WilmingtonBiz Magazine

The WilmingtonBiz 100: Connectors

By Staff Reports, posted Dec 16, 2019

The Connectors: The real-world networkers who bring together people and resources to get things done


Alison Baringer English

Executive Director, N.C. Azalea Festival
Alison Baringer English became the N.C. Azalea Festival’s executive director in 2015, after the organization promoted her to the role. She first started working with the festival as its office manager and then coordinator.
Why she’s a connector:
The sheer size of the annual event requires English to be a connector – to its board, to her staff that includes seasonal employees, to sponsors to celebrity guests and to over 1,000 volunteers.
She coordinates with over 80 community leaders to plan and execute the festival’s events, a slate of activities from parades to concerts to street fairs over five days in April. Overall, an estimated 300,000 people will go to something on the schedule. Their experience has a lot to do with what English and her team come up with each year.
During English’s time as executive director, the festival – entering its 73rd year in 2020 – has grown in size and economic impact. She has an eye on marking the 75th anniversary on the horizon. National connection: Serves as secretary on the International Festivals & Events Association’s foundation board

Rhonda Bellamy

Executive Director, The Arts Council Of Wilmington/ New Hanover County
Rhonda Bellamy has served as executive director of the arts council since it formed in 2012. Bellamy has more than 20 years of experience in broadcast news. She was previously the news director for Cumulus Media’s five-station radio cluster in Wilmington and hosted a daily talk show. She recently tapped back into those radio skills with the art- and culture-based show “Around Town with Rhonda Bellamy” on WHQR.
Why she’s a connector:
Through various projects and partnerships, Bellamy over the years has looked for ways to infuse art into Wilmingtonians’ daily lives.
The council’s Fourth Friday Gallery Nights is a monthly crawl covering more than 20 galleries and art spaces in downtown Wilmington. The council curates a fine art gallery inside Wilmington International Airport’s terminal. It also curates the Pedestrian Art public sculpture program, installing 10-12 temporary sculptures each year.
Right now, the group is serving as the lead agency for the Wilmington Rail Trail project, with plans to develop an abandoned railbed from Water Street to the Love Grove neighborhood. A pedestrian plaza with cultural and recreational amenities is in the works.
Community honor: Was part of the inaugural class of Living Legend Award winners from the city’s Commission on African- American History

Mebane Boyd

Director, NHC Resiliency Task Force

Mebane Boyd has directed the New Hanover County Resiliency Task Force since July 2018. The group works across systems – including schools, health care providers, the faith-based community and more – to create trauma-sensitive and resiliency focused organizations.
Why she’s a connector:
Since becoming head of the task force, Boyd has seen the effort grow to more than 110 organizations and nearly 600 individuals who are engaged in the community-wide campaign.
“While we tend to focus on human service agencies and schools as the primary location to engage with individuals who are needing assistance in coping with trauma, the workplace is emerging as a prime place to reach those in need,” Boyd said.
Leading by example: Boyd also connects with other communities across the state that are working on similar projects around childhood trauma.

Evelyn Bryant

CEO, Northside Bridge Builders
Evelyn Bryant is the founder of Northside Bridge Builders, a grassroots organization that aims to educate and provide resources to those undergoing hardships. She is also a legal assistant, community activist, volunteer and mentor.
Why she’s a connector:
After Hurricane Florence hit the area in September 2018, Bryant and Northside Bridge Builders volunteers made sure resources and relief supplies made their way to Northside residents.
Those outreach efforts have continued, operating out of space on Princess Street.
Bryant is vice president of the YWCA Lower Cape Fear board and has chaired the group’s Community Outreach Committee and Stand Against Racism Committee for the past four years. Bryant, who has served in the state advocacy pilot cohort for North Carolina, also formed the YWCA’s Potluck for Peace locally that started in 2016 and once a quarter brings more than 100 people from the community together to discuss local race relations over food and fellowship.
Bryant also chair of the joint county-city Community Relations Advisory Committee and secretary for the New Hanover County Board of Elections.
She is one of 21 people chosen to serve on the new Partnership Advisory Group, which is providing input in looking at future ownership models for New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

Rob Burrus

Dean, UNCW Cameron School of Business
Rob Burrus, who received his doctorate in economics from the University of Virginia, started at UNCW as a professor of economics. He was named dean of the Cameron School of Business in 2015. Burrus has published 34 peer-reviewed articles. He also received the Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2004. Burrus serves as the president of the Academy of Economics and Finance. His research areas of interest include drug policy and economics of hurricanes.
Why he’s a connector:
Being the dean of the business school means that Burrus manages about 100 faculty and staff, as well as having responsibilities in budgeting, fundraising, hiring, creating innovative programs and managing enrollment and curriculum.
During his time as dean, the school has helped connect students with local employers. It also connects professionals to executive education opportunities at the Swain Center and Small Business Technology and Development Center.

Burrus and faculty have also helped with the development of new online programs. With the school’s recent $10 million gift from David Congdon, Burrus will work on establishing the David S. Congdon School of Supply Chain, Business Analytics and Information Systems. Edited: Academy of Economics and Finance Journal.

Jerry Coleman

Regional Director CFCC Small Business Center
Jerry Coleman started as Cape Fear Community College’s Small Business Center director in 2016. He has decades of experience in business and consulting. He previously was an owner in his family’s consumer products manufacturing company in Wilmington.
Why he’s a connector:
In his role at the center, Coleman is responsible for overseeing the center’s program services, quality, sponsoring and coordinating local initiatives that enhance program delivery of the CFCC’s Small Business Center. He helps provide counseling, training, guidance and resource information for a range of businesses.
He helped with the 2017 establishment of The Coalition, a collaboration of more than a dozen nonprofit organizations that support small businesses in Southeastern North Carolina.
The CFCC Small Business Center provided one-on-one business counseling to more than 230 prospective and existing business owners in the 2018-19 fiscal year. That resulted in 33 new business startups, creating more than 130 new local jobs.
It also provided 90 business seminars to more than 1,500 small business owners in New Hanover and Pender counties.
Fed accolade: In 2016, Coleman received the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Collaboration and Partnership award.

Dana Cook

President and Owner, Julia's Florist
With a background as an accountant, Dana Cook wasn’t looking to own a floral shop in Wilmington. But it was a random connection and conversation that led her to eventually buy Julia’s Florist, which has operated at 900 S. Kerr Ave. in Wilmington since 1996. Cook bought the business in 2008 and has expanded it since then. In 2016, she opened a design center nearby in the Crossroads center on Kerr Avenue, and she said recently that she’s planning another expansion.
Why she’s a connector:
While business has been strong, it’s Cook’s presence outside the store that lands her among this year’s connectors. Between her work with nonprofits, high-profile boards and other businesses, she is someone whose networking web spreads far.
She previously served as a Guardian ad Litem board member, domestic violence courtroom advocate, assistant treasurer for the Cape Fear Garden Club and member of the CFCC Foundation board.
These days, much of her time outside of work is spent as a New Hanover Regional Medical Center trustee, a seat she was reappointed to earlier this year. She also sits on the NHRMC Foundation’s board.
Flower power: Since 2010, Cook has administered an annual flower grant program to area nonprofits in need of arrangements for their fundraising events.

Johnny Griffin

Director, Wilmington Regional Film Commission
Johnny Griffin has served the region’s film industry for more than three decades. He became director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission in 1999, Griffin is one of the first 10 film commissioners in the world to obtain the designation of Certified Film Commissioner by the Association of Film Commissioners International.
Why he’s a connector:
In his 20 years as director of the nonprofit corporation, Griffin has assisted in recruiting over $1.6 billion in local film and TV spending.
Since Wilmington picked up The Georgetown Project – a working titled film starring Russell Crowe – this fall, production spending by area projects is estimated to be about $150 million in 2019.

Griffin, the film commission’s sole employee, is responsible for marketing the region, assisting productions with hiring efforts, working with state and local elected officials to maintain and enhance the film incentive program and scouting potential locations.

His work in the industry will continue at the state level as he sits on the new Governor’s Advisory Council on Film, Television and Digital Streaming.

Charlie Hardy

Dean, UNCW College of Health and Human Services
Charlie Hardy received a doctorate in kinesiology and psychology from Louisiana State University. Before becoming the founding dean of UNCW’s College of Health and Human Services in 2011, Hardy was a professor and founding dean of Georgia Southern University’s public health college.
Why he’s a connector:
Throughout his career, Hardy has helped rural and medically underserved communities.
As the founding dean of UNCW’s CHHS, Hardy oversees the academic, research and service programs for the school which has grown from 1,598 enrolled students in 2010 to 4,290 this year.
The school has an annual budget of over $21 million dollars. Hardy leads a group of 265 total employees at the school including 130 full-time faculty. To meet demand for its programs, Hardy and his team have been working on the launch of two new degree programs in 2020, a master of health care administration and master science in athletic training.
Gold medal: In 1988, Hardy was a visiting scientist at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Randall Johnson

Executive Director, Southeastern Office, N.C. Biotechnology Center
Randall Johnson is the founding director of the Southeastern office of the Durham-based N.C. Biotechnology Center, which has 70 employees. In his role as executive director, Johnson develops working relationships with both area and international professionals and other agencies in the biotechnology industry.
Why he’s a connector:
As the area’s leader for the group, Johnson helps strengthen economic development through projects and initiatives in a range of sectors including marine; agricultural and industrial biotech; and clinical research.
At the state level, he oversees initiatives through the N.C. Economic Development Association, in which he serves as board vice president.
Johnson has made connections with national and international companies recently exploring the region for industrial biotech operations. The area’s clinical research cluster is also growing and benefiting from the UNCW’s FuseCR Center (Center for Clinical Research Workforce Development), in which he played a role in helping get off the ground. He is also pulling together partners on a project with the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center to improve energy resiliency in the state.
CRO cluster: Created the N.C. Coast Clinical Research Initiative, an economic development initiative, in partnership with UNCW and local contract research organizations

Stephanie Lanier

Owner and Broker, Lanier Property Group; Founder, The Inspiration Lab

Stephanie Lanier opened Lanier Property Group, a boutique real estate firm in Wilmington, in 2012. She also created The Inspiration Lab, a women’s membership community through which she is able to connect working women with one another and the greater business community.
Why she’s a connector:
Lanier’s leadership roles also include chair of the UNCW Alumni Association an executive committee position with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, which she said allows her to reach a larger audience within the business and education communities while constantly advocating for working women.
This year Lanier planned and ran The Inspiration Lab’s annual conference in November, where more than 300 women from North Carolina and beyond gathered in downtown Wilmington.
She has also been the recipient of the NC Realtors Rising Star Award and was named to an international list of real estate influencers by Inman News.
On stage: Was a TEDxAirlie speaker in March

Tracey Newkirk

Founder, U-Nex-O!/Chair, African American Business Council

Tracey Newkirk, who left a corporate career to start her own business, serves as chairwoman of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s African American Business Council. She previously worked as director of talent acquisition and strategy for Verizon Wireless.
Why she’s a connector:
Newkirk worked with chamber head Natalie English to form the council to help African American business owners gain more connections and influence within the local business community.
She regularly speaks on the topic of intentional inclusion, on the premise that Wilmington suffered an intentional divide during the 1898 coup.
Newkirk shares her message about what can be done to heal the divide, one that many in the community say can still be felt in the area today, with groups throughout the Wilmington region and its business community.
She is also a certified personal resilience practitioner, as well as a board member with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM).
Birthplace: Leland

Tammy Proctor

Director of Tourism and PIO, Pender County
Tammy Proctor was hired as Pender County’s tourism director in 2015. She later took on the role of the county’s public information officer. She has 23 years of experience working in newspapers in Ohio. Also in Ohio, she spent six years working part time as a director for a chamber of commerce. Locally, she spent more than a year as director of the Greater Topsail Area Chamber of Commerce.
Why she’s a connector:
Proctor has two vital roles for Pender County. As tourism director, she promotes the county’s businesses, beaches and other area attractions. Proctor oversees three employees in the county’s tourism department.
She also distributes county information and updates to media and residents through her public information officer role. During and after Hurricane Florence, which caused widespread damage in Pender County, Proctor spread info about the storm, recovery efforts and marketing messages to try and attract beach visitors back to the area this summer.
Tourism plays a major part in the county’s economic development. Proctor helps to attract visitors to the county through media campaigns and provides data and information, such as summer populations needed by businesses. The organization also spearheaded a shop local program during the holidays.
Proctor serves on the Friends of the Mountain-to- Sea Trail board, N.C. Beach, Inlet & Waterway Association board, the Greater Topsail Area Chamber of Commerce board, and serves as chair of the N.C. Coast Host board.
Spooky nods: A Ghost Walk the tourism department created recently received two national awards

Jim Roberts

Founder, Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington
Jim Roberts, who graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in advertising, has spent his career providing resources and connections to entrepreneurs and startups, most recently through Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW). Previously, Roberts was the director of the CIE and community development director for Bunker Labs.
Why he’s a connector:
Through NEW, Roberts hosts free monthly events that connect entrepreneurs, investors, service providers and others interested in entrepreneurship.
Over 60 angel investors and venture capitalists from Raleigh and Durham have spoken at NEW events. He also founded Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs, which works to find local and regional startups for members to invest in for growth. He helped raise funds to bring the local chapter of Bunker Labs to Wilmington.
In 2014, Roberts started the Coastal Connect conference during the one-year anniversary of the CIE's opening. As a connector of entrepreneurs and investors to opportunities, Roberts has been building the “coastal corridor,” a two-way path he sees that connects resources from the Raleigh/ Durham ecosystems to local Wilmington entrepreneurs.
Committees part of: NC IDEA and NC Tech Association

Correction: This updated version includes information on the Coastal Connect conference Jim Roberts started in 2014.

Dallas Romanowski

CEO and Co-Founder, Performance Culture
Dallas Romanowski heads up Performance Culture Inc., a cloud-based performance management platform. It is a spin-off company from Cornerstone Business Advisors, a company founded by Romanowski and Rich Novak in 2008. Romanowski previously worked as a business development executive for IBM and management consultant for Accenture.
Why he’s a connector:
Over the years, Romanowski has played a role in the success of a number of businesses, ranging from Fortune 5000 level to small companies.
He’s coached more than 100 business leaders in the local region with a focus on business growth and company culture. Many of them have become familiar names as they’ve grown in recent years.
Clients have included N2 Publishing, ARC Transit, MCO Transport, Coastal Beverage, Marpac, Filmwerks and more. Romanowski mentors UNCW students as part of the Cameron Executive Network.
Wordsmithing: Romanowski wrote a leadership book called “Performance Culture.”

Jeremy Tomlinson

President, Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance 
While Jeremy Tomlinson is in the tech world as a small business technology adviser at Enfuse Technology Solutions, he contributes to the Wilmington beer industry as president of the Cape Fear Craft Beer Alliance. Tomlinson has led the alliance since it was founded in 2016. He also founded and owns Port City Brew Bus, a Wilmington brewery tour company, and publishes the biannual Wilmington Ale Trail magazine, a free publication that provides a guide to breweries and craft beer.
Why he’s a connector:
Through the local beer alliance, Tomlinson has led efforts to provide resources and connections for those in the beer industry. That includes providing support for new brewery owners.
He is a point of contact for many local government officials and tourism firms on behalf of the Wilmington-area craft beer community. As the alliance’s president, Tomlinson serves as a liaison between the group and local and state officials to address legislation that affects the industry.
Tomlinson founded Cape Fear Craft Beer Week, a tourism-driven marketing campaign that highlights the growing local craft brewery scene and the local beer culture. As the group’s president, Tomlinson has also led the Cape Fear Craft & Cuisine, a beer-and-food pairing event. This year, the alliance launched Craft on the Coast, a marketing campaign featuring a website that seeks to attract tourists from outside of Wilmington and the state to local breweries.
In his role, Tomlinson shares the economic impact breweries have had on the region, such as 400 brewery jobs and between $20 million and $23 million in yearly sales.
Separate from the alliance, Thomlinson is also part of Marchtoberfest, a spring beer festival at the Wilmington Convention Center.

Read more about the WilmingtonBiz 100 honorees by clicking here.

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