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2014 Year In Review

By Jenny Callison and Cece Nunn, posted Jan 7, 2015
Wilmington won some and lost some last year in the game of economics, with differing opinions in some cases on which events could be counted as a gain or a loss.

By not renewing them, lawmakers closed the curtain on the previous state film incentives formula, described by advocates as critical to keeping the local film industry going strong. In another story that dominated headlines, a large new manufacturer chose Wilmington as the site for one of its plants, while officials studied ways to bring more jobs to the region.

As these and other 2014 topics continue to dominate the conversation this year in the area’s business community, here’s a look back at what happened and what’s next.

Vertex Rail

A new company’s plan to hire more than 1,300 employees in Wilmington became one of the most talked about events of 2014.

Gov. Pat McCrory traveled to the Port City in November to announce that Vertex Rail Technologies would begin making rail cars in the former Terex Crane facility at 202 Raleigh St.

Vertex Rail will invest about $60 million in its Wilmington manufacturing plant so that workers can fill a demand for rail cars that meet new federal safety requirements, Don Croteau, Vertex CEO, said in November.

By December, hundreds of potential employees had applied for Vertex jobs, expected to pay an average salary of $40,000, according to an economic analysis.

IN 2015: cars by this spring, Croteau said.

Economic Development

City of Wilmington and New Hanover County elected leaders came together in 2014 to choose which of the economic development recommendations outlined in a consultant’s report to address first.

They made some progress, including taking steps to extend water and sewer lines along U.S. 421 as a means of attracting industry to the corridor. The county’s staff proposed using a seven-year quarter-cent sales tax increase to pay for economic development initiatives by raising $49 million.

“We’ve been asked to come back in the first quarter of 2015 to talk more about the quarter-cent sales tax [concept], but also to talk about a funding strategy for water and sewer along 421,” New Hanover County manager Chris Coudriet said in December.

IN 2015: City and county officials will likely meet together again to discuss economic development in March, Coudriet said.

Film Incentives

Despite much activity in southeastern North Carolina and several members of the local delegation supporting renewal of the state’s tax credit film incentive program, the General Assembly allowed the program to sunset Dec. 31. Replacing it is a grant program that has a statewide allocation of $10 million through June 30.

The CBS series Under the Dome announced it would shoot its third season in the Wilmington area. Its predicted expenditures will qualify the project to apply for up to $5 million in grant funds, the maximum allowed for a TV show.

IN 2015: During this year’s legislative long session, which starts this month, state lawmakers are expected to determine whether to fund the grant program for FY 2015-16 and for how much.

Bond Vote Passes

On Nov. 4, voters approved bond issues to pay for school and transportation projects.
New Hanover County Schools will spend the $160 million raised from the bond sale on 14 projects, including a new northeast elementary school, while the City of Wilmington will spend $44 million in bond dollars, combined with $11 million from other city funds, on transportation improvements.

The transportation measure comes with a 2-cent tax increase for city property owners, while the work planned for the schools requires a 3-cent addition to New Hanover County’s property tax.

At a meeting in October, the Board of Education approved the purchase of about 18 acres at 202 Edgewater Club Road for the new northeast school, expected to cost $16.4 million and hold 595 students. Also in October, the board voted to reusethe prototype design of the existing Castle Hayne Elementary School, done by LS3P Associates, for the new facility.

IN 2015: The new school’s construction is slated to begin in September, with an opening set for August 2020, according to the district’s online bond project schedule.

UNCW Changes

Increasing tensions between University of North Carolina Wilmington chancellor Gary Miller and the university’s board of trustees made the headlines in the spring of 2014, as did news that Miller was exploring top jobs at several other institutions.

In early June, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay announced it had named Miller its new chancellor. Miller’s last official day at UNCW was July 31.

Several days after the Wisconsin announcement, UNC-system president Tom Ross appointed William Sederburg, a veteran of higher education leadership, as interim chancellor. He began his duties Aug. 1.

IN 2015: A committee continues its national search for a new chief. While there is no firm date for Sederburg to step down, UNCW “expects the new chancellor to be in place on July 1, 2015,” university officials said in December.

Real Estate Roundup

Growth came in many forms throughout the region in 2014.

Activity downtown included the construction of Cape Fear Community College’s new arts center, a new office building and apartments on Third Street, the opening of craft beer breweries, a marina project along the Cape Fear River, and new or expanding businesses moving or planning to move into spaces on Front Street. Those businesses included app developer Next Glass, which announced that it would be moving into an 11,000-square-foot headquarters in an historic building.

In the city’s midtown, developers started work on new apartments and townhomes, while the Wal-Mart-anchored Bayshore Commons shopping center took shape in the Porters Neck area, and residents heard about plans for a Publix-anchored center nearby.

A real estate investment company bought Lumina Commons near Wrightsville Beach in August for nearly $13.9 million, and the developers of Mayfaire Town Center bought more than 40 acres of undeveloped land off Eastwood Road for more than $5.7 million for future use.   

Business Milestones

In February, Wilmington-based Fuzzy Peach frozen yogurt sold its business to national frozen yogurt franchisor U-Swirl International for $481,000. The three Fuzzy Peach founders had already sold its five corporate stores to local owner-operators.

In June, CastleBranch Corp., which performs employee screening services, opened its new headquarters building. Two floors house the company’s growing workforce, and the third is home to CastleBranch’s tech incubator/accelerator, tekMountain.

UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), punctuated its first year as a revamped facility with its selection as a winner of a national SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund competition. By year’s end, the CIE had 34 tenants.

At Wilmington International Airport, American Airlines announced in December that it would add a second nonstop flight between ILM and New York City, starting in February. Last year, however, the airport also fielded news that American was dropping its daily service to Washington, D.C., a consequence of the airline’s merger with US Airways. Delta Air Lines also suspended its daily New York City service late last year. That flight is expected to resume in the spring.

In September, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy won federal approval to develop a new nuclear reactor design, and in the fall landed two major orders – one for gas turbines and
one for maintenance and fuel services. Earlier in the year, however, GEH scaled back its Global Laser Enrichment project because of declining world demand for nuclear energy.
Click read more about the outlook of 2015.
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