The pressure is on for business and local government leaders to make the most of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament in May – before, during and for years afterward.
“I think everyone in the room understands how great a place this is to do business. I think everyone understands how great a place this is in terms of infrastructure, workforce, quality of life,” said Albert Eckel, co-founder of Raleigh-based strategic communications firm Eckel & Vaughan. “I think what we’ve not done exceptionally well, though, is really tell our story externally from a business perspective.”
Eckel was one of four speakers to address an audience of more than 500 people Wednesday morning at the Wilmington Convention Center during “Directing the Spotlight,” a Greater Wilmington Power Breakfast Series discussion about how the Cape Fear region can use the golf tournament, May 1-7 at Eagle Point Golf Club, to draw attention to the area from potential employers and boost collaborative marketing efforts.
Eckel and his firm are working with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce on a regional marketing initiative, which has been funded so far by a total of $225,000 from the chamber initiative Cape Fear Future, the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County. Additionally, Columbus County economic development officials have committed $10,000, Eckel said.
Some of the initiative's efforts include digital advertising, video production, traditional media pitches and unveiling new branding for the region at the chamber’s 150th annual meeting on March 14.
“When we talk about what we’re doing, we’re talking about this in terms of a five-county region. We’re looking at Onslow, New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick and Columbus County as well,” Eckel said.
Making a positive impression, officials said, could bring businesses, returning tourists or even another championship in the Wilmington area's future.
Along those lines, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said the city is working with local and state law enforcement and tournament organizers to handle the tremendous increase in traffic the tournament, along with graduation ceremonies at University of North Carolina Wilmington and a convention for the Wilmington-filmed TV show One Tree Hill, will all bring that week. It’s important for those involved in the tournament and visitors to have a great experience, Saffo said, “because if they have a good experience here, and let’s just say there’s another opportunity where another course has to close for a major tournament, they may bring it to Wilmington again.”
Wilmington City Councilman Paul Lawler has referred to the event as Wilmington’s “Super Bowl” and New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Woody White at Wednesday’s event said, “Looking forward a year from now or two years from now ... we hope there are bigger and better Super Bowls to come to our community.
“Some of that depends on the success of the next 68 days by the way, but we also want to continue to tell our story, because if we don’t others will tell it for us or others will drown us out in our sister communities around the country.”
The economic impact of the championship on the area is expected to reach between $40 million and $60 million.
From a tourism perspective, Kim Hufham, president and CEO of Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, “We really feel probably the single most important element of all of this is the media coverage that we’re going to have. We could never in a million years pay for the media coverage we’re going to have from this tournament.”
Asked about the demographics of the thousands expected to pour into the city for the tournament, Kym Hougham, executive director of the Wells Fargo Championship, said those characteristics have changed for golf over the past decade from a mainly middle-aged, white and wealthy group.
“We’re trying to catch the periphery. We’re trying to catch the people who want to come out and have a social event,” Hougham said.
Also during Wednesday’s event, officials discussed economic development efforts in general.
When the panel was asked about the impact of HB2 on the push to bring new jobs to Wilmington, Eckel said, “It is an issue; it will be addressed. But quite frankly, I don’t think it’s going to stymie growth. Every day, business leaders and those who put capital to work are looking to North Carolina to grow. North Carolina, despite HB2 ... is still one of the fastest-growing states within the United States.”
Saffo had a slightly different take.
“I do think it’s having an effect, and it’s having a negative effect because you have national companies, Fortune 500 companies that it’s in their mission statement not to discriminate and there lies one of the big problems,” Saffo said. “You have companies that may want to relocate to the state of North Carolina but won’t do it because of that particular issue and the faster that we can resolve this the better off we’re all going to be.”