The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce has released the attendee feedback from the unveiling event of the 2017 Wilmington Regional Scorecard, which showed groups viewing the area's traded sector as a weakness.
When it comes to economic development issues, the region is doing best in vocational training programs and educational opportunities, but the worst in terms of water quality and variety of size and age of firms in the area's traded sectors, according to an audience survey.
The audience opinions were asked at this year's scorecard unveiling, which took place Dec. 6 at the Wilmington Convention Center
. Attendees provided their opinions on the area’s strengths and weaknesses, focusing on three elements of economic development: human capital, quality of place and the traded sector.
The audience also ranked infrastructure as the top area that should be focused on to improve regional economic development.
Those who participated in the feedback worked in groups of two and three, submitting one worksheet that represented the views of the group. In each category, attendees were asked to rate eight items of focus.
The surveys were analyzed by Adam Jones, regional economist and professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington, who had presented the Regional Scorecard to the audience at the early-December conference. The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce released the feedback findings in a recent newsletter to members, saying that the feedback aligned with much of the basis of its three-year strategic plan released in late October
In the quality of place category, the two highest items audience members described as area strengths were in "the prevalence of recreational activities and opportunities" as well as "activities for children and families."
The item that received the lowest score in that category was "water quality."
The human capital category favored a relatively positive among the groups. The two items with the highest ratings were "vocational training programs" and "educational opportunities."
The weakest overall category of the three was in traded sector issues.
The lowest items were in "firm composition (size and age) within traded sectors." The second lowest was in "incentives/support."
"I think there is a lot more to learn in what these numbers say, and creating opportunities throughout the next year or so will help us to figure out what's next," said Natalie English, president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.
The audience survey also focused on areas to improve economic development.
"The last questions we asked folks ... if there was only one thing that we could do next year, what will you have this community focus on?" English said. "And what's really interesting is that these items align almost perfectly with the strategic plan that we adopted earlier in the year."
The top items reported by the groups were Infrastructure, including rail, roads, water and sewer (22 votes); additional/more focused business recruiting (14 votes); increased traded sector employment (14 votes); public education/schools (11 votes); incentives (11 votes); collaboration between economic development groups (8 votes); improved wages (4 votes); and affordable housing (4 votes).
Chamber officials said that after a more in-depth review, they will report back after the beginning of the year on how the feedback and the chamber's goals align. They will also look at additional ways to incorporate the ideas that were received by attendees at the conference.
The group also plans to share the feedback with other economic development groups, elected officials and other regional decision makers. They said additional conversations, including events and workshops, might be organized in the future around these topics.