Print
WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Sound Off: Offshore Winds Can Drive Bluetech

By Glenn Anderson, posted Mar 24, 2022
Glenn Anderson
For the past decade, the question of what is the “next big thing” for Wilmington has come and gone. Some like that question, and some don’t.  
 
But the economic impact of the COVID pandemic now forces us to answer that question. It has been well-recognized that the greater Wilmington region’s economy is overly dependent on beach tourism. 

Economic down cycles have disproportionately harsher impacts on coastal tourism-dependent communities. Our young adults move away to find better careers instead of putting their energy into their future in our community, and it encourages a significant income inequality gap between those who can “afford” the beach lifestyle and those who work to support it.
 
Now, that “next big thing” has washed up at the front door, literally, renewable offshore wind energy – with it, the opportunity to catalyze a broader-based Blue technologies industry cluster providing a wealth of inclusive, high-paying trade and professional jobs.  
 
In May, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will open the licensing auctions for wind farm development offshore in federal waters. The Wilmington-East tract is part of a larger designated wind area that reaches down to Charleston.
 
According to studies commissioned by the N.C. Department of Commerce, the estimated impact of development of the Wilmington-East wind tract would create up to 1,000 new jobs with an average wage of $80,000. Over the three years estimated for construction build out, That would be a $250,000,000 infusion of paycheck wages into the regional Cape Fear economy annually during the initial offshore construction period. Those local paycheck dollars will provide counties and cities additional tax revenues to invest in the community amenities we all want to see get done.
 
So, what is the OSW (offshore wind) build-out process for our community going to look like?
 
OSW is a long-term commitment both for the wind developers and the community. There are four distinct phases:
 
PHASE I: OSW is very port-centric in the early stages. The wind turbine components must be manufactured dockside because they are so large. There are N.C. Ports properties on the Cape Fear River and in Morehead City that are being considered for these terminal facilities. The estimated timeline for port construction upgrades is about three years.
 
PHASE II: Then there is the actual offshore construction phase. Depending on the federal government construction permits, the timeline is three to five years. It is in this phase that the new jobs and paychecks really start rolling in.
 
PHASE III: Once the wind turbines are up and operating there is a 25-year operations and maintenance phase to monitor and manage the wind fields. This is the time where the greatest entrepreneurial and innovation activity occurs, creating more spin-out companies servicing the OSW industry and creating more jobs.
 
Cape Fear Ocean Labs estimates that during this phase that an additional $250 million in investment could be attracted to Southeastern North Carolina, within a decade, using the OSW catalyst to drive building a broader BlueTech business cluster ecosystem unique in North Carolina.
 
PHASE IV: During this phase, the wind fields are actually torn down; the components are returned to shore, cut up and then sent inland for recycling. Then the wind field is again reconstructed. This phase takes about six years.
 
As you can see, this is an almost 40-year process that then goes forward in perpetuity. That requires an organized effort to be “site-ready” so that the full economic prosperity benefits can be realized and aligned with community values. All four phases create deep opportunities for local business growth and create new entrepreneurial BlueTech businesses to serve national and global innovation markets.  
 
Our regional leadership needs to act upon the opportunity. Proactive engagement and policymaking will allow us to influence events to maximum benefit for the region.  
 
Both U.S. and European OSW wind developers are already setting up satellite offices in Hampton Roads, Virginia. They are also already visiting Wilmington looking for partners to do business with.  
 
The time is now.  
 
The Cape Fear region is especially well-suited for BlueTech businesses, making it attractive for existing BlueTech companies to set up operations and for nurturing related startups.  
 
A stronger competitive BlueTech and marine industries business cluster creates more permanent local paychecks that cannot be bought out and moved away, unlike other types of tech.  
 
Almost 300 years ago, Wilmington was founded based on the blue technologies of the bygone era of tall sailing ships. Sea captains were the original entrepreneurs, the merchants funding them the first venture capitalists and their crews the first global explorers.  
 
That opportunity has now come again with advances in Blue technologies. The opportunity of OSW and its BlueTech follow-on effects can give our children an exciting, well-paying future to build a New World for themselves – here.  
 
As the saying goes, “Fortune favors the bold.”
Glenn Anderson is the chair of Cape Fear Ocean Labs (capefearoceanlabs.org). He is a former banker, executive-level consultant and served 12 years in the Washington state legislature.
Ico insights

INSIGHTS

SPONSORS' CONTENT
Billcoleman lopw headshot

Reaping The Benefits Of Patience

Bill Coleman - Live Oak Private Wealth
Kellyerola headshot lcflc

Hospice Care in Nursing Homes Provides Needed Specialized Care

Kelly Erola - Lower Cape Fear LifeCare
Brookeskipper saltair headshot2

Improving Indoor Air Quality Requires a Systematic Approach

Brooke Skipper - Salt Air

Trending News

Tenants Operating And Staffed At New Brunswick Industrial Center

Johanna F. Still - Sep 26, 2022

Hurricane Ian Impacts Could Reach Carolinas On Thursday

Staff Reports - Sep 27, 2022

Vantaca Receives Funding To Accelerate Growth

Johanna Cano - Sep 27, 2022

Hamrick Joins Business Journal Newsroom

Staff Reports - Sep 27, 2022

CFCC Announces Appointment Of Vice President Of Academic Affairs

Staff Reports - Sep 27, 2022

In The Current Issue

MADE Winners: Arts Category

Winners in the Arts Category are Anchor Hardwoods, Savage Surfboards and The Wall Printer....


MADE Winners: Manufacturer Category

The Manufacturer Category includes companies that mass-produce goods mass-produced in the Wilmington area....


Races Broaden Visitor Base

Athletic events in Wilmington including marathons and triathlons bring in millions of dollars to the area....

Book On Business

The 2022 WilmingtonBiz: Book on Business is an annual publication showcasing the Wilmington region as a center of business.

Order Your Copy Today!


Galleries

Videos

Trying to Grow a Business?
2020 Health Care Heroes
2020 WilmingtonBiz 100