WilmingtonBiz Magazine

The WilmingtonBiz 100: The Connectors

By Staff Reports, posted Dec 17, 2021

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

Rhonda Bellamy

Executive Director, The Arts Council of Wilmington/New Hanover County
Rhonda Bellamy has been in the journalism and arts industry for more than 20 years, having been a news director and talk show host for Cumulus Media and then serving as executive director of the local arts council since 2012. The council’s mission is to support artists and arts organizations through public/private partnerships that create jobs, stimulate commerce and showcase the region as an arts destination.
Why she’s a Connector:
Bellamy has been spearheading the Wilmington Rail Trail project, which seeks to transform an unused railbed in Wilmington into a linear urban park with recreational and cultural amenities. The council was awarded $20,000 for the design and engineering study for this project.
The council also facilitated the commission of three public art projects at Wilmington International Airport, including two terrazzo floors and a 21-foot stainless steel live oak tree. Throughout 2021, Bellamy has also continued to oversee Fourth Friday Gallery Nights, which is a monthly celebration of art and culture at various downtown Wilmington galleries. This fall, through the council, Bellamy helped administer $200,000 in city of Wilmington American Rescue Plan funds, as well as $50,000 in Grassroots Arts Program grants and $25,000 in Artist Support Grants.
Other council projects: Sponsored the Carolina Beach Mural Project

Laura Brogdon-Primavera

Director of Programs & Initiatives, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce
Laura Brogdon-Primavera joined the chamber in May in her current role after serving as the manager of programs and operations at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She joined the UNCW CIE in 2013, where she co-founded the Small Business Coalition.
Why she’s a Connector:
Brogdon-Primavera has been involved with the Cape Fear Minority Enterprise Development week since it launched in 2015 and has been integral to its growth and expansion.
At the chamber, she manages all of its events, councils and leadership programs. She oversees concept development, planning, logistics and directs all on- and off-site events for members.
She is involved with the chamber’s 10-month immersive community program Leadership Wilmington. Brogdon-Primavera also serves on the boards of the Cucalorus Film Festival and the Making Waves Foundation, which she chairs.
Since joining the chamber, she has assisted in cultivating entrepreneurs while leaning on the connections she made at the UNCW CIE.

Chakema Clinton-Quintana

VP Inclusive Small Business, Live Oak Bank
In leading Live Oak’s new Small Business Resource Center, which will open soon in downtown Wilmington, Chakema Clinton-Quintana focuses on supporting growth for inclusive small businesses. She also serves on the boards of three nonprofit organizations that aim to empower underserved young people to aspire and achieve.
Why she’s a Connector:
Clinton-Quintana helps individuals and small businesses – especially minority-owned businesses – by connecting them to resources, whether that means a scholarship to attend college, free courses in small business management or financing that enables business growth.
She and the bank understand that, while financial help is essential, individuals and small businesses need support networks if they are to prosper. So Clinton-Quintana matches students with mentors and small businesses with advisers and partners.
Fundraising is another of Clinton-Quintana’s contributions to the community. She’s currently raising money for Work on Wilmington’s 2022 projects and Red Black & Love’s college scholarship fund.
Learning from others: Mistakes are expensive when you’re learning the ropes of business ownership; for minority startups they can be perilous. Clinton-Quintana says that the goal of Live Oak’s Small Business Resource Center is “to create a pathway to avoid costly mistakes while providing business owners with the tools they need for long-term success.”

Brenda Dixon

Founder, Get that Deed LLC
Brenda Dixon is a Realtor and owner of Dixon Realty. She started Get That Deed, a program that aids renters in becoming first-time homeowners by helping them prepare to qualify for a mortgage loan. The no-cost program helps people achieve financial stability and tackles the issue of housing affordability, with mortgages often being lower than monthly rent and individuals getting an asset.
Why she’s a Connector:
As of September, Get That Deed achieved a milestone by helping more than 102 families in the region become first-time homeowners. From Jan. 1 to the end of 2021, it will celebrate helping families purchase over $8 million in real estate.
This includes a 19-year-old who purchased a townhome and a 91-year-old who achieved first-time homeownership. She partners with large- and small-business owners and municipalities to provide information and resources to empower, equip and encourage their employees and residents in obtaining a home.
Dixon is a member of the Cape Fear Chapter of NAWIC, a national association for women in construction. She is currently working to expand the success of Get That Deed by creating a duplicatable system that can take the program nationwide.
Weekly article: Get That Deed and Flip Those Keys

Michealle Gady

Founder, President & CEO, Atrómitos LLC
Michaelle Gady channeled her background in health policy and health and human services when she launched Atrómitos (from the Greek word for “fearless”), a consulting firm that works with clients to “create healthier, more resilient and more equitable communities,” according to the firm.
Why she’s a Connector:
Gady has built a network of seasoned professionals that extends across the country and beyond. These experts bring insights and best practices to organizations – a majority of which are health care focused and are trying to make a difference in their communities. Some clients that were doubtful of their survival five years ago are now thriving, thanks to Atrómitos.
“It is a really challenging time for health care providers and the community organizations that support them and their patients,” Gady said. “To succeed today they need skills and resources outside of their existing clinical toolbox. It requires an informed business strategy, nimble operations and input from different stakeholders. We provide that and facilitate the partnerships that form the basis for future value and population-based care delivery.”
In the pipeline: During 2021, Gady and her staff have seen their clients’ needs in the areas of behavioral health integration and cybersecurity and compliance. They have set a goal to make these disciplines more accessible and affordable in the coming year.

Amy Grant

Owner, Art in Bloom Gallery
After retiring from a career in science for more than 25 years, Amy Grant founded Art in Bloom Gallery in 2015. The gallery highlights national and local talent, including emerging and established artists. Art in Bloom is in downtown Wilmington at 210 Princess St.
Why she’s a Connector:
Through her role leading the gallery, Grant has been able to create partnerships with various local entities, from other galleries to businesses to government. This includes a partnership with the Wilmington Convention Center and other downtown galleries to create an art installation and information about galleries within walking distance from the convention center, a pop-up art exhibit at Mayfaire Town Center, collaboration with Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Center for the Broadway for a Better World grant review, being a member of the Downtown Business Alliance and more.
The goal of these partnerships is to help make Wilmington more visible as an arts destination and highlight the importance of art as an economic agent. Grant also started a student internship program at the gallery and is a board member at DREAMS Center for Arts Education, vice president of the Board of Trustees for Thalian Hall and a member of the New Hanover County Public Library Advisory Board.
Gallery artists: Includes about 44 featured artists, plus seven online artists

Randall Johnson

Executive Director, N.C. Biotechnology Center, Southeastern Region
Randall Johnson advances life sciences technology economic development in the region by connecting with key stakeholders and supporting business growth. He was named president of the N.C. Economic Development Association for the 2020-21 term. At the association, he led to the creation of its foundation in 2020, which he has chaired ever since.
Why he’s a Connector:
Last year, Johnson established the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge, a new initiative that will invite biotechnology innovators in their early stages to apply for monetary awards, intensive monitoring assistance and more. The program will focus on startups with a connection to life sciences.
He also created the NC Coast Clinical Research initiative in partnership with local contract research organizations and UNCW. This initiative helps attract talent to the region and grow companies by strengthening the cohesiveness among the clinical research workforce and increasing the number of physician-led clinical research trials in the region.
He established the NCEDA’s advisory committee, a board with deep local knowledge and connections with varied business, community, education and economic development ties. Through work with the Southeastern Office, the center has invested millions for research and commercialization in the region.
Boards/Mentorships: Wilmington Rotary Club, InnovateNC Advisory Council, MARBIONC Community Advisory Board, tekMountain, UNCW CIE

Isabela Lujan & Gustavo Rodea

Co-Chairs, Latin American Business Council
In 2020, Isabela Lujan, a Realtor, and Gustavo Rodea, a business owner, co-founded the Latin American Business Council to connect local Latin American business owners to resources and highlight their contributions to the local economy.
Why they are Connectors:
While the pandemic slowed down the business council’s launch in 2020, its efforts ramped up this year with the ability to host more community events. Efforts this year include educating others about the impact of the Latin American community on the local culture and economy.
The organization developed and promoted the inclusion of three programs in Spanish as part of the 2021 Minority Enterprise Development Week as well as business seminars in Spanish. It also connected the Latin American community to obtaining financing for their startups or to grow their businesses.
Lujan is working on a database of Latin-owned businesses in the region and she, in collaboration with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, has launched Casa de Oro Property Group, a company focused on helping members of the Latin American community access affordable housing and real estate services. Rodea is a graduate of Leadership Wilmington and is also on the board of the local nonprofit Furniture Finders.
Current project: Study on the local impact of the Latin American community

Heather McWhorter

Director, UNCW CIE (Interim) & SBTDC
Heather McWhorter plays a key role in providing small businesses with the tools they need to launch and succeed. She serves as regional director in Wilmington for the SBTDC, Small Business and Technology Development Center, and as interim director for UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Why she’s a Connector:
As director of the local SBTDC office, McWhorter serves a multi-county region by counseling, training and assisting businesses and entrepreneurs. Through establishing a state SBTDC curriculum used through UNC System campuses, McWhorter streamlined a process for people with big ideas to actualize their dream.
She was named interim director of the CIE in August. At the CIE, McWhorter leads in offering programs, activities and services that foster small business and entrepreneurial innovation in the region.
McWhorter is involved in 1 Million Cups, an entrepreneurial initiative, Alliance for the Blue Economy, and the Coalition, a program that allows businesses to band together to more effectively serve the region.
Number of employees: 14

Sheri Shaw

Assistant Dean for Student Success, UNCW College of Health & Human Services
In addition to her duties at the CHHS, Sheri Shaw serves on the boards of Leadership North Carolina, Willie Stargell Foundation, WILMA Leadership Advisory Board, YWCA Lower Cape Fear and the N.C. Community College Foundation. This year, Shaw was appointed program coordinator for a new program aimed at recruiting and retaining minority students at UNCW.
Why she’s a Connector:
Shaw finds ways to connect individuals and groups to benefit minority professionals and, ultimately, the community as a whole. One example among many is Three Ladies in Wilmington (3LW), an organization designed to welcome Black professionals new to Wilmington and help them connect with other professionals.
Shaw has launched Black Woman Working LLC and moderates a syndicated podcast that enables Black women to share their setbacks and successes in working toward personal and professional goals.
In tandem with Truist SVP Sandy Spiers, Shaw has launched Coffee and Conversations, an intimate group of women from different fields and backgrounds who meet for solution-focused discussions about race and diversity challenges.
Creating campus networks: In her position at UNCW’s CHHS, Shaw has worked to increase student engagement, expand retention initiatives and organize new outreach initiatives to connect in-person, online and extension students within the college, across campus and out in the community.

Linda Rawley Thompson

Chief Diversity & Equity Officer, New Hanover County
After working with the Wilmington Police Department in community and media relations for 25 years, Linda Rawley Thompson in 2020 took the role of chief diversity and equity officer at the then-newly formed NHC Office of Diversity. The office was established with a mission to promote an inclusive and fair work environment and build a culture and community where people are respected and valued.
Why she’s a Connector:
In the past year, Thompson conducted a 120-day diversity and equity assessment for the county. In her role, she also launched a series of webinars to discuss race, reconciliation and community healing.
This year, the office created the first Equity Awards event to highlight and honor individuals in the region for their efforts in expanding and elevating equity and diversity. Thompson has been leading efforts at the office to provide free Implicit Bias Training for businesses and organizations in the county.
The office helped increase business opportunities for the Minority & Women Business Enterprise Program. Thompson also helped lead outreach efforts to set up COVID-19 vaccination sites for marginalized communities at eight different locations locally.
Also in 2021: Worked on a series of events for 1898 Commemoration in November

Meade Van Pelt

Executive Director, The Jo Ann Carter Harrelson Center
For the past five years, Meade Van Pelt has overseen The Harrelson Center, a nexus of nonprofits housed in the former county jail facility in downtown Wilmington. She also serves on three nonprofit boards to help her understand disparities, identify gaps and increase access to services among the community’s underserved population.
Why she’s a Connector:
Think of The Harrelson Center as a generator, powering a variety of social service organizations that address the social determinants of health. Van Pelt and the center’s staff and board provide the fuel to run the generator.
“My role is to effectively develop and provide for a thriving, sustainable network of nonprofits, leading and mobilizing our staff, board and all community resources to build reliable, safe and equitable access for all residents to new connections and unlimited opportunity,” Van Pelt said.
Currently, she leads the center’s Unlock Hope capital campaign to double its campus, and recently adding a 300-person event space. She is committed to securing the final $1 million in 2022.
Vision for the future: Van Pelt wants The Harrelson Center to expand into providing full community service navigation for residents of the city and county. The center has applied to become this region’s Healthy Opportunities pilot, serving as a human service organization in the tri-county area.

Avery Washington II

City Ambassador, Bunker Labs
Avery Washington II is the city ambassador for the Wilmington chapter of Bunker Labs as well as a real estate broker with Wilmington-based Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage’s Hampstead office. He is also the vice president of Suiting Warriors and a member of the board of Cape Fear Collective.
Why he’s a Connector:
Washington, an Army veteran, works with veteran organizations to increase awareness of veteran-owned and/or operated businesses in the Cape Fear region. As city ambassador for Bunker Labs, a nonprofit that provides resources for veteran entrepreneurs, he coordinates events, including marketing them, securing venues and scheduling speakers.
Washington assisted Suiting Warriors with its October Suit Drive to collect professional attire for service members transitioning to the private sector. A board member of nonprofit Cape Fear Collective, Washington assisted the organization in the acquisition of 39 residential units for the creation of a portfolio of affordable housing.
Career: As a broker with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, Washington assists clients in the sale or purchase of homes and income-generating property.

Read more about the 2021 WilmingtonBiz 100 honorees by clicking here.

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