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U.S. Chamber Report Looks At Wilmington Economy, Innovation

By Jenny Callison, posted Oct 30, 2015
During the month of October, Wilmington has been the focus of a three-part report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as part of a yearlong series called SiliconCitiesUSA.

Wilmington was chosen, along with other non-major metros such as Des Moines, Iowa; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Jacksonville, Florida, because these “cities are doing really cool things,” said Margaret Shepard, editor-in-chief of the chamber’s online magazine, FreeEnterprise.com.

The series, published in FreeEnterprise.com, explores how the cities and their business communities are adapting to the 21st-century economy, how new and old businesses are still trying to be relevant and alive, and what factors are combining to create innovation at all levels, Shepard said.

In looking at North Carolina, the obvious choice for a SiliconCities story would have been the Research Triangle Park region, Shepard said.

“But Wilmington has done a number of really cool things. We were looking at the non-obvious choice that has a really good story to tell. It has the port, the pharmaceutical industry; it is no longer a sleepy beach town," she said.

All three segments of the report are now available online. The first, “Wilmington, North Carolina: The Dark Horse of the State Economy,” published Oct. 1 briefly lays the groundwork for the later segments. It mentions Wilmington’s “diversified economy” and “natural beauty” and refers to the area as “a hub of aviation manufacturing” and “popular among pharmaceutical companies.”

“Tracing the Origins of Wilmington, North Carolina’s Revamped Economy” published Oct. 27 describes Wilmington as a beneficiary of North Carolina’s overhauled regulatory environment and mentions the fact that the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina has divided the state into eight prosperity zones and has “poured resources into public-private organizations created to facilitate this transition."

“The transformation of the Wilmington metropolitan area is, in many ways, indicative of the success of these and other reforms,” the report states.

Aspects of the area economy covered in this segment of the report include the port and tourism, as well as the importance of University of North Carolina Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College to the local economy.

The final SiliconCities segment on Wilmington, “Wilmington, North Carolina: the Coastal Town with a Rising Entrepreneurial Tide,” appeared Friday. Its goal, according to Shepard, was to give a personal perspective to the changing business landscape in Wilmington, and it quotes two people at Elite Innovations, a makerspace and product development company: Andrew Williams, the company’s founder and CEO, and Elizabeth Marion, its director of operations.

Williams’ remarks concern the growing support for entrepreneurship locally and greater number of people involved in startups. Marion spoke about the creative side of Wilmington’s entrepreneurial community, including the Cucalorus Film Festival and this year’s debut of Cucalorus Connect, an interwoven five-day business innovation conference.

The piece also quotes Brooks Raiford, president and CEO of the N.C. Technology Association, who commented on Wilmington’s increasing visibility statewide as a startup hub.

Wilmington did not disappoint, Shepard said.
 
“The writer [of the report] felt that Wilmington has the same X-factor Austin does," she said. "People are willing to change the city for the better. Austin in the last 20 to 30 years has built out its technology sector, and it’s in an attractive part of the state. Wilmington used to be defined by the beach. Now the beach is a factor, but Wilmington is building other elements to create a complex and robust city.”
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