The Wilmington area has been chosen as one of five North Carolina metropolitan areas to pilot a program that aims to help communities build and sustain their local “innovation ecosystems,” according to an announcement Friday morning from the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University.
The initiative, called InnovateNC: A Cross-City Learning Collaborative, is designed to spur innovation culture more broadly within the state, so communities that already have a framework in place can build their capacity to promote and support innovation, the Institute for Emerging Issues' program announcement
“InnovateNC is a two-year project with a goal of fostering a creative, innovative environment similar to Research Triangle Park. The city will work with NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues and other partners to build a marine and life sciences economic cluster within the region. In addition, each city receives $250,000 in services to help support the initiative,” according to news release from the city.
Wilmington was one of 18 metro areas that applied for the program. Its application was submitted by the Wilmington City Council in collaboration with New Hanover County, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Marine Bio-Technologies Center of Innovation, Leland, Brunswick County, NC Biotech Center SE Office and Brunswick Community College, according to the IEI, which added that the team plans to use InnovateNC as an “opportunity to strengthen the region’s emerging innovation ecosystem in the marine and life sciences.”
The Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) is a non-partisan public policy organization whose mission is to enhance North Carolina’s long-term prosperity, according to the IEI’s website.
Wilmington mayor Bill Saffo said the initiative will help the local area make progress on previously defined goals.
"We’re excited to work with some outstanding partners to learn and grow a unique economic development focus around marine and life sciences,” he said in a statement. “This initiative will help us realize one of the Garner report
's major recommendations by making Wilmington and the Carolina Coast a marine and biotech powerhouse.”
UNCW officials said the school has assets that will be able to be leveraged through the grant.
“UNCW’s Marine Biotechnology program, faculty, students, research and other facilities can play a vital role in further developing Wilmington’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and we are looking forward to strengthening our relationships with partners in Wilmington and the surrounding communities," Ron Vetter, associate provost for research and dean of UNCW’s graduate school, said in the release.
In addition to Wilmington, the metro areas chosen for InnovateNC are Asheville, Greensboro, Pembroke and Wilson.
A number of business, government and education groups met to lend support to the initial application, including Elite Innovations, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and WDI. That group also included Rob Kaiser, publisher of the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.
Each of the selected metro areas was required to provide a local match of $15,000, which the city of Wilmington, as lead applicant, agreed to pay, Sarah Langer Hall, spokeswoman for the InnovateNC program, said Friday.
"All of the [program] partners are giving way more than that in-kind, and so will the city," she said, but explained that it was important that the cities chosen have some financial "skin in the game."
The city of Wilmington, as lead applicant, agreed to pay the $15,000, but is looking to its collaborating entities for help, according to city spokesman Dylan Lee.
"The city is committed to paying the fee; however, [Hanover County] has agreed to pitch in half, and the town of Leland is considering helping us out to some extent," Lee said Friday afternoon.