The year 2020 should be an exciting time for economic development in the Wilmington region. A number of utility extensions will help entice new industries to the area.
When industrial prospects are looking to locate a new facility, site location, nearby transportation modes and infrastructure availability and capacity are critical to making the final decision.
Brunswick, Pender and New Hanover counties have their industrial corridors in the right locations. They are all adjacent to four-lane U.S. highways, near Interstate 140 and within a short distance of the port and airport. Each has industrial site opportunities that range from 10 acres to over 1,000 acres.
What is missing in some of those areas is sewer and water.
Pender County is ahead of the game in its commerce park, which has sewer, water and roads already into the site. They have located several industries in the park in recent years. Unfortunately, there is limited sewer capacity, and they lack any large available parcels at this time.
That may change as New Hanover County extends utilities west adjacent to U.S. 421 in its industrial corridor.
This will provide sewer to existing industries in New Hanover County – meaning they could expand – as well as to industrial-zoned parcels that have not been available to develop because of the lack of utilities.
In early 2018, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority awarded a $12.8 million construction contract to T.A. Loving Co. for the water and sewer project, extending access up the 421 corridor to the Pender County line.
The construction was finished last month, according to the Business Journal, which reported that New Hanover County chipped in about $1.6 million of the total cost to extend about 36,000 feet of sewer and nearly 35,000 feet of water lines.
In the project area, there are nearly 1,000 acres of developable land available for future industries, CFPUA has said.
Discussions have occurred to extend the utilities into Pender County, opening up large parcels of land for industrial development there as well. Furthermore, if extended to the Pender County Commerce Park, it would expand the sewer capacity to further develop that industrial park.
Brunswick County has two industrial parks located on its border with Columbus County and adjacent to the four-lane U.S. 74/76.
The 1,000-acre International Logistics Park is served with water from Columbus County but has no sewer or roads. Across the street, the 1,000-acre Mid-Atlantic Industrial Rail Park has a “dry” sewer line but no water or roads.
Columbus County economic development officials applied for and gained approval for a grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce to complete the sewer utility needs of the two industrial parks that border Brunswick and Columbus counties in 2020.
Columbus County is a Tier 1 county, which is considered a distressed county, and has better opportunities to receive infrastructure grants.
The county jointly owns the International Logistics Park with Brunswick County through a nonprofit organization.
Brunswick County anticipates extending water to the Mid-Atlantic Industrial Rail Park in 2020.
Thus, by the end of next year, both industrial parks will have sewer and water in place onsite. Both parks will still need to construct entrance roads to better compete with other communities for new industries.
With the Port of Wilmington’s expansion, the recent completion of I-140 and the addition of thousands of acres of industrial-zoned land with infrastructure in place next year, there will be greater opportunities to market the region for industrial prospects in 2020 and beyond.
North Carolina’s Southeast micro-region marketing initiative ensures that the largest economic development organizations in the Wilmington region (Wilmington Business Development, Brunswick Business and Industry Development and the N.C. State Ports Authority) will continue to work together to market these industrial parks and sites to site consultants, industrial prospects and clients as well as at targeted trade shows throughout the country.
The year 2020 should be the beginning of a new era of exciting economic development successes in the Wilmington region.
Jim Bradshaw served as director of the Brunswick County Economic Development Commission from 2007 until his retirement in 2015.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Greater Wilmington Business Journal is launching a regular series of op-eds, opinion columns about ideas for sparking economic growth in the region. If you have a column topic to be considered, email [email protected]