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Wilmington Chamber Releases Its Public Policy Agenda For Year

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Feb 21, 2020

The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce this week released its 2020 public policy agenda, according to a report from the chamber's president and CEO, Natalie English.

There are several new items on the agenda this year, including a focus on minority businesses, English said.

“This is the first time our Public Policy Agenda has included an action item geared towards minority-owned businesses and that is due to all of the work our African American Business Council has put in over the last few years,” English said Friday in an email response to questions.

The African American Business Council was founded by Tracey Newkirk, the council’s founder and co-chair and a local business owner, with English in 2018. It has a mission to empower African American business owners and professionals and to help stimulate economic development, according to the chamber.

One of the chamber's policy focuses for this year is to enhance economic development initiatives through that council, including leveling the playing field for minority-owned businesses to obtain government contracts, stated the release.

Another new item is to promote regional participation in the 2020 Census to try to return Brunswick County to the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area, which now includes just New Hanover and Pender counties. The Wilmington MSA lost Brunswick County in 2013 when the U.S. Office of Management and Budget announced revisions to MSAs across the country. Brunswick County was placed in the Myrtle Beach MSA.

“Assisting New Hanover County in achieving their goal of 80% participation in the 2020 Census is a top issue for the chamber that will become a major priority in the very near future,” English said. “And we’ll encourage Brunswick County in a similar manner toward the goal of getting Brunswick County back into the Wilmington MSA.”

The agenda also includes supporting the process for the Partnership Advisory Group, a 21-member group made up of health care professionals, community members and hospital trustees, as it "assists NHRMC and New Hanover County in exploring the future of health care in our region." The group was formed to look at potential changes to New Hanover Regional Medical Center's management structure or ownership.

Another focus is to advocate for “transformational redevelopment” opportunities such as two major downtown Wilmington mixed-use development proposals, Project Grace and Project Gateway.

“We will continue to encourage our city and county to partner with the private sector to invest in creative, mixed-use developments that provide various housing options and live-work-play communities,” English said.

The chamber’s executive committee approved the public policy agenda in mid-January, according to the report.

When asked what actions the chamber would tackle first, English said, “It’s hard to say that we will start with one over another because we will take advantage of opportunities as they arise.”

“We don’t expect we will be able to accomplish all of them," she said. "The agenda is meant to be a roadmap in the event an advocacy opportunity presents itself.”

There are more than a dozen specific items on the agenda that focus on quality of place; education and workforce development; and transportation and infrastructure.

On the transportation side, the agenda has several items, including utilizing a forming transportation advocacy group to promote several regional transportation projects, including the Cape Fear Crossing project that was shelved last year by NCDOT.

“We will continue to lead, along with Tyler Newman, [president and CEO of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy], the convening of a regional transportation advocacy group to identify the most critical regional infrastructure needs. Then, we’ll work with that group to advocate for the funding and/or financing needed to fulfill those needs,” English said.

And a focus will continue on infrastructure and rebuilding following Hurricane Florence, which hit the region in September 2018. While the area is in better shape than it was about a year ago, there are some still in recovery, English said.

“We cannot forget the people who haven’t yet been able to move back into their homes or their businesses. And for those that are open again but lost significant business while closed, we will assist in whatever ways we can to remind the public they are back open,” English said. “We are still working on resilience initiatives to prepare our infrastructure, businesses and community for the next major storm.”

For the full list that’s on the 2020 Public Policy Agenda, visit the chamber’s website.

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