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Wilmington 60th On Forbes List; Raleigh Number One

By Jenny Callison, posted Jul 25, 2014

Wilmington ranks in the upper third of Forbes’ list of Best Cities for Business and Careers for 2014 – a list topped by Raleigh for the first time.

The list was released Wednesday.

The Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), with a population figure of 385,700 that Forbes used in its calculations, came in at 60th out of 200 U.S. MSAs analyzed and ranked by the publication. Within that ranking, Wilmington was 15th nationally in the cost of doing business, 69th in educational attainment and 161st in job growth.

Scott Sullivan, chairman of the local Coalition for Economic Advancement group, focused on what he sees as obstacles within New Hanover County.

"Wilmington has an excellent rating on business cost and a good rating on education, so one would think that job growth would naturally follow, but unfortunately that’s not the case," he said in a statement. "Two reasons we attribute for our lackluster job growth are first -- overly strict regulations like the county’s special use permit, and secondly -- the lack of ready-to-go industrial sites served by water and sewer."

Sullivan said that, to attract more business and industry, New Hanover County needs to simplify regulation and extend utility services to more industrial sites -- both actions that are high on the coalition's priority list.

To generate its rankings for its 15th annual list, Forbes considered 12 metrics for each of the 200 largest MSAs in the country, according to the publication’s website. Much of the data came from Moody’s Analytics, Forbes stated.

Here are other statistics Forbes reported for the Wilmington MSA:

  •     Major industries: telecommunications, education
  •     Gross Metro Product: $15.8 billion
  •     Median household income: $45,131 (with a negative 1.1 percent    household income growth rate)
  •     Median home price: $182,400 (with a home price increase of 8.8 percent in 2013)
  •     Unemployment: 6.6 percent
  •     Job growth in 2013: 2.1 percent
  •     High-tech employment 4.2 percent
  •     Cost of living: 0.6 percent below national average
  •     College graduates: 31.1 (30 percent is the national average)
  •     High school graduates: 89.2 percent
  •     Percentage of population with graduate degrees: 11.1 percent
  •     Net in-migration in 2013: 1,820
  •     Projected annual job growth: 2.8 percent
Of the 12 metrics it considers in calculating the overall rankings, Forbes stated it gives the greatest weight to business costs and educational attainment.

Hal Kitchin, former chairman of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, advised that Forbes’ statistics for the MSA should be viewed with caution.

“Being 60th out of 200 MSAs is good, but we can’t be entirely confident in their methodology,” he said, noting that the population figure Forbes used seems more representative of the former three-county MSA – before the federal government removed Brunswick County from the Wilmington MSA.

While Forbes used a population count of 385,700 for the MSA, the Census Bureau's most recent population estimate for the new Wilmington MSA was 268,601, counting only New Hanover and Pender counties.

The most accurate way to view the Wilmington MSA profile, then, would be on the basis of aggregated data from Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties, Kitchin suggested.

Raleigh, atop the list, was the only East Coast city in the top 10. It scored well on all of the most important metrics.
 
“Fueling Raleigh’s consistent results are business costs that are 18% below the national average, and an adult population where 42% have a college degree, the 12th best rate in the U.S. (30% is the national average),” the publication reported.

“Raleigh is home to North Carolina State University and nearby schools include Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The area’s appeal has led to a strong inflow of new residents to the city, which boasts the sixth fastest net migration rate over the past five years.

“Research Triangle Park continues to fuel significant development in the area," the report continued. "The park is located at the core of the Raleigh-Durham-Cary Combined Statistical Area, and it is the largest research park in the country. It features roughly 170 companies that employ 39,000 full-time, mostly high-tech workers. There have been 1,800 start-up companies created at RTP since 1970.”

Other North Carolina MSAs on the list were Charlotte (12th), Durham (26th), Asheville (34th), Greensboro (79th), Winston-Salem (80th), Fayetteville (177th) and Hickory (191st).

”Hickory has the lowest business costs in America but its employment picture has been anemic. Job losses are the third-highest over the past five years,” Forbes stated.

“Hickory has traditionally focused on one industry,” said Connie Majure-Rhett, Wilmington chamber president and CEO. “That’s why having a diverse economy is so important. We in Wilmington need an economic base that includes manufacturing and film and services and research.”
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