Tucked away in the southern Appalachian Mountains, the city of Brevard is on the opposite end of the state from Wilmington. But Brevard does have some things in common with the Port City – the city is a tourism and cultural hub and a retirement destination.
So when Josh Hallingse traded the mountain breezes of Brevard for a touch of salt air to take a job with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, he immediately recognized the major assets that the two places share and that money can’t buy: incredible natural settings and a sense of place.
As vice president of small business development and business retention – a new position for the chamber – Hallingse plans to draw on those assets not only to attract new small businesses to Wilmington but to help those already here grow.
GWBJ: Tell me about your new position with the chamber.
HALLINGSE: “My role with the chamber is to serve and grow the small business community in New Hanover County. This includes serving chamber members, but, just as important, includes serving businesses that aren’t connected to the organization or maybe not connected to any of our economic development partners.
The goal is to be purposeful about how we develop as a world-class city. To that end, we are creating a proactive business retention and expansion effort that is intentional about reaching out to New Hanover County’s network of small business and entrepreneurs and listening and reacting to their feedback.”
GWBJ: What attracted you to the position?
HALLINGSE: “Long before COVID-19, I believed in the value of placemaking and the growing importance of unique natural assets to how people experience a place.
These assets are really hard to measure as part of the site-selection process in traditional economic development projects, but I think they are critical parts of how people naturally choose where they want to live and work.
Given the top national issue for business is talent development, attraction and retention, I think the cities that pay close attention to this trend are going to be the most successful over the long term.”
GWBJ: How does the chamber define a small business?
HALLINGSE: “A private-sector company with fewer than 25 employees.”
GWBJ: How important are small businesses to Wilmington?
HALLINGSE: “They are where the bulk of new businesses and jobs are being created every day in New Hanover County. While it is impossible to overstate the importance of our larger corporate citizens, small businesses represent most of the typical job creation that occurs. They just generally don’t get the same attention.”
GWBJ: Wilmington has become a hub for entrepreneurs, notably in tech and life-sciences sectors. What are some other small-biz sectors here that are doing well but not necessarily visible to the public?
HALLINGSE: “I am still getting to know these emerging clusters, but you are absolutely correct; New Hanover County is incredibly fortunate to be benefiting from world-class business leadership.
Not unlike businesses with larger footprints, Wilmington’s small businesses also operate in sectors that have demonstrated success on the larger end of the spectrum. These include logistics/distribution, the pharma/life science sector, fintech, and food/beverage.
Being new to Eastern North Carolina, I also am amazed by the impact and leadership that exist in Wilmington related to the defense industry and marine/engineering sectors.
Coming from a similar market in the western part of the state I also see potential and clustering of outdoor gear manufacturing and product design as an opportunity. The fishing, cycling, surfing and other businesses sectors tied to our great outdoor assets seem like a unique opportunity.”
GWBJ: What are the greater Wilmington area’s most-valuable assets? What makes us stand out to entrepreneurs?
HALLINGSE: “In my mind, the ocean, river and access to talent are our most powerful assets. In Wilmington, we get to combine our amazing water access with an incredible talent pipeline. …”
GWBJ: What areas need more work?
HALLINGSE: “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention transportation. Notably, the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge has to be replaced.
Wilmington is the largest city on North Carolina’s coast by a long shot. To continue to be the hub for quality, high-paying jobs, Wilmington must continue to position itself as the transportation hub for the region.
GWBJ: What are your main goals for 2022?
HALLINGSE: “I have started to formalize our business retention and expansion program (BRE), which is essentially a fancy way of saying we are now proactively reaching out to small-business owners and entrepreneurial companies instead of waiting for them to reach out to us when there is an issue.
By nature, I am a listener. My goal is to really listen and be a resource.
This could mean helping with a property search, connecting a business with private-equity partners or compiling data to support an expanded business plan. My goal is to be an extension of a business owner’s staff and to help tackle issues that might be standing in the way of job growth and investment.”