WilmingtonBiz Magazine

The WilmingtonBiz 100: The Connectors

By Staff Reports, posted Dec 8, 2020

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

Scott Adams

New Business Manager, US Foods

Scott Adams created the Facebook Group Wilmington Area-Take Out & Delivery Options, which currently has more than 18,000 followers. He also partnered with the Greater Wilmington Business Journal to create Meals for Heroes, through which local restaurants and food trucks provided hundreds of meals for frontline workers this spring. 

Why he's a connector this year: 
During the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic for small businesses, Adams said he is committed to helping the mom-and-pop shops and larger restaurant conglomerates think outside the box to assure they are able to continue to keep their doors open.

The Facebook Group was started and took off at the start of the pandemic when restaurants shut down their dining rooms and many depended on carry-out and delivery orders to stay afloat. Diners around the region shared info about who was open and where to go. Users continue to remain active on the page with postings on restaurant info and updates.

Adams makes networking introductions, shares technology opportunities, helps guide rebranding for failing concepts and brings in experts to assist with PR troubleshooting when COVID strikes local establishments.

In his own words: “I have an innate ability to bring together resources and teams of people to best support local restaurateurs, who in turn, are able to better serve their customers.”

Patrick Brien

CEO, Cape Fear Collective

Patrick Brien is leading Cape Fear Collective, a collective impact and data science nonprofit founded in 2019. He is also a member of the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County Joint Committee on Workforce Housing and the steering committee of the New Hanover County Resiliency Task Force. 

Why he's a connector this year: 
Brien has led the launch of the organization, which works with hundreds of organizations in varying capacities to support the community and share data insights and resources to drive change. 

Among those data projects this year were: 

The group provided fundraising and project management support to multiple partners in response to COVID-19. 

In June, Cape Fear Collective (CFC) launched its Racial Equity Dashboard, an interactive online tool diving into racial disparity throughout the region across sectors including public health, housing, economic development and the justice system. 

It worked on COVID-19 data with Coast Carolina Health Information Exchange, New Hanover County, MedNorth and other health care providers. 

And it partnered with UNCW and N.C. State University on a comprehensive food systems analysis intended to outline gaps in the region’s food system, assess food scarcity and provide insights for targeted interventions. 

The organization spearheaded a regional effort with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and RTI International this year to launch the Cape Fear Talent Survey, which gathered feedback from 500 businesses about the future of the area’s workforce. The data is being used to support several initiatives to further develop the region’s talent pipeline. 

Building on the knowledge gained from that survey, the group is leading a regional economic development analysis in partnership with UNCW, focused on building a more inclusive economy locally. The work is expected to be completed in the spring. 

$5 million: How much the group has raised so far for a social impact investment fund.

Laura Brogdon-Primavera

Manager of Operations and Programs, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Laura Brogdon- Primavera has been at the UNCW CIE since 2013 where she also co-founded the Small Business Coalition. She received a master’s degree in higher education at UNCW. 

Why she's a connector this year: 
As the manager of programs and operations at the CIE, she has helped with transitioning many of its programs to virtual experiences that continue to connect the local entrepreneurship community. 

That includes transitioning the Minority Enterprise Development Week from a two-day conference in 2019 to a virtual conference with 25 sessions over five days this year. She also facilitated the Youth Entrepreneurship Program Experience, a pitch competition and youth summit in the spring, into a virtual experience. 

Brogdon-Primavera was one of the leaders who brought 1 Million Cups to Wilmington with the formation of a local chapter. 1MC gives local entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a group of people followed by a Q&A session. With the pandemic, the weekly meetings continued online, which has attracted even more attendees. 

Up next: Working on programming around the Blue economy subject at the CIE for 2021.

Philip Brown

Chief Physician Executive, NHRMC

A vascular surgeon, Philip Brown is executive vice president and chief physician executive at New Hanover Regional. He took on the executive role in 2016 after serving as chief of NHRMC’s medical staff. 

Why he's a connector this year: 
From COVID-19 precautions to racial justice support, Brown has been a visible figure of the hospital’s administrative team on issues to the community – both in his official role and on personal social media messages.

Brown has spoken across diverse communities about the pandemic, including addressing local government bodies, particularly on the subject of wearing face coverings starting earlier this year when there were still mixed messages from national experts on masks.

He also spoke out about the killings of Black men and women this year and the need for discussing racial injustice, including the role the medical community has in addressing social inequities through medical care.

In October, Brown was sworn in as president of the N.C. Medical Society, which represents more than 10,000 providers. His focus – which will also include transitioning NHRMC to its new role as a Novant Health-owned hospital – includes helping to implement a Healthy North Carolina 2030 plan with a goal to achieve a top 10 health ranking nationally for the state by 2030.

Swim fins: Another project Brown works on is bringing together NSEA Swim, YMCA, UNCW, the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County to modernize local aquatics facilities and create opportunities for all children to have basic water safety training and beginner swim lessons.

Robert Campbell

Pastor, New Beginning Christian Church

Robert Campbell is senior pastor at New Beginning Christian Church in Castle Hayne.

Why he's a connector this year: 
As president of the Wilmington Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, he helped send information to more than 40 local ministers about how to apply for the Paycheck Protection Program to help sustain their payrolls when churches closed services during COVID-19 restrictions.

He worked with Champions for Compassion to buy and distribute 10,000 free masks to low-income families as well as on that nonprofit’s Operation Ring and Run for delivery of free meals to low-income school-aged children and dinners to local seniors. 

Campbell this year was a member of the Partnership Advisory Group that delved into NHRMC’s future and ownership change. 

A member of BB&T’s local advisory board and Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s board, Campbell also served as chairman of East Carolina Community Development Inc. 

He submitted for and was approved for federal Low- Income Housing Tax Credits to build an $11 million, affordable housing complex for seniors to be built on New Beginning Christian Church land. 

Oorah: Campbell is a retired Marine officer, having served for 26 years and on two combat tours. 

Joe Conway

Director of Health Equity and Human Experience, NHRMC

Joe Conway has been the director of health equity and human experience at NHRMC since 2017. He had worked for the hospital for a decade prior to that, including as a Lean coach and facilitator.

Why he's a connector this year: 
When he started in his current role, which was a new position for NHRMC, Conway helped implement the hospital’s program on health equity, which refers to the fact that not all patients have the same access to health care or ability to access available care.

This year, under Conway’s lead, NHRMC was included as a top performer in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index.

The N.C. Department of Health & Human Services awarded the health equity department a $175,000, three-year grant to fund a community health worker doula program.

And Conway organized town halls this year around racial disparities and LGBTQ+ issues facing the hospital’s staff and the service area. The department also offered free bias training to organizations in the hospital’s service area, training nearly 2,000 NHRMC employees as well as 400 regional partners.

As co-chair of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s African American Business Council, he helped provide opportunities for underrepresented businesses to provide services to NHRMC.

Grocery project: Conway also has been part of discussions on possibly bringing a grocery store co-op to the Northside area to address the community’s food desert.

Jenna Curry

Founder and President, Port City Young Professionals

While Jenna Curry is owner and lead strategist at Remedy Digital Agency and co-owner and director of marketing for Wilmington Today, she has been connecting the local professional community through Port City Young Professionals, a group she founded after graduating college. 

Why she's a connector this year: 
With the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person networking opportunities that locals used to get to know others were canceled. 

Port City Young Professionals (PCYP), however, continued to fill the need for networking through hosting free, weekly networking events. It also hosted free, virtual training for young professionals and community members, and hosted a forum to inform the community about the proposed sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. 

Current project: Creating a course on how to network intentionally online and in person.

Beth Gaglione

Branch Director, Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina at Wilmington

For the past five years, Beth Gaglione has headed up the local branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, a nonprofit that provides food for those facing hunger in 34 counties. The Wilmington branch covers New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and Columbus counties. 

Why she's a connector this year: 
The local food bank branch and Gaglione played a key role in helping to respond to those in need at the onset of COVID-19 when restrictions initially shut down most public places, businesses and classrooms. 

With area unemployment rates this fall remaining twice as high as they were last year, the food bank continues to be a necessary resource for many local residents. 

The Wilmington food bank distributed a record amount of food this year, averaging 1 million pounds of food a month, or 12.8 million pounds over the past 12 months. Local, regional and national food partnerships were tapped to be able to hand out that much food even as the food chain saw major disruptions. 

Feeding America, the national network of food banks, named the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina as Food Bank of the Year in October. 

Next year: Plans to break ground on a larger facility at 1000 Greenfield St. where the group bought property in August.

Stephanie Lanier

Founder, The Inspiration Lab

Stephanie Lanier is both the founder of The Inspiration Lab, a local group that helps working women with personal and professional development, and owner and Realtor at The Lanier Property Group Inc. 

Why she's a connector this year: 
In 2020, The Inspiration Lab offered free, online programs to help working women cope with COVID-19, including tips for dealing with stress and anxiety. That includes the creation of a “Self-Care 101 COVID-19 Edition” workbook that discusses principles of self-care and types of stress, as well as the “Crisis Checklist: COVID-19 Edition” and a small business self-care workbook. 

The Inspiration Lab also created blogs and hosted Facebook Live events on the topic. 

This year, Lanier started the Land & Launch Fund through The Inspiration Lab to provide micro-grants for female small business owners. The organization raised thousands of dollars to help women with small businesses financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She is also currently leading a Virtual First Impressions series to help working women adapt to the increasingly digital world. 

In her Realtor career, Lanier Property Group merged with Intracoastal Realty in February, allowing the team to serve more buyers and sellers in the area. 

No. of The Inspiration Lab members: About 300 

Isabela Luján & Gustavo Rodea

Co-Founders, Latin American Business Council

Gustavo Rodea is the owner of Mattress and Furniture Liquidators in Wilmington, and Isabela Luján is a real estate agent for Coldwell Banker. They are co-founders of the region’s new Latin American Business Council. 

Why they're connectors this year:
Seeing a need for an organization that represents and serves the local Latin American business community, Rodea and Luján co-founded the Latin American Business Council in conjunction with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. 

The council’s goal is to provide equal access to economic and public policy opportunities for Latin American-owned businesses that could foster, improve and boost the Latin American business population, as well as empower future generations of Latin American business owners and professionals, according to the chamber. 

While the organization was not able to hold in-person meetings due to COVID-19, it has been using its social media to inform the Latin American business community about COVID-19 rules and regulations. 

“We need to have access to all the resources that the rest of this society already has by bringing our representation to the chamber,” Luján said.

Council Board of Directors Makeup: Nine business owners

Megan Mullins

VP of Marketing and Communications, Wilmington Chamber Of Commerce

Megan Mullins joined the Wilmington chamber in 2019. She is responsible for the chamber’s communications strategy and execution.

Why she's a connector this year: 
Mullins’ work this year has helped the chamber create stronger member relationships through digital communications, social media, content marketing and public relations efforts. Part of her work included creating new online networking events for members.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, she designed a “Smart Restart Guide” to help business owners understand how to reopen safely once restrictions on business were lifted. She is also helping ready the chamber for efforts next year to focus on economic recovery work post-COVID-19 to return the business community to pre-pandemic levels.

Mullins will help facilitate the chamber’s focus on workforce development and talent pipeline programs to help upskill or reskill people who were laid off due to the crisis. The chamber will use information from this year’s Cape Fear Talent Survey to guide that work.

She is also working with the new Latin American Business Council to help guide its direction next year.

Other work: Mullins serves on the New Hanover County/City of Wilmington Community Relations Advisory Committee and the city of Wilmington’s Sister Cities Commission.

Tracey & Girard Newkirk

Co-Founders, Genesis Block

Tracey and Girard Newkirk, a husband-and-wife team, are founders of Genesis Block in downtown Wilmington. Tracey Newkirk is also the founder of UNEXO, and Girard Newkirk is the founder of technology company KWH Renewable Energy.

Why they're connectors this year:
Tracey and Girard Newkirk are both experienced business owners who saw a need in the community to establish a co-working space and business incubator that focuses on supporting the local minority and women entrepreneurship community. 

In 2020, the Newkirks founded Genesis Block with offices opening in November in downtown Wilmington. The community collaborative has a three-year goal to help launch companies that will create 400 jobs and add $13 million in investment in the area, the Newkirks said earlier this year. 

They also collaborated and received a grant from CastleBranch and tekMountain to develop the ANZA platform, an app and website with a database on Black-owned businesses in the Cape Fear region that also pairs minority-owned businesses with contractors. 

Genesis Bock hosted Demo Day during the Minority Enterprise Development Week, which showcased eight minority entrepreneurs.

Partnership: ResilNC and Cape Fear Collective for studying the pandemic’s effects on minority businesses.

Read more about the 2020 WilmingtonBiz 100 honorees by clicking here.

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