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Survey Seeks Workforce Info

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Apr 3, 2020
This 2015 photo, taken Acme Smoked Fish in Pender County, is an example of the regional workforce, which the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is looking to assess through a new survey.
Businesses around a six-county region are being encouraged to participate in an analysis of the workforce and employment challenges in Southeastern North Carolina.
A survey to assess the region is underway through a partnership between the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Cape Fear Collec­tive. The two organizations are using RTI International, an independent nonprofit research institute, which is conducting the survey and compiling data from respondents. The survey was launched in mid-March.
Questions focus on expected growth, hiring challenges related to soft skills, industry-specific skills and future skills, as well as how com­panies are working to recruit and hire employees, according to a news release.
Dubbed the Cape Fear Talent workforce survey, organizers have the goal to reach 500 businesses of all sizes and sectors in New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick, Co­lumbus, Bladen and Onslow counties.
Other participants have joined the effort to spread the word about the survey, including economic develop­ment organizations, chambers, busi­nesses and educational institutions within the six-county region.
The regional initiative is being conducted parallel to a similar assess­ment in the Raleigh area.
The initiative was first formed out of a Raleigh-area partnership between Wake County Economic De­velopment (a program of the Raleigh chamber), the city of Raleigh and the Capital Area Workforce Devel­opment Board, said Meaghan Lewis, the Wilmington chamber’s director of leadership development.
The Raleigh group funded a survey about hiring challenges and skills needs in 2017. An Asheville-re­gion partnership conducted a similar survey and assessment in 2018.
With a goal of evaluating the regional needs every three years, the Raleigh partnership is undergoing another survey this year. The Wilm­ington-region partners have joined in on the contract with RTI for this year’s survey of businesses.
Cape Fear Collective (CFC) is paying for the survey being conduct­ed in the local six-county region, which is anticipated to cost between $10,000 and $15,000, said Lewis, who is CFC’s director of programs.
“Born out of the corporate sector, the Cape Fear Collective was found­ed to scale big data solutions locally and support partner organizations in championing equity for all people … This data collection effort will provide our partners with the insights needed to build the future workforce of the Cape Fear region,” Lewis said.
CFC plans to use the survey as part of its overall data strategy, bringing together public health, eco­nomic opportunity, and demographic data that will provide insights to sup­port equitable regional growth and community development, she said.
“Long term, CFC hopes to translate this data into large-scale initiatives, using the ‘cradle to career’ model to organize community efforts and data collection,” Lewis said.
The survey will provide a state and regional picture as well as insight down to the county level, Lewis said.
Bimonthly calls between the partners and participating entities are being held during the survey period to try to ensure all counties and business sectors are represented.
The assessment also supports ini­tiatives in the Wilmington chamber’s strategic plan, said Natalie English, the chamber’s president and CEO.
“We’ve been hearing for quite some time that talent is the driving force for economic development … And it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Every community is different,” English said. “And so, these surveys can really shine a bright light on the regional data. Then we can bring the busi­ness communities together, with the education institutions, public and private, to address the needs of our employers.”
The survey could be used to form collaboratives and by educational institutions to help address the needs identified, Lewis said.
As of press time, the survey was being considered for an extension of the original May 15 deadline, due to the impact the coronavirus is having on businesses across the state.
For now, survey results are sched­uled to be made public at the Wilm­ington Chamber of Commerce’s Talent and Workforce Development event, tentatively set for this summer.
For the survey visit www.sur­­er-Wilmington-Chamber-of-Com­merce.
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