer of round rail products, announced in September it would relocate its corporate offices and operations to Brunswick County from New Jersey, investing nearly $2.5 million over the next three years in 27,000 square feet of Southport warehouse space. The company plans to create 77 new jobs.  

Three EXISTING BUSINESSES announced expansions. GE Aviation will invest $63 million in new equipment and hire about 35 additional workers at its Castle Hayne plant as part of the company’s manufacturing initiative in North Carolina to produce parts for next-generation jet engines. Castle Branch, a candidate-screening firm, is building a new facility that will double the company’s employee base, and Live Oak Bank completed a new headquarters and announced plans to build a second phase to house its fast-growing software subsidiary, nCino.

All five of those projects won incentives agreements from their respective local governments. GE Aviation’s planned statewide expansion also garnered incentives from
the state.

Wilmington-based Chemtex, after getting EPA approval to grow a type of grass for use as biofuel, confirmed in November that it will spend about $100 million to build a biofuel production facility in Sampson County.
AAIPharma Services completed a merger with Cambridge Major Laboratories in early October. The expanded company, led by Patrick Walsh, will retain the AAIPharma name and will continue to be based in Wilmington.

In August, Titan Cement obtained an air quality permit from the state  for its proposed plant in New Hanover County. Two more hurdles remain for the company: a wetlands mitigation permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a special use permit from the county.

But there was also news of CLOSINGS AND DOWNSIZINGS last year.

The fall saw the closing of DAK Americas’ plant in Navassa, which had employed roughly 600 people; a reduction of about 100 workers at Invista because of a discontinued product line; and the announcement that about 180 employees at its Corning’s Wilmington plant would be affected by a workforce downsizing because of less-than-anticipated product demand for its fiber optics.

In early June, medical device company Trans1 completed a merger with Baxano Inc. and moved its headquarters and the majority of its operations to Raleigh.

Click here to see a list of the area’s top business issues expected to come up in 2014.
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