The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce has outlined its new public policy agenda highlighting several priorities for this year, including a focus on the return of Brunswick County to the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), according to a news release.
The chamber’s 2018 Public Policy Agenda was approved by the chamber’s board of directors at its March 8 meeting. The chamber, Business Alliance for a Sound Economy and the chamber’s Public Policy Committee have worked to identify the “most pressing legislative issues facing our region to develop focus areas,” according to the release.
Following the objectives of the chamber’s three-year strategic plan
in late October, the 2018 Public Policy Agenda aims to “enhance the chamber’s standing as the voice of business” and use its influence to bring changes to the region, officials said in the release.
“The agenda's focus areas cover legislative issues at the local, state and federal level, and support the Chamber’s new vision statement: we position our community for prosperity by cultivating business growth,” Chamber President and CEO Natalie English said in the release. “The agenda emphasizes items that will encourage a pro-business environment and improvements in areas like quality of life and education."
There are several items on the chambers 2018 Public Policy Priority's list
New to this year’s agenda is Brunswick County and its inclusion in the Wilmington MSA. It’s been five years since the Office of Management and Budget separated Brunswick County from the Wilmington MSA, leaving only New Hanover and Pender counties in the demographic.
The federal agency combined Brunswick County into the Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina MSA, which took effect in February 2013
. On this issue, the chamber seeks to work with federal and regional partners to try to get Brunswick returned to the Wilmington MSA.
While the MSA issue has been in the chamber’s objectives since Brunswick County was separated from the Wilmington MSA, this year the chamber is picking up the topic on its official priority list as the Office of Management and Budget begins implementing its rulemaking processes that will lead into defining MSAs after the 2020 census, English said.
The chamber is hoping that the county will flip back to the Wilmington MSA because of the overall growth that is taking place in Leland and northern Brunswick County.
Other items on the chamber's public policy list include support for the area’s transportation, beaches and water.
In the transportation category, the chamber is pushing its support for several infrastructure projects, including the acceleration of interchange improvements, the Hampstead Bypass, Wilmington rail realignment, Cape Fear Crossing, Independence Boulevard extension, Wallace to Castle Hayne rail extension and the Interstate 74 corridor.
“We are all advocating for ... those investments,” English said, adding that these transportation projects support the regional growth in business and flow of goods to and from the Port of Wilmington.
Specifically, investment in the I-74 corridor leading to Charlotte is one project that could improve transit times for access to and from the Port of Wilmington, boosting its competitiveness with the port in Charleston, South Carolina, she said.
The chamber is also looking to request that the General Assembly provide recurring funding for the state’s newly created Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund, which was established for special projects, such as beach nourishment, in the state.
"I believe they (the state) intended to fund it, but it ran out of time last summer. And so I fully expect that it will get done this year," English said. The Coastal Storm Mitigation Fund was established as a section of House Bill 56, a large environmental bill that also included funding to Cape Fear Public Utility Authority and University of North Carolina Wilmington for GenX research.
Another water issue the chamber is highlighting on the federal, state and local levels is water supply, making sure the region has enough capacity to support business growth. English said the chamber will also continue to monitor potential regional impacts of unregulated chemicals in the region's water, such as GenX.
Chamber officials have also built upon a position from last year in helping to tackle the region's opioid crisis. The public policy priority addresses substance abuse issues, including funding and the collaborative opioid pilot program created by the Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.
English said the chamber wants to continue to be a partner in addressing the issues related to the opioid crisis, as it plays into impacts on available talent and economic development.
“We haven’t solved the problem and we will continue to try to be a part of those solutions,” English said.