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Report Spotlights Region's Advantages

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Mar 5, 2021
Southeastern North Carolina can gain a foothold in a wide range of industries, according to an analysis of the North Carolina’s Southeast 18-county region.
 
The area’s growing sectors, such as fintech and life sciences, are the strongest competitive advantages when it comes to attracting jobs and investment in the region, said Steve Yost, president of North Carolina’s Southeast.
 
North Carolina’s Southeast conducts business and recruitment efforts, including in the Wilmington micro-region encompassing New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick and Columbus counties.
 
The regional economic development organization released in February the North Carolina’s Southeast Competitive Positioning 2020, an analysis of the organization’s 18-county region that includes its economic landscape, workforce characteristics, industrial product and marketing strategies.
 
“This is the most in-depth economic and workforce analysis that we’ve ever done of the Southeast region, and as part of it, we tried to do some breakouts of each county and then also looking at some of the subregions, like the Wilmington micro-region to some degree,” Yost said.
 
The 212-page document includes future industry trends, workforce demands, an educational analysis and a sector analysis, as well as best practices for strengthening regional competitiveness.
 
The report found that the largest county labor forces are in New Hanover and Cumberland counties, representing about 33% of the 18-county regional pool.
 
“Having that injection of the population growth – having that continuous growth in the workforce-age demographics, which not every state in the country has or every location in North Carolina has – it’s just absolutely a top strength,” Yost said.
 
High-growth sectors in the Wilmington micro-region are in construction products and services, production technology and technology, according to the report. The analysis also notes the health care and education sectors make the region attractive and are among some of the Wilmington area’s top employers.
 
Yost said one area of opportunity and growth for the Wilmington micro-region is to broaden the technology sector, especially in the fintech, life sciences and biotechnology industries.
 
“And tied in with tech is advanced manufacturing,” Yost said. “That comes through the analysis as well that advanced manufacturing is so technology-oriented today and will be more so in the future, and having that accessibility to a quality workforce in the [Wilmington] micro-region. So, there is going to be growth opportunities for advanced manufacturing and satellite production technology for metal products or in aerospace … or could even be value-added food manufacturing.”
 
The aerospace industry, while noted in the report as an industry unique for the area, “has experienced job losses in the last five years,” according to the report. The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard on this sector, with the demand for travel being diminished by the virus and the regulations to stop its spread.
 
The hospitality and tourism industries, big sectors for the Wilmington area, have also been hard hit by the pandemic. Yost said that he expects those jobs will come back and continue to play a strong role in the Wilmington region’s economy.
 
But the post-COVID business climate, Yost said, brings a potential to snatch up more jobs and investment as businesses move and people relocate to the area, bringing their skills and talent with them.
 
“The whole combination of the business sectors that have formed the [Wilmington] micro-region economy overall is strong in a lot of ways. It’s thriving, even now with COVID,” Yost said. “And add that in with population growth, which is the strongest of anywhere in the Southeast region … you have that whole underlining strength of a diverse economy for the Wilmington micro- region to build from.”
 
To read the full report, visit North Carolina Southeast’s website at ncse.org/publications.php.
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