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Economic Development
Jul 1, 2016

Cape Fear Economic Development Council: A Shared Vision For The Greater Wilmington Region

Sponsored Content provided by Scott Johnson - Chairman, Cape Fear Economic Development Council (CFEDC)

The Cape Fear Economic Development Council (CFEDC) is a nonprofit 501c3 based in Wilmington. For the last eight years we have explored new concepts for addressing our region’s economic growth strategies, while helping identify more suitable and practical alternatives in economic development, land use, energy use and environmental management.
 
CFEDC is neither a think tank nor an academic endeavor, but a group of citizens who believe by using the “triple bottom line” framework (people, profit, planet) to define best practices in land and resource management, we can successfully address the pressing social and economic issues of population growth, land development and pollution control. Equally important, the CFEDC believes in transparent public policies and clear guidelines that recognize the interconnectivity of these issues on our quality of life and place. We envision a sustainable and innovative economy that brings increased job opportunities and expands sources of revenue without sacrificing the public’s health and the region’s many natural assets.
 
The CFEDC’s board with its broad stakeholder base of more than 4,500 citizens, including community leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs and citizens from all occupations, shares many hopes and concerns. What binds these citizens together is a shared vision for the greater Wilmington region that includes public policies and strategies designed to integrate economic and social and environmental concerns while promoting the concepts of “smart growth.”
 
Over the last 24 months, New Hanover County and Wilmington governments have been successfully completing new citizen-led, comprehensive land use plans. These complementary 25-year visions incorporate all aspects of our daily lives and are premised on a population growth that could well exceed 100,000 additional citizens over this period. In addition, a federal grant funded the creation of FOCUS, a three-year, citizen-lead analysis of our regional growth potential that validated the same future. Finally, the city and county received an independent assessment of our economic vitality and growth potential. The Garner Report highlighted many of our inherent economic strengths, as well as many of our real and perceived challenges. The CFEDC board and its stakeholders participated actively in each of these four important community endeavors.
 
Viewed together, the unifying message is to capitalize on our existing strengths and favorable location; recognize where we can improve on our economic recruitment strategies; encourage more citizen involvement in economic development initiatives; and ultimately adopt public policies and innovative guidelines that incentivize and reward authentic sustainable growth and development. Viewed independently, the implementation of these four plans underscores an overarching recognition that there is a better, more effective way to pursue economic growth that ensures public engagement and transparency and recognizes a heightened sensitivity to the impacts of development on our quality of life and place.
 
One of New Hanover County’s first steps to implementing smart growth tools was the adoption in 2011 of an Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) process in the zoning ordinance. County staff is currently considering revisions to the Industrial SUP process. Although some intensive industry recruiters are requesting its elimination, the proposed improvements to the Industrial SUP has the potential to attract and support desirable industries to benefit the region’s economic development, while protecting the undeniable value of our region’s natural assets, especially our water supply and air quality. The proposed improvements create a more comprehensive, public review process for those few heavy industries with the greatest potential to adversely impact our community.
 
If we want to build a future that offers diverse employment opportunities, we must have a range of tools, including the proposed commonsense modifications to the Industrial SUP process, to help us discern those industrial and manufacturing operations that pose little – or a lot – of risk to our special urban, coastal community. Now is the time to recognize the critical importance of having this citizen-supported permitting process in place for heavy polluting industries. We need to achieve a healthy balance of economic development in concert with intelligent zoning and responsible land use regulations. Our city, county and region must continue on a steady path of building an innovative and enterprising economy, one that fosters local businesses and entrepreneurs, and cultivates new business and job opportunities for our sustainable future. The CFEDC pledges to keep you informed on these issues and related topics over the coming months.
 
The CFEDC brings together industry, community leaders, and the public to foster collaboration, transparency, inspiration, and alignment around a shared regional vision. To learn more about the Cape Fear Economic Development Council or become a member, go to www.capefearedc.org or call (910) 471-1616.
 

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