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County, City Increase Some Economic Development Spending In Latest Budgets

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jun 19, 2019
The city of Wilmington and New Hanover County recently adopted their 2019-20 fiscal year budgets this week with a host of economic development and business incentives, with some areas getting an increase in funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

In New Hanover County’s $399 million budget, there are more than $3.3 million in strategic and economic development funds that the county says will encourage private investment, bring jobs and enhance the area’s quality of life. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Among items included in the total are incentives for three companies within the county. Those incentives, however, did not include any funding for Charlotte-based National Gypsum, which restarted its Wilmington plant in November.

County officials said National Gypsum officials have not notified them that the company has completed the requirements for the incentive and have not requested its first incentive payment.

“When that is received and verification of requirements has been received, the payment will be scheduled,” county officials said in an email.

The company’s decision to reopen in Wilmington was encouraged by a $580,000 incentives package that involved both the city and the county. The city of Wilmington’s budget included $46,000 in its FY 2019-20 budget for National Gypsum, and included that same amount this fiscal year.

Other companies the county is paying incentives to include Live Oak Bank at $65,000, Castle Branch at $50,000 and Fortron at $100,000. Fortron was the only company to have its incentive from the county included when the FY 2018-19 budget was adopted last year. But through a budget amendment approved by commissioners in August, funding for both Castle Branch and Live Oak Bank were included for FY 2018-19.

“Fortron was actually behind in requesting their payment from us and so their last payment will be processed in fiscal year 2020. It is still five payments of $100,000 provided they meet all requirements,” county officials said of Fortron's funding in an email.

In other economic development funding, Wilmington Business Development (WBD) received an increase in its county funding, going from more than $199,700 in this fiscal year to more than $262,000 in the coming fiscal year. That funding included a consumer price index increase of nearly $2,400 and $60,000 to develop a master plan and preliminary engineering review, including site development costs, for the purposes of returning the county’s Blue Clay Road property to the private sector for industrial development.

Wilmington Downtown Inc. also received a sizable increase from the current fiscal year from $25,000 in FY 2018-19 to $65,000 in FY 2019-20.

WDI requested and received the funding to assist business prospects to look at locating, maintaining or expanding operations in downtown, county officials said in an email.

“Downtown has the largest concentration of businesses and jobs in the region. It also has the largest commercial tax base in the county. Funding will sustain and expand WDI’s business retention, business recruitment and investment attraction efforts to include more regional and national outreach and add new data capabilities. No new staff will be added,” Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of WDI said in an email.

“This was the county’s funding level in FY 16-17. The new budget restores to this previous amount,” he added.

A small increase was made to county funding for the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, which went from more than $126,200 in this fiscal year to more than $128,200 for the upcoming fiscal year. Cucalorus also got a slight boost in funding from $16,000 to $20,000 in FY 2019-20.

In a change to the recommended budget, funding was added for Friends of Fort Fisher in the amount of $7,000. The group received $3,000 from the county in this year’s budget.

Incentives from the city of Wilmington for Live Oak Bank and Castle Branch were removed for the coming fiscal year, leaving the $46,000 in funding to National Gypsum. The funding was included in a total of $201,000 in economic development incentives for the new fiscal year.

There is also $150,000 in funds for potential economic development incentives and another $125,000 for a "miscellaneous incentive."

The University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, along with WBD, received a one-time 2% increase in the city's adopted budget, bringing funding up to $102,000 for WBD and $71,400 for CIE the upcoming fiscal year.

According to the city, council also added $14,000 to WDI’s funding from the recommended budget, bringing the total to $100,000 for the new fiscal year. In the current fiscal year, WDI received $86,000.

These funds are included in nearly $514,300 in funding for the city's economic development partners included in the upcoming fiscal year.

That also includes funds for the YWCA Lower Cape Fear, which also received a funding boost in the city budget.

According to the city, the YWCA pursued funds through its economic development competitive process for the first time this coming fiscal year. It was allocated more than $6,300 through the competitive human service agencies' two-year process in the current fiscal year's budget. In economic development, the next fiscal year's allocation brings them to $40,000 in funds for three years to "expand the Coastal Women’s Ventures program, which is aimed at increasing the capacity of women and minorities in establishing small businesses," according to the city documents.

City allocations for the Wilmington Regional Film Commission and Cucalorus Film Foundation adopted for the next fiscal year were the same as the current year, at nearly $121,900 and $22,000, respectively.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Live Oak Bank and Castle Branch incentives were included in the FY 2018-19 budget. Information has been added to clarify that WBD’s funding also included work for the Blue Clay Road master plan.
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