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'Most Intriguing' Talks Focus On Economic Projects, Inclusion Efforts

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Dec 11, 2018
Jim Flechtner, executive director of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, takes the stage to deliver a talk on the area’s water and measures the utility is taking to address GenX. (Photo by Christina Haley O’Neal)
Five members of the local business community discussed a variety of topics Tuesday at the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s Power Breakfast.

The final event of the Power Breakfast series for the year, the speakers delivered TED-style talks on expanding economic opportunities, veteran-ready businesses, water quality, inclusion and the evolution of health care.

Wilmington International Airport Director Julie Wilsey took the stage to discuss expansion, not only in literal terms such as the $60 million ongoing terminal expansion project at ILM, but also in the sense of growth and economic impact.

“2018 has been a year of incredible growth at ILM,” Wilsey said to the audience at the Wilmington Convention Center.

The year’s growth began with the addition of the airport's third carrier, United Airlines. The airport has also added new nonstop flights to Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Dallas-Fort Worth.

ILM saw a record number of passengers over the Thanksgiving holiday -- 20,000 in one week, which was a growth of 26 percent over 2017, Wilsey said.

This year, the airport is expecting to exceed more than 900,000 passengers served in 2018.

“I can tell you with 20 days to go in the year, we are very confident that we will have another record this year with double-digit growth,” Wilsey said.

The terminal expansion project, she said, will boost that growth and accommodation as work is planned over the next three years to expand the airport's footprint by 75 percent. Part of that project will include expansion of ticket counters, which could allow space for a fourth carrier to be recruited to the airport, she said.

The airport's combined three-carrier network today reaches eight nonstop destinations, six national gateways and 310 destinations around the world with just one stop, she said.

While the improvements are expected to help the airport's business, they will also help the community expand outside business and tourism opportunities, she said.

“We believe that with [these] expanding opportunities, the sky's the limit for 2019 and beyond,” Wilsey said.

Rob Campbell, a retired U.S. Army colonel and executive coach with Performance Culture, also encouraged the audience to expand employment opportunities for veterans in the Wilmington area.

He discussed a variety of ways Wilmington businesses could do better to include veterans and their spouses into the business world.

Being “veteran-ready” includes breaking down language barriers and searching for veterans' resumes.

“If you want to be veteran-ready look for veteran on that application ... on that resume and keep it in the stack,” Campbell said.  

North Carolina has an active military population of just over 112,000, and about 15,000 veterans are coming out of bases across the state every year, Campbell said.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to get a handful of those heroes and their spouses into our organizations? I think so,” Campbell said.

Onboarding and retention are also important factors for businesses to consider in attracting veterans. That includes providing a clear career path, recognition and rewards, counseling and development, inclusion and belonging and family inclusion and support.

“I submit to you this stuff right here, it doesn't cost you much more than time and effort and here's the best part: You get this right, you're going to attract a lot more than veterans,” Campbell said.

The theme of inclusion was echoed by Tracey Jackson, owner and business coach at u-nex-o! and chair of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s African American Business Council, who discussed ways for the business community to be more inclusive of African-Americans in Wilmington. 

Jackson highlighted the impact of the 1898 coup and massacre on the Wilmington community.

“It was the year I personally call the year of the intentional divide. It was the darkest period in Wilmington's history," Jackson said. “The ramifications of this type of an intentional divide do not go away with the passage of time or because we don't talk about it. The aura, the feeling, the vibe of this type of intentional divide still lingers in our community today. I know we can't rewrite history, however, we can be on the right side of writing today’s history.”

Change comes through the willingness to engage in the issue and a conscious effort to want to see change happen, she said. 

"I ask you, help me create a Wilmington where it's not so difficult to be black and raise a family; help me help those individuals who found it so difficult to become a part of this community. They're ready to pack up their families and move to more inclusionary towns,” Jackson said.

To do that, Jackson asked the audience to make intentional inclusion a part of daily life. 

“It's a constant awareness of what I call the three Ps: that’s your position, your power and your privilege,” she said.

An example, she said, came when Jackson was asked by the Wilmington chamber to head up the African American Business Council. More could be done, she said, through joining the community or individuals through events, business functions or at home. 

“Intentional inclusion is a personal decision,” Jackson said. “I'm asking you to make the personal decision to be intentionally inclusive.”

Other topics at the Power Breakfast event Tuesday included water quality and emerging technology in health care.

Jim Flechtner, executive director of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, focused his talk on “one water” and ongoing efforts by the utility to address the issues caused by emerging contaminants like GenX and the other per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  

“In the end, there is only one water. And we around in this community and in the state use that water over and over and over. We don't take it. We borrow it,” he said.

PFAS brought on a new challenge for the area’s water supplies and have been dominating research and ongoing measures to address them.

“Very little is known about these PFAS compounds … There aren't many health studies on them, and health studies out there suggest that you don't want to be consuming this, it's [not] that healthy for you,” he said.

The utility monitors for 45 different PFAS, with 10 that are regularly detected in the area’s water, he said.

CFPUA’s Sweeney Water Treatment plant was not designed to address PFAS, Flechtner said. To date, CFPUA has spent about $2.5 million on legal fees, testing and remediation studies to address GenX and PFAS.

“We shouldn’t have to do that. In fact, our roles have blurred significantly, when we are doing research. That’s an EPA or DEQ function, but that wasn’t happening, so we had to step forward and do it at the local level,” Flechtner said.

It will cost about $46 million to upgrade the water treatment plant, he said, adding that it will cost $2.9 million just to operate the additional treatment process when it’s up and running, which means an average of about $5 in extra costs for residential customers' monthly bills. 

“Seems to me that the people who pollute the environment should be the ones paying for the treatment. So we are taking legal action against Chemours and DuPoint to recover these costs,” Flechtner said of an ongoing lawsuit pending in court against the companies responsible for GenX in the Cape Fear River.

The CFPUA is looking at a three-year timeline on the improvements, Flechtner said.

Technology and innovation in other aspects of Wilmington-area health could take on a new frontier in health care, one that Chris Hillier, New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s executive director of innovation, seeks to explore.

The evolution of health care through science and technology is creating new ways to improve the global health system, some of it through continuous development that is difficult for the industry and consumers to keep up with, he said.

“I've been involved in innovation for almost 30 years in one way or another, and I pride myself in keeping up to date. But recently, and I mean in the last 18 months, two years, it's becoming increasingly difficult because things are moving so fast,” he said.

Today, health care is less focused on the hospital and physician and more centered on the patient or employee, he said.

In addition, the number and range of technological advancements in the health care industry are shaping what the health care system will look like in the future, Hillier said.

In Wilmington, Hillier is seeking to bring some of these emerging technologies to foster in the community.

“We’ve got the perfect agile health system here in Wilmington … This is where it could happen. What if we can get our partnerships together and recreate an exponential experience center right here in Wilmington; UNCW, tekMoutian, Castle Branch,” Hillier said.  “We don't know where the future of health care is going to take us … but we can decide where we want it to start."
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