WilmingtonBiz Magazine

The WilmingtonBiz 100: The Connectors

By Staff Reports, posted Dec 16, 2022

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

Rhonda Bellamy

President & CEO, Arts Council of Wilmington/New Hanover County

Rhonda Bellamy has been the head of the Arts Council of Wilmington/New Hanover County since 2012. She was previously a news director and talk show host for Cumulus Media. 


The organization Bellamy leads is the arts agency of record for the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County.  

She said some of her organization’s main tasks are to provide a stream of funding to support artists and arts organizations in the city and county; promote the arts as essential to economic development; market Wilmington and New Hanover County’s arts and cultural assets; advocate for the arts at the local, state and national levels; and facilitate communication and collaboration within the arts community.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: A few examples of Bellamy’s and the arts council’s impacts include spearheading development of the Wilmington Rail Trail, organizing the local coordination of the national Arts & Economic Prosperity study, managing Fourth Friday Gallery Nights for local galleries, commissioning a mural for the new Novant Health Neurosciences  Institute in Wilmington and serving on the board of the Wilmington Area Hospitality Association.

Lannin Braddock

COO, The Braddock Group

Lannin Braddock is responsible for all the operations of The Braddock Group, a real estate company she co-founded with her husband, Michael, in 2019. The firm has recently been involved in numerous high-profile developments.

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: Currently, Braddock said she is part of reshaping the supply chain for the cold-storage industry by helping Braddock Group clients buy and lease three facilities, working to bring the first and only hotel to Wilmington International Airport (ILM) and chairing one of the largest commercial real estate networking and awards events in the area through Cape Fear Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW). 

Braddock recently represented CIL LLC in its purchase of 805 N. 23rd St., a 70,000-square-foot partially refrigerated cold storage building. She also serves as a development consultant for the 750,000-square-foot cold storage facility under construction at ILM, as well as the new $40 million Crowne Plaza hotel coming to the airport. 

Braddock, who has 15 years of commercial real estate experience, honed her skills working at Brunswick Forest in leasing, sales and project management for the major master-planned development’s commercial area, The Villages at Brunswick Forest. Her property management portfolio included about 1 million square feet of retail, office and industrial buildings.

She also chairs the Novant Brunswick Medical Foundation.

INDUSTRY ADVOCATE: As chair of the Cape Fear CREW Awards of Excellence, Braddock leads a team procuring submissions for nominations, helping to secure partners/sponsorships for the program and assists in coordinating the marketing and advertising.

Anne Brennan

Executive Director, Cameron Art Museum

Anne Brennan was named executive director of the Cameron Art Museum in 2011 after serving as assistant director and curator at the museum. 

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: From her time as assistant director, when she launched the Museum School to offer art classes to area residents, to her current tenure at the helm of the museum, Brennan has helped to establish CAM as a local institution built on community engagement. Because the museum is funded through private gifts, its status as a cultural gathering place is crucial to its success – and under Brennan, CAM has established itself as an indispensable feature of the cultural fabric of Southeastern North Carolina.

Brennan has deep roots in the Wilmington art community, dating back to visits to what was then St. John’s Art Gallery in downtown Wilmington as a child. An artist herself, she secured a position on the museum’s staff in 1990 after a stint of volunteering to get her foot in the door. 

MILESTONE EXHIBIT: The museum is celebrating 60 years of operation, 20 of which have been in its current home on South 17th Street. To celebrate, the museum is hosting a commemorative exhibition of its history and the artists it has displayed titled 60+ running through April 2023.

Chakema Clinton-Quintana

VP-Inclusive Small Business, Live Oak Bank
Chakema Clinton-Quintana leads a Live Oak Bank initiative to serve underserved small business owners and individuals who aspire to become entrepreneurs. 

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: The bank opened Channel, a small business center at 106 Market St. in downtown Wilmington, in November 2021, and since then, Clinton-Quintana has led the center as it has reached hundreds of small business owners in the Wilmington area. She has “created a foundation of trust while providing coaching, community and capital,” Clinton-Quintana said, as well as providing resources such as financial literacy, business formation, marketing, networking, roundtable events and collaboration with local partners. 

One of her goals is to focus on strengthening and supporting inclusive small business growth through research, job-creation programs, capital allocation, mentorship and programming.

Clinton-Quintana has a degree in business management with a concentration in management from Strayer University in Herndon, Virginia, as well as nine years of experience as a bank compliance officer. She held compliance and security positions at both Live Oak Bank and RBC Bank in Raleigh. 

ACCOLADES: Clinton-Quintana’s work has garnered numerous awards and recognition, including a New Hanover County Business Equity Award for 2022. She graduated from the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Wilmington 2021-22 program, was named co-chair of the chamber’s African American Business Council and was a 2021 WILMA’s Women to Watch Awards finalist. 

Jerry Coleman

Director, CFCC Small Business Center

As director of Cape Fear Community College’s Small Business Center, Jerry Coleman oversees program services, sponsorships and coordination with local community initiatives all with the goal of helping small businesses. To achieve this, Coleman partners with various organizations including the U.S. Small Business Administration, N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Department of Agriculture, N.C. Military Business Center and others.

WHY HE’S A CONNECTOR: In his role, which is also as senior director of business and industry services, Coleman connects entrepreneurs with the resources they need to launch and grow their businesses. 

In the fiscal year 2020-21, CFCC’s Small Business Center provided confidential one-on-one business counseling to 222 prospective and existing business owners, which resulted in 39 new business startups creating 292 new jobs in our community. The organization also provided 150 business seminars on a variety of business topics and best practices for more than 2,600 small business owners in New Hanover and Pender counties. 

During his tenure at the center, Coleman has mentored 1,438 entrepreneurs in the community. This year, Coleman also partnered with Genesis Block to launch an incubator kitchen for entrepreneurs.

PARTNERING UP: In 2022, Coleman received Carolina Small Business Development Fund’s (CSBDF) Partner of the Year award for going above and beyond in supporting small businesses and CSBDF throughout the year. 

Joe Conway

Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, City of Wilmington

The city of Wilmington tapped Joe Conway for the newly created position of chief equity and inclusion officer in January of this year. The position resulted from the city’s Rise Together initiative, launched in August 2020. Conway joined city staff after more than a decade with Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where he had most recently served as director of health equity and human experience.

WHY HE’S A CONNECTOR: Conway works with city departments to promote diversity and inclusion in city services and practices and through education and training initiatives for city employees to ensure a fair workplace. 

Additionally, Conway is tasked with helping the city in its current efforts to finalize a strategic plan built upon awareness of equitable allocation of resources for capital improvement projects, community outreach efforts and business development opportunities. His work also extends outside the realm of city government with initiatives fostered through relationships with other individuals and organizations. 

For example, this year he worked with the New Hanover County Office of Diversity & Equity to host CONNECT, a multicultural networking event as well as with UNCW’s chief diversity officer for the 2022 Institute on Truth, Racial Health and Transformation. 

Conway is also a member of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce as well as the African American Business Council and the Latin American Business Council. 

TRAINING TOPICS: Conway provided education and coaching on implicit bias to area Realtors this year to help real estate agents mitigate bias and better relate to minority clients.

Bill Early

Executive Director, Brunswick Business & Industry Development 

Longtime economic developer Bill Early joined Brunswick Business & Industry Development (BBID) in 2018. The group is a nonprofit agency that contracts with Brunswick County for business development services. 

WHY HE’S A CONNECTOR: For over 30 years, Early has worked in the field of economic development with extensive experience in rural communities. Before joining Brunswick County, Early worked for the Hertford County Economic Development Commission for 20 years, most recently serving as executive director, bringing in 64 business recruitment or expansion projects, over $1.1 billion in investments and nearly 2,000 jobs. 

Pacon Manufacturing in Leland was one of Early’s first major local projects, which now has over 200 employees. 

Brunswick County saw the International Commerce Park come to life this year after a decade of inactivity. This megasite – one of just seven statewide – has been a top priority of Early’s since he joined BBID. The BBID team has long advocated for the construction of speculative buildings to help meet industry needs in an area where eligible sites are lacking and for the installation of infrastructure to make sites more marketable. 

With the construction of the International Commerce Center, the speculative building attracted Precision Swiss Products, Tri-Tech Forensics and Lowe’s Companies as tenants. 

FUTURE FOCUS: Early said that BBID plans to continue working with Brunswick County government on increasing water and wastewater capacity, as well as with potential investors and developers to build additional spec building space to increase the county’s product availability. 

Shane Fernando

VP of Advancement and the Arts, CFCC Wilson Center

Shane Fernando was appointed vice president of advancement and the arts at CFCC in 2020 after six years of leadership at the Wilson Center. He still serves as executive director and artistic director of the Wilson Center and oversees fundraising and donor relations for the college, which is up 200% over pre-COVID levels in the past two years.
WHY HE’S A CONNECTOR: Fernando shepherded the Wilson Center through the pandemic and the venue’s schedule of national Broadway tours and concerts has fully rebounded from the pandemic. 

A major focus of Fernando’s is to engage CFCC students in programs and opportunities at the Wilson Center, where students work at the shows and perform onstage in productions of the CFCC drama department. Furthermore, Fernando has overseen fundraising efforts totaling more than $2 million for an expansion of the Wilson Center to include a Residency and Events Center to expand the organization’s arts education footprint. 

OFF CAMPUS: In addition to his role at CFCC, Fernando serves in many community and national roles for the arts, including as a trustee for the Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts, board member for Arts North Carolina and member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

James Flock 

Chair, Cape Fear Manufacturing Partnership 

James “Jim” Flock is general manager of HSM Machine Works/MA Group, a manufacturer of landing gear components for the aviation and aerospace business in Brunswick County. Frustrated with the pitfalls of workforce recruitment initiatives and unsavory national manufacturing industry trends, Flock along with a group of other local manufacturing officials formed the Cape Fear Manufacturing Partnership (CFMP). 


The group sprung out of conversations from the Cape Fear Workforce Development Board and officially formed in 2021, with Flock as its leader. Since formalizing, the partnership has grown to represent more than 40 businesses in the region. Putting competition aside, the partnership convenes to jointly advocate for education- or policy-based changes that could help advance the industry. The diverse group aims to improve the perception of manufacturing jobs, which can be high-paying opportunities, and offer viable career paths for locals to find longevity in the market. Through working with regional educational institutions, the group hopes to more closely align students with local opportunities.

AEROSPACE MINDED: With nearly 40 years of experience in the sector, Flock has helped HSM Machine Works maintain and attract new business. HSM is currently working on several military projects that will help increase high-tech job opportunities in the region.

Constance Foreman, Crystal Pellam & Sheri Shaw

Founders, Three Ladies in Wilmington

Constance Foreman, Crystal Pellam and Sheri Shaw are co-founders of the local professional networking group Three Ladies in Wilmington.

With full-time jobs, the trio decided to start the group with the goal to connect the professional Black community in the region to each other and to local businesses.

WHY THEY’RE CONNECTORS: To be able to carry out their mission of connecting professionals, Foreman, Pellam and Shaw work to host events that are hosted in partnership with local businesses. Since the group’s formation in 2019, they have organized over 10 social gatherings for Black professionals in Wilmington. Events hosted this year by the group include Thirsty Thursdays, Denim Day Party, Sneaker Ball, and more. 

In 2022, the group received recognition from New Hanover County by receiving the Community Equity Award during the second annual Equity Awards. In addition, the group also collaborates with other organizations by supporting other minority-led initiatives including collaborating with the N.C. Black Film Festival held in Wilmington. The group has the goal to continue to grow its resources and provide recommendations for Black professionals moving to the area.

NETWORKING: Since its start, Three Ladies in Wilmington has created a social network for over 500 Black professionals in the Southeastern North Carolina area. 

Beth Gaglione

Branch Director, Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC

As director of the food bank’s Wilmington branch, Gaglione manages the nonprofit’s work to provide food to those in need and build solutions to end hunger in four counties in Southeastern North Carolina: Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender.

WHY SHE IS A CONNECTOR: To fulfill the organization’s mission to nourish people in need, Gaglione is tasked with navigating partnerships with the community as well as managing fundraising campaigns. 

This includes a new 35,000-square-foot facility to accommodate the distribution of an additional 4.2 million pounds of food annually, a 37% increase in the overall distribution. 

Gaglione was a part of a small team responsible for raising the funds necessary to build the new food bank, which required investments totaling $12 million. 

The new food bank in Wilmington will include a commercial kitchen to produce 5,000 hot meals a day, a fresh food marketplace, a volunteer center and a 30,000-square-foot warehouse. Gaglione and the team secured a $1 million donation from nCino for the project, which is under construction at 1000 Greenfield St. and is slated to be called the nCino Hunger Solutions Center.

In 2022, Gaglione was also able to help acquire $150,000 from the Wilmington City Council’s disbursement of ARPA funding, which the organization will use to assist its operation at the new facility.

OVER THE YEARS: Since 2002, the Wilmington food bank has provided more than 150 million pounds of food across its service area, an investment valued at nearly $200 million.

Anne Gardner

CEO, Cape Fear Realtors

Anne Gardner was hired for the organization’s top post by Cape Fear Realtors in 2019. Gardner was previously CEO of the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors. She has more than two decades of experience in leadership in real estate associations.


Gardner leads an organization with more than 3,600 Realtor members across a six-county region of Southeastern North Carolina and the city of Wilmington. Since 2020, she has successfully lobbied to ensure real estate was deemed an essential service during the pandemic, modernized transactions with the successful passage of remote notarization led by NC Realtors and lead the organization through an 18-month repair and renovation of The Terraces on Sir Tyler, a more than 25,000-square-foot association headquarters, office building and premium event venue. 

Gardner said a persistent lack of housing affordable for the area’s workforce of teachers, firefighters, police officers and supporting medical professionals resulted in a new initiative through the organization’s Wilmington Realtors Foundation to develop a community of 48 single-family homes targeted to this group. The foundation is launching a capital campaign to fund the project, Pierson Pointe, named after the founding president of the WRF, John Pierson.

CENTENNIAL OF SERVICE: Gardner has been leading a yearlong series of events celebrating the role of real estate professionals in the Cape Fear region, honoring the founding of CFR in April 1922. 

Johnny Griffin

Executive Director, Wilmington Regional Film Commission 

Industry veteran Johnny Griffin has ridden the many waves of filmmaking in the Wilmington area. As the sole employee and executive director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, Griffin helps connect production companies and other industry players to local opportunities to help foster a thriving film scene for the local workforce. 


Griffin oversees all activity – marketing, recruitment, operations and daily inquiries – and serves as the local point of contact for nearly all film-related matters. 

He has maintained an Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) membership for 23 years and Certified Film Commissioner status for 13 years. Griffin also previously served as a member of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Advisory Council on Film, Television and Digital Streaming. 

INDUSTRY REBOUND: After the evaporation of film opportunities following the sunsetting of a state incentive program in 2014, the Wilmington scene has made a hearty rebound, netting an estimated $311 million in the region in 2021. This year, while activity hasn’t been quite as voracious as the post-pandemic build-up, the region could see $225 million in spending, according to the latest estimates. As several local productions continue their work on current projects, Griffin anticipates the arrival of new productions in 2023.

Josh Hallingse

VP, Small Business Development & Business Retention, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce 

Josh Hallingse is the first employee of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s recently added small business development and business retention division that New Hanover County first funded last year.

WHY HE’S A CONNECTOR: North Carolina, Hallingse worked in his hometown as the executive director of the Transylvania Economic Alliance and began his role with the Wilmington chamber in November 2021. 

Since 2008, Hallingse has served on the N.C. Economic Development Board of Directors. 

In Wilmington, he has championed existing small business owners and entrepreneurs and has worked to enhance a business environment that attracts new ventures to the area. Through the chamber’s program, Hallingse works with businesses with fewer than 25 employees.  

DEALMAKING: In June, the N.C. Economic Development Association awarded its 2021 Smaller Market Deal of the Year to Hallingse for his work in attracting Raybow Pharmaceutical to Brevard, which brought wages that are double the local average. The life science deal brought more than 70 jobs to the small rural town. 

Pam Hardy

District Manager, Duke Energy

Duke Energy’s district manager Pam Hardy took over the reins of the Wilmington office in October 2021. Hardy began her career in the field as a customer service specialist for a Duke Energy predecessor and has remained with the company her entire career, previously working in corporate communication in the customer service division.

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: As district manager, Hardy maintains relationships with top local government officials in the region and helps oversee Duke Energy’s local philanthropic mission. Her coverage of government and community relations includes New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Columbus, Bladen and Sampson counties.

In this role, Hardy brings together local officials and emergency management leaders for storm resiliency and preparation events to foster enhanced teamwork during major storms.  

After living for nearly 30 years in Raleigh, Hardy relocated to Wilmington last year for the role. Since the move, Hardy has already plugged into several local organizations, including serving as a mentor in WILMA’s Women to Watch Leadership Initiative and as a member of the CFCC Electrical Lineworker Advisory Board. She also serves as a mentor within the Duke Energy Employee Resource Group.

COMMUNICATIONS EXPERT: Hardy attended Shaw University in Raleigh for her undergraduate degree in mass communication and holds a master’s in organizational leadership from Waldorf University.

Kim Hufham

President & CEO, New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority

Kim Hufham heads up the New Hanover County Tourism Development Authority, which does business as the more visible name, Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau. She has worked for the organization for 30 years. As New Hanover County tourism indicators surpass pre-COVID levels, Hufham is leading the organization in a shift to new marketing strategies designed to sustain the industry’s growth. 

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: Hufham is an advocate for topics affecting the tourism and hospitality industry, which supports more than 6,000 jobs and generates a local economic impact of more than $930 million. 

She works to link area stakeholders to resources they need from local, state and national organizations to address challenges such as workforce shortages, sustainability and proper use of the room occupancy tax generated from stays in local hotels and short-term rentals. 

Hufham helps to curate tourism dollars and shape the trajectory of one of the county’s leading industries, including the allocation of funds generated by tourism to help replenish the area’s beaches, support the Wilmington Convention Center, fund ocean safety programs and more. 

This year, she is working on a new tourism ambassador certification training program for local hospitality partners and tourism stakeholders.

TRAVEL BUDGET: Hufham oversees a $13 million budget that is utilized primarily for destination marketing activities.

Correction: This version updates the description of the Wilmington and Beaches Convention & Visitors Bureau’s new ambassador program.

Velva Jenkins

CEO, YWCA Lower Cape Fear

Velva Jenkins was called out of retirement to lead the YWCA Lower Cape Fear in 2019, first as interim CEO and then as the official head of the organization in 2020. Before her retirement, she worked as Brunswick Community College’s vice president of continuing education, economic and workforce development. 

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: Jenkins oversees all community outreach programs at the YWCA that help to empower and advocate for local women and people of color. 

The effects of these programs are felt throughout the area, from free swimming and water safety programs for children to the Grandparent Support Network for grandparents providing full-time care for their grandchildren. Jenkins has led the creation of several initiatives designed specifically to engage the community on issues of racial equity, social justice and health disparities. 

For example, Jenkins envisioned an event in 2020 that would highlight local inequities in health care, a goal brought to life in this year’s Health Summit: Empowering and Building Healthier Communities. Other projects on Jenkin’s plate this year included a Get Out the Vote campaign that helps people register to vote and arranges for transportation to the polls in partnership with the NAACP as well as a new program providing financial literacy education for middle school students.

GRANT GETS: Under Jenkins’ leadership, the local YWCA has secured over $500,000 in grant awards.

Randall Johnson

Executive Director, N.C. Biotechnology Center, Southeastern Office 

Serving the growing biotechnology industry in North Carolina, Randall Johnson heads up N.C. Biotechnology Center’s (NCBiotech) southeastern office.


As a board or committee member to dozens of local and statewide organizations, Johnson has helped cultivate growth in the state’s life sciences sector.  

Johnson led the creation of the N.C. Economic Development Association Foundation in 2020 and has served as founding board chair since. He served as president of the N.C. Economic Development Association last year and is currently a board member of the N.C. Community Colleges Foundation. 

Through his efforts at NC Biotech’s Southeastern Office, Johnson has helped attract millions in research and commercialization dollars to the area. Though he said that many of the ongoing recruitment efforts cannot yet be disclosed, Johnson also has recently worked to support several local ventures boosting the local life sciences sector, including Frontier Scientific Solutions and Quality Chemical Laboratories.  

GOING STATEWIDE: Johnson established the NC BIONEER Venture Challenge in 2020 with the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Earlier this year, the challenge launched statewide across all five of NC Biotech’s offices, offering startups intensive mentorship and $200,000 in combined grant opportunities.

Stephanie Lanier

Founder, Lanier Property Group & 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 rapidly growing women’s membership community through which she can connect working women with one another and the greater business community.

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: Lanier has been recognized by her peers and clients for her real estate and networking talents. She was named the Cape Fear Realtors Salesperson of the Year in 2021 and received the Cape Fear CREW Award of Excellence for her dedication to advancing the careers of women in real estate in 2020. 

Lanier 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.

Lanier Property Group was named to the Real Trends list of the top 1.5% of real estate teams in the country and No. 26 for North Carolina. 

In 2021, Lanier launched and hosted The Inspiration Lab Podcast, focused on inspiring women in their personal and professional lives that released 48 episodes in its first season. 

CHAMBER LEADERSHIP: Lanier served as 1st vice chair of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s executive committee and will move into the role of chair next year. 

Heather McWhorter

Director, UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship   
In July, Heather McWhorter officially took over as director of UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) after serving as interim director since August 2021.  
WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: While still acting as interim director, McWhorter continued a role she had held since 2017: serving as the regional center director for the UNCW Small Business and Technology Development Center. This center helps connect businesses in the region to resources.
At the CIE, McWhorter does similar work, with a focus on nurturing early-stage startups to accelerate the local entrepreneurial ecosystem. Last year, the CIE assisted 180 startups and hosted 6,000 participants through its entrepreneurial programming. McWhorter leads the CIE mentorship program, organizes 1MC, serves as chair of the Wilmington Business Coalition and more. 
PENN ROOTS: Before joining the UNCW-based business outreach organizations, McWhorter worked at the Penn State Small Business Development Center for 17 years. She continues to serve as an adjunct professor for the Penn State College of Engineering where she teaches entrepreneurial leadership. McWhorter earned a bachelor’s and master’s from Penn State and also obtained a professional engineering license in environmental engineering from the university. 

Cameron Moore

Executive Officer, Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association

Cameron Moore leads a trade association with nearly 1,500 members. The Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association (WCFHBA) is the second-largest homebuilders association in the state and fourth-largest in the nation, Moore said.

WHY HE’S A CONNECTOR: The WCFHBA “provides services to members that enhance their success and stability,” Moore said. “As the largest trade association in Eastern North Carolina, the association serves as the voice of the building and development industries and strives to advance professionalism and promote community involvement. The WCFHBA is recognized as a positive influential force for responsible growth by protecting property rights and the privilege of homeownership.”

In February, Moore was named the National Association of Home Builders Local Executive Officer of the Year for 2021. 

GIVE BACK: Moore has worked to transform the local association’s philanthropic outlet – The Paul Gregory Foundation, which provides students in the Wilmington area with scholarships and other funding mechanisms to help advance the construction programs and trades in the area. He also reorganized the association’s annual fall golf tournament into a scholarship fundraiser for the foundation called the Swing for Education Golf Tournament. Moore is also establishing a relationship between the WCFHBA and local middle and high schools to engage students and garner interest in the construction and trades industry to address a labor shortage.

Will Rikard

Executive Director, StepUp Wilmington

Will Rikard joined StepUp Wilmington in 2013. Rikard headed up the organization’s rebranding in 2018 from Phoenix Hometown Hires to StepUp Wilmington, and he continues to lead the organization to find new ways to fulfill its mission to help unemployed and under-employed clients find jobs and successfully advance at work. 

WHY HE’S A CONNECTOR: Rikard oversees a full-time staff of 13 people, who together placed clients in 176 jobs in the last fiscal year, a 32% increase from the previous year. 

He created Beyond Talent, the social enterprise job placement division of StepUp Wilmington. StepUp connects people to jobs in various industries including hospitality, manufacturing and health care. 

Soon, the organization will add in-demand tech jobs to the list with the forthcoming DigitalBridge Wilmington, a collaborative project expected to open in StepUp’s new space on North Fourth Street in early 2023. DigitalBridge will provide training and upskilling resources to help people get started with tech companies. In addition to more space for state-of-the-art training facilities, their new office is a standalone space with easy access for clients. Because they aim to improve the economic standing and quality of life for their clients, the organization’s work goes beyond sharing job opportunities with people.

DIGITAL FUNDING: Other partners in DigitalBridge Wilmington include Cape Fear Collective and Wireless Research Center of North Carolina. The program was backed this year by $2.5 million in ARPA funds approved by the Wilmington City Council in August

Scott Satterfield

CEO, Wilmington Business Development  

Since 1995, Scott Satterfield has led Wilmington Business Development, the nonprofit agency supported by membership dues and funding from the city of Wilmington, New Hanover County and Pender County.


Satterfield has long worked behind the scenes to help usher in new businesses to the region in his role at Wilmington Business Development (WBD).

The WBD office has a hand in major industry announcements and keeps a pulse on economic trends to help foster business or public investment to spur enhanced economic opportunities for the region. 

This year, WBD worked on multiple deals at the Pender Commerce Park, including a new Amazon delivery station and a cold storage warehouse from RL Cold. WBD also helped curate deals with New Hanover County to advance two new business parks: the Blue Clay Business Park, which is expected to have infrastructure on-site by next summer, and the proposed Holly Shelter Business Park, a new venture made possible by a private land donation. 

The organization helped secure local and state incentives this year for four companies planning to bring more than 1,000 additional jobs to the region in the coming years: MegaCorp Logistics, Port City Logistics, Live Oak Bank and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

LOCAL TIES:  A local of the area, Satterfield is a graduate of New Hanover High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from UNCW in 1983. 

April Scott

Director, BCC Small Business Center

April Scott has worked with the Brunswick County entrepreneurial ecosystem for six years, which includes working hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs. After a switch from nursing to business, Scott became the executive director of The Carousel Center after 12 years of working with the nonprofit. She then received her MBA from Webster University and joined the BCC SBC in 2016.

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: Over the years, Scott has helped over 90 businesses start and has individually educated more than 3,000 business owners on how to grow their businesses. 

As the director of the center, Scott is responsible for all services through the center including one-on-one counseling and training. The center offers free courses on different aspects of business ownership. She also oversees a co-working and manufacturing incubator in Brunswick County. 
This year, Scott worked on establishing the first Womenpreneur Empowerment Summit, in collaboration with the college and with funds from the NC IDEA Foundation. 
EXPANDING OUTREACH: Over the past two years, she has included an emphasized focus on educating and supporting the Hispanic community including adding Spanish-speaking support at the center and offering a 10-part academy during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Linda Thompson

Chief Diversity & Equity Officer, NHC Office of Diversity
Linda Thompson stepped into the role of chief diversity and equity officer in 2020 after working in community and media relations for the Wilmington Police Department for 25 years.

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: Thompson serves as a liaison for change among underrepresented groups to ensure services, policies and procedures within county government are inclusive and equitable. This includes community outreach in these underserved communities. 

This year, the office’s projects included a new YouTube show for the county’s Hispanic community called Su Condado, as well as co-sponsoring the second annual Hispanic Festival, where attendance grew to more than 2,000 people. 

Other initiatives launched under Thompson’s tenure include a free training session on diversity and equity for nonprofits and small businesses in the community, which trained more than 500 people this year; the annual Equity Awards to highlight and honor individuals in the region for expanding and elevating equity and diversity; and conducting the first Equity Summit of Southeastern NC this year. 

EQUITY EDUCATION: Thompson has also helped with events and activities organized by the county to commemorate the 124th anniversary of the 1898 Wilmington massacre and coup as well as the office’s co-sponsorship of the Bias Inside exhibit at the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science.

Bill Vassar

Executive VP, EUE/Screen Gems

With a half-century of experience in production, Bill Vassar has worked for EUE/Screen Gems Studios since 1998 and was brought in to manage the Wilmington facilities in the early 2000s.


Offering 10 sound stages with 150,000 square feet of space, Screen Gems’ services and facilities helped cement Wilmington’s reputation as Hollywood East. Shortly after taking over the Wilmington studios, Vassar introduced on-site lighting and equipment rental services to productions, which were previously contracting with outside companies.  

Vassar’s career in the area includes well-known highlights, from the long-running Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill to landing big-screen flicks including Ironman 3 and Halloween Kills, among others. After and amid the pandemic, Screen Gems was booked solid and contributed to the record-breaking spending in 2021 that marked the industry’s official local comeback after the major contraction in 2014. While activity was still lulled by the pandemic, Vassar led a $1 million parking lot repaving project and is currently spearheading efforts to future-proof the facility with system upgrades. Screen Gems has recently assisted local productions including The Summer I Turned Pretty and Our Kind of People

FIRST JOBVassar’s lengthy career in media began as a disc jockey at 16. 

Cynthia Walsh

CEO, Brunswick County Association of Realtors

Cynthia Walsh has worked with the Brunswick County Association of Realtors for 16 years, serving as CEO since 2005.

WHY SHE’S A CONNECTOR: In one of the fastest-growing areas of the state and nation where the residential real estate industry is one of the dominant sectors, Walsh leads an organization that connects its 1,200 members to tools and support.

In February last year, she earned the Certified Association Executive accreditation from the American Society of Association Executives.

Under the guidance of Walsh and with the help of five employees, the group continues to monitor and engage counties and municipalities to focus on private property rights.

VOLUNTEERISM: BCAR has coordinated members volunteering and giving to multiple organizations in the area including a Habitat for Humanity build, blood drive, beach sweep and backpacks for schools, to name a few. In October, the association hosted another Feed the Funnel event to package more than 40,000 meals for distribution to Brunswick Family Assistance.

Read more about the 2022 WilmingtonBiz 100 honorees by clicking here.

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