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Panelists Identify Economic Development Priorities

By Jenny Callison, posted Apr 23, 2014
At an economic development event Tuesday evening, five panelists sifted through a long list of possible actions to determine what steps they could agree on to strengthen the economic climate in New Hanover County.

The event, convened by the Cape Fear Economic Development Council, featured Jim Bradshaw, executive director of Brunswick County Economic Development Commission; Hal Kitchin, 2013 chairman of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce board; Scott Satterfield, CEO of Wilmington Business Development; Lloyd Smith, co-founder of Cape Fear Economic Development Council; and Robin Spinks, vice chairwoman of Coalition for Economic Advancement. 

The five were panelists also at the March 27 Power Breakfast “Special Sauce” program that explored keys to future economic development. Smith convened Tuesday’s discussion as a follow-up to that forum.

On Tuesday, moderator Rachel Lewis Hilburn of WHQR asked each panelist to look at the 21 recommended action steps contained in the Garner Report, commissioned by New Hanover County and released to the public earlier this month, and to identify his or her top three.

After lengthy discussion and several questions and comments from the audience, Hilburn reviewed her flip chart notes with the panelists, who were able to pare down their priorities to about five.

“What we seem to have talked most about are the three-county alliance, leadership, the need for infrastructure, the need to educate the public, and collaboration,” Hilburn summarized.

The five agreed on the importance of working together to market the three-county area to prospective businesses, sharing information among economic development organizations, and helping the public understand just who those organizations are and what roles they play in economic development. They also agreed that leadership from the private sector was needed to advocate for and focus economic development efforts.

To be successful in its efforts, however, New Hanover County must have developable land to offer companies looking to relocate.

Spinks echoed the sentiments of several fellow panelists when she said that, without extending water and sewer service to vacant parcels along U.S. 421, New Hanover County would have a difficult time luring new businesses there.

“New Hanover County’s got close to 6,000 wetland-free acres, but that’s just land,” Satterfield added. “To be a site, land has to have water and sewer, natural gas, electricity and road access.”

Bradshaw noted that Brunswick County has two certified industrial parks, one of which extends into Columbus County. Each has the necessary infrastructure to accommodate new industrial tenants.

As part of  the panel’s discussion of the importance of supporting existing businesses and helping new ones get established, Hilburn turned to Jim Roberts, executive director of UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who was in the audience.

To Hilburn’s question as to what kind of support the center most needs, Roberts responded that he would like all in attendance to come to the CIE’s breakfast event Thursday morning at which five of the area’s top employers will talk about their biggest challenges.

“We have business people with solutions who are looking for problems,” he said.

“We’re also looking for people willing to put their foot on the gas,” he added, explaining that the CIE needs both advocates and investment funds. “People who are willing to invest, who are willing to risk: I need help finding these people.”

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