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Regional Initiative Highlights Manufacturing Sector

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Sep 22, 2020
A new initiative is in the works to bring together manufacturing partners to help solve industry problems and bring more attention to the regional sector.

The Cape Fear Next Generation Manufacturing Sector Partnership has received a technical assistance award -- partners' training and support with the Next Generation model -- from the N.C. State Sector Strategy Council, said Erin Easton, business engagement manager with the Cape Fear Workforce Development Board, which is leading the initiative across a four-county region.

The Cape Fear Workforce Development Board is under the umbrella of Cape Fear Council of Governments.

"As we know, the Cape Fear Region is growing. Just by numbers of folks moving here and working here," Easton said, adding that with that growth the region has been attracting some big manufacturers, such as Pacon Manufacturing Corp. and Polyhose Inc., in recent years.

Next Generation Sector Partnership is a national initiative and model to form partnerships driven by industry and supported by community partners to strengthen regional economies and support job growth, according to the website.

"The Next Generation Sector Partnership approach will afford the regional partners the opportunity to use industry pull to truly get to the underlying factors effecting opportunities and successes of the manufacturing industry in our region," according to a news release about the regional manufacturing initiative. 

"The concept is we want to collectively maximize the opportunities and trends in the manufacturing industry here so that we can see growth for the small and large manufacturers and watch new manufacturers come to the region," Easton said. 

The first meeting of an initial group of eight regional manufacturers will take place on Oct. 1, she said. The partnership aims to include manufacturers of varying size and industry from the four-county region of New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick and Columbus counties.

"We're getting together manufacturers small and large and we are really going to explain this concept to them so that they are truly on board with this," Easton said. "And we will start to then invite all manufacturers to a larger launch meeting before the end of the year."

The partnership, for this Next Generation initiative, chose to focus on the manufacturing sector for several reasons, she said.

"Right now there are about 349 manufacturing businesses in our region, employing over 9,000 people. And the average salaries for these folks tend to be higher than the average salary across North Carolina in all businesses," she said. "There is a lot of diversity in the types of manufacturing that we have here too. So that was another reason why we chose this sector. And then, the sector is projected to grow in for the next 28 years."

Easton said the partnership will allow manufacturing business leaders to be at the center of the table to share their insight into the local sector, while public partners remain on the outside of the table to listen in.

"The goal is to really find out what are the needs, the trends, [and] opportunities within the particular sector so that we can make an impact in our region," Easton said. "We know that there are shared issues. It could be logistics. It could be workforce, infrastructure, different topics ... The key to this partnership is, they are going to tell us what the issues are so that the public partners can truly come together to make a change. It's important that the industries are at the center of the table and they are the ones talking. And that we as public partners choose to listen."

The new initiative being undertaken by the Cape Fear Workforce Development Board includes a range of public and private partners to provide area businesses and their leaders with a forum to come together.

The local partners include local economic development groups Wilmington Business Development and Brunswick Business and Industry Development, as well as Cape Fear Community College, Brunswick Community College, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Cape Fear Collective and NCWorks.

"As we go, we know that we will add more public partners based on any of the opportunities that the manufacturers want to work on. So that could include K-12 or the university system as well. So I see more public partners having to be involved as we kind of get to the nuts and bolts of what these leaders in this industry want to see accomplished," Easton said. 

The name of the group may change as the manufacturing sector partners come together, she said. The group is also seeing to add more manufacturing business leaders and firms to the initiative as it continues to grow in the coming months. 

Easton said, "We are really seeking more C-level executives to be a part of this -- so, the decision makers of these manufacturing companies -- to come to the table."
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