Local leaders in business and economic development said connectivity between multiple organizations is a key asset to the region’s continued growth.
At the Foreign Trade Promotion Council (FTPC)’s event at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Burney Center on Friday, two economic developers and the leader of the Wilmington International Airport (ILM) gave a glimpse into the individual and coordinated economic efforts underway.
The FTPC has a mission to educate private businesses about opportunities available to facilitate and promote international trade with a goal to bring public and private resources together to make North Carolina a leader in international trade.
All three speakers are members of the FTPC, said FTPC Executive Director John Hayes.
The speakers included Bill Early, executive director of Brunswick Business & Industry Development (Brunswick BID); Billy King, director of business development for Wilmington Business Development; and Julie Wilsey, director of ILM.
Efforts through Wilmington Business Development not only include the partnerships they have with the city of Wilmington, New Hanover and Pender counties, it extends to Brunswick County as well, King said.
"I think we have a lot going together. As a matter of fact, we do a lot of marketing and outreach together because it makes sense to market this region as the Greater Wilmington area. And we both benefit from that," King said of the efforts with Brunswick County. "I think it makes sense because it tells the complete story for our region."
The two groups also work together on trade shows and targeted efforts with site selectors, he said.
"I think it brings great value to the city and counties we represent because we can represent our clients and keep things confidential ... until they are ready to make the announcement," King said, adding that they also work to bring all the partners together for recruiting business.
"We do not do this job alone. We do it with a deep bench. A lot of great members, a lot of great allies from the city and the county, ILM, the ports, the university, Cape Fear Community College, the hospital ... but we bring all these people to the table to try to address those things that the client wants to know more about," King said.
When they see this collaboration between various community organizations, King said, "it tells them something about the community they are looking to come into, because you have other businesses, other entities, allies of every description at the table trying to help bring them, get them here. And that's a good feeling for the client."
That also applies to efforts in helping existing businesses expand and to make sure their future business plans are successful, King said.
"We never want to wake up one morning and find out that one of our major business and industries are not happy here," he said, noting WBD's work with National Gypsum, which is bringing investment and jobs in reopening its plant in Wilmington.
In the past three and a half to four years, King said WBD has brought "approximately $340 million in new investment, that's tax cuts between the two counties (Pender and New Hanover counties), that tax base represents approximately 1,750 new jobs, averaging approximately $50,000 a job."
Since Early signed on with the recently formed economic development group Brunswick BID in January, he and his staff have been working on actively recruiting businesses to the region, he said.
Brunswick BID most recently kicked off its strategic planning this week, which is set to take place over the next six months, he said.
"We will be taking an in-depth look at the issues, economic drivers in Brunswick County; what are the really great things about Brunswick County that we can build on a promise; also the challenges that we need to look at and see if there are ways we can help overcome those."
One of the things they are also looking at is the county's product development. "Brunswick County is fortunate to have some good industrial sites," Early said, noting two 1,000-acre sites that are ready for business.
"We believe that these sites will be a location in which a major company can locate, and suppliers and customers locate around them," Early said.
Brunswick BID is also promoting the county's location and regional connectivity to the Port of Wilmington and highway infrastructure.
There are issues with the number of available buildings in the county, however, and Brunswick BID is working with partners to try to bring more spec buildings to the area, Early said. That's not just for incoming companies, that also includes companies that are growing organically in the region.
"Regional cooperation is critical," Early said. "I will tell you from my experience that when you work together collectively for a common cause, it's much more effective, it's stronger, and you can get much more accomplished."
Though not a specific economic development group, Wilsey said, the airport is "very important in economic development ... because we like to say we connect this region to the world. We do that with aviation services."
As of April, there are three major network carriers at ILM, covering eight different nonstop destinations and seven hubs, with six of those international gateways, she said.
"That's where you get the foreign component so that we can do business. We can help bring in those companies who want to get to ILM easier ...," Wilsey said. "Because we know how important time is when you are trying to recruit a business to Wilmington."
There is also an 1,800-acre business park, along with multiple modes of transportation available and a certified Foreign Trade Zone.
"When we're trying to negotiate or make a good impression, the airport and connections to the region via air are usually a very important piece of that checklist," Wilsey said. "So we want to make sure that we are growing our nonstop destinations, growing our network carriers and providing more opportunities to get to Wilmington."
Hayes added that the area is a manageably sized region, with a lot of potential.
A key to the growing success to the region is its business diversity, King added.
"We're seeing tremendous growth there," King said. "And so I think for the future is more diversity, higher paying jobs and ... I am encouraged as I have ever been based on what I see now and what I see in the future for the Greater Wilmington area."
Early said that Brunswick County is a bit different than Wilmington, in that it has a lot of rural communities.
The county is growing fast, he said, the fastest in the state and nation. That growth is coming from people who are relocating from other parts of the country to enjoy the quality of life.
"Of course our challenge is we want people to live here, we want a great quality of life but we also want to have jobs for them," he said.
Early said another challenge that the county has, and what will create success for its future, is making sure that "we create opportunities for the native residents, the young families that are here," he said.