Op-Ed Authored by 2022 Wilmington Chamber Board Members
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors takes great pride in contributing to a thriving local business environment, which forms the backbone of our thriving city and region. As business leaders, we understand the importance of involvement in our local community. The businesses in our region create jobs, develop innovative products and services, and contribute to the strength of our community. In 2022, the Wilmington Chamber continued to grow steadily and has firmly established itself as the leading business advocate in southeastern North Carolina for policy strategies that increase prosperity for all in our community.
In fact, last year, the Wilmington Chamber was recognized as the Chamber of the Year by the Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (CACCE). These awards are primarily focused on acknowledging one or more significant achievements that a chamber initiated, stimulated, or led in our service area. Achievements needed to result in positive results toward a business development initiative, economically impactful effort, non-partisan election ballot campaign, or community improvement project.
Additionally, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, Natalie English, was recognized as the Executive of the Year by CACCE. These awards recognize long-time executives who have excelled over a period of years in leading and innovatively building their chambers. Awards are based on chamber leadership, organizational management, service to the profession, community involvement, and personal attributes.
The Wilmington Chamber has played an integral role in the economic development of our community and is an invaluable asset for all business owners. On a day-to-day basis, that work includes advocating on behalf of chamber members with our partners in government and education. Our chamber also promotes and supports local businesses through creative initiatives and programs that provide resources, education, networking, and marketing opportunities.
The Wilmington Chamber also advocates for pro-business public policies that help businesses grow and thrive by encouraging new industries, supporting entrepreneurship, and reducing regulatory barriers. These policies can help companies increase their productivity and efficiency, resulting in job creation and economic growth. By advocating for pro-business public policies, we can ensure our employers have the resources they need to succeed, creating an enduring and positive effect on our entire community.
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce board has worked diligently to ensure that the public policies adopted, and new programs implemented in 2022 would benefit the citizens of our area.
Our Wilmington Chamber of Commerce has been supportive of the reduction of carbon emissions and modernizing the power grid while keeping energy prices as low as possible for businesses and residents. To that end, leases have been granted off the coast of North Carolina that are expected to lead to investments in the offshore wind industry in our region. Wind is a clean and renewable source of energy and has the potential to generate a $140 billion supply chain and tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States by 2035. The technology is becoming increasingly efficient and cost-effective, making offshore wind a viable option for supplying power to millions of people worldwide and creating a pipeline of manufacturing, supply chain, construction, and maintenance jobs.
In 2022, the Wilmington Chamber board adopted a resolution supporting efforts to explore offshore wind energy off the coast of southeast North Carolina. The chamber has convened a task force to identify how our community can encourage job growth for this sector across our entire region. We also support an “all the above” approach for creating reliable power needed for industry, residents, and emergency services.
The Chamber board also passed a resolution urging consideration of all possible options to fund a replacement for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge. The bridge has served our region for over 50 years, and the need to replace it has become more urgent. Increased traffic loads are adding stress to the bridge and replacement parts have become more difficult and costly to acquire. Replacement of the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge remains one of the highest unfunded priorities for the Wilmington Urban Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO).
As a member of the statewide Destination 2030 Coalition, the Wilmington Chamber advocated for the modernization of transportation funding in the 2022 state budget. Last year, the state committed to allocating a percentage of the total sales tax collected to be transferred from the state General Fund to the Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund. Our chamber will continue to advocate for solutions to address funding shortfalls in infrastructure spending as our state and region grows and gas tax revenues fail to keep pace.
Beach renourishment and inlet management were also a major focus of our advocacy efforts in 2022. Beach renourishment projects help to maintain strong defenses against coastal storms and provide critical habitat for a wide variety of birds and marine life. This work protects valuable infrastructure and helps protect nearby businesses from storm damage and flooding. Healthy, vibrant beaches also attract tourists whom many of our businesses depend on for a thriving and balanced economy. We must continue this advocacy to protect our natural resources and tourism-related assets. This work yields a benefit-cost ratio of almost 50 to 1, when counting direct economic benefits only.
Small Business Retention & Expansion
The Wilmington Chamber also leads small business development, retention, and expansion services in New Hanover County. The chamber’s Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program is focused on developing relationships with leadership in targeted high-growth companies identified by New Hanover County's Economic Mobility report. We are collecting and analyzing data and assisting these companies in solving problems hindering their growth and identifying opportunities to help these businesses succeed and grow.
In 2022, the Wilmington Chamber team met with 92 businesses and provided troubleshooting assistance to 74 businesses. This work included supplying access to critical business data, regulatory assistance, and referrals to the appropriate partners in business development.
On the small business development side, the BRE team fielded 79 new business leads for companies not already based in New Hanover County. The team managed 38 projects and assisted 22 businesses in locating to, or expanding in, New Hanover County. In total, for 2022, the Wilmington Chamber’s BRE program provided support to business leaders who invested over $11 million in new real estate, business and private property and created 133 new full-time jobs.
In 2022, the Wilmington Chamber saw a record number of applicants for its annual Leadership Wilmington program. Nearly 100 individuals applied for the 35 slots available. Leadership development programs such as Leadership Wilmington help businesspeople develop the necessary skills to communicate effectively, motivate others and make decisions that will benefit their employers. They also provide an opportunity for employees to gain insight into their strengths and opportunities for growth, enabling them to better understand how they can contribute to the success of their organizations.
Due to the demand for the Leadership Wilmington program and the limited number of opportunities to participate, staff created a new abbreviated program for business leaders who are new to the Wilmington area. The goal is to fast-track more exclusive networking opportunities, community education, and the retention of high-value corporate recruits or potential area investors.
Finally, the Wilmington Chamber and New Hanover County Schools partnered to introduce a new Career and Leadership Development Academy for 7th-grade students. The pilot program includes 40 students selected by the administrators and educators in each of the eight county middle schools. For eight months, the cohort visited strategically targeted, high-growth industries for employer site visits and learned from company representatives about career opportunities available at different education levels. They also heard presentations about the skills needed to be successful and the pay ranges for employees at every level of education. The program sponsors see the academy as a unique solution to help build our future talent pipeline for leading industries and encourage young people to remain in Wilmington.
In 2022, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce added 170 new members, an 18% increase over new member growth in 2021.
The chamber team hosted a total of 143 events, including ten major signature events, 25 networking events, ten public policy committee meetings, and 23 volunteer council meetings. The chamber also hosted a record number of 37 ribbon cuttings to welcome new businesses to the area. In total, the Wilmington Chamber increased the number of programs and events for members by 21% in 2022.
The chamber also introduced a new Chairman's Club, which has created more exclusive networking and educational opportunities for the Wilmington Chamber’s top investors. Staff organized five Chairman's Club events with special guests, including N.C. Chamber President and CEO Gary Salamido and Business North Carolina magazine publisher Ben Kinney, among others.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The chamber has invested in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives because we believe they are essential to creating a thriving business environment for all people in New Hanover County. By investing in these initiatives, the Wilmington Chamber hopes to cultivate a more inclusive economy that encourages collaboration and innovation.
The Wilmington Chamber’s African American Business Council (AABC) and Latin American Business Council (LABC) were created in 2018 and 2020, respectively, to contribute to creating a more equitable economy in which all business owners can access the same resources and opportunities. The advancement of this work would not be possible without the significant investment of time and connections by our founding chairs, Tracey Newkirk, Isabela Lujan, and Gustavo Rodea.
In 2022, minority-owned businesses represented approximately 10% of new members that joined our Chamber. We hosted five after-hours Intentional Collisions networking events, attended by 729 participants. Roughly half of our attendees at these events were nonmembers, and a significant percentage of those nonmembers chose to attend more events later in the year.
The Wilmington Chamber facilitated the planning and hosting of over 30 events during Minority Enterprise Development Week. The Chamber also hosted five AABC meetings and three LABC meetings. Meetings featured educational and motivational business content and complimentary food and beverages for guests. These meetings are open to members and nonmembers at no additional cost. Finally, we hosted our third annual Minority Business Holiday Bazaar featuring 30 local minority businesses.
As board members, we are proud of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s numerous accomplishments this year in providing insight into local business needs and delivering programs and initiatives to benefit business leaders and our community. This work includes advocating for policies that support businesses, organizing networking events, and providing resources to help companies prosper.
We also serve on the board because it allows us to build relationships with other business owners in our community. Through these connections, we can share ideas, learn from each other and gain valuable insights into how best to run our businesses. Additionally, by attending meetings and participating in events organized by the chamber, we stay up to date on important issues affecting our community.
Finally, serving on the board has allowed us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Together, our fellow board members have had the enviable opportunity of helping to positively impact our local economy and create a better future for everyone in our area.
2022 Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors
2022 Board Chair
Andrew Consulting Engineers
Lanier Property Group & Inspiration Lab
Thomas Construction Group
Personnel Committee Chair
GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy
Immediate Past Chair
President & CEO
Wilmington Chamber of Commerce
Cape Fear Commercial
Pastor Robert Campbell
New Beginning Christian Church
Thermo Fisher Scientific
Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center
Greater Wilmington Business Journal
Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage
Coastal Beverage Company
Mattress Furniture Liquidators
Griffin Estep Group
Live Oak Bank
Corning Credit Union
Streamline Development, LLC
Emma Dill - Dec 8, 2023
Cece Nunn - Dec 8, 2023
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