Construction – and negotiations about construction – took place this year on spaces for industrial, commercial and office users. To fill those spaces, various job incentives and training programs looked to attract more employees. Here is a look at economic development trends in the Cape Fear region.
MORE INDUSTRIAL SPACE
Demand for large industrial warehouse space in the area has remained strong this year.
At the Pender Commerce Park, Ramm Capital Partners leased its first speculatively built industrial warehouse there and built a second, 144,900-square-foot building.
Another large-scale industrial structure in the park is set to soon open next door: RL Cold’s $100-million cold storage facility.
On U.S. 421, Edgewater Ventures worked this year on building the second phase of its Wilmington Trade Center. Coastal Carrier and PaperFoam (shown above
) leased the first 157,600-square-foot building, which opened in early 2022.
In Brunswick County, the International Commerce Center is planned to expand by 285,020 square feet.
A lack of readily available industrial space previously has been a barrier in the Wilmington region, economic development officials have said. But the arrival of projects delivered by Ramm, Edgewater Ventures and Cameron Management, as well as recent infrastructure progress on sites owned by New Hanover County, has added to the inventory and number of companies leasing the spaces.
While traction continues on the region’s larger industrial parks, developers also are zooming onto smaller footprints to meet a different user need.
For example, this summer, New Hanover County commissioners approved Jarrod Covington’s plan to rezone roughly 18 acres off Hermitage Road to make way for a business park.
The proposal includes up to 10 buildings, totaling 90,500 square feet of industrial flex space and 5,000 square feet of business services space.
Another example is in Brunswick County where the Ploof Road Business Park nears completion in Leland. It includes 5,000-square-foot warehouse buildings, each with small office space and fenced laydown yards.
Developed by Nathan Sanders, the park caters to small business owners representing a variety of sectors.
“It seems like the trend in Brunswick County has been towards larger buildings with several different suites of 10,000 to 20,000 square feet each. Over here is much more geared towards the small businesses,” said Laurence Nadeau, a broker with Creative Commercial Properties. “Once you get above 5,000 (square feet), it really cancels out a lot of the smaller mom-and-pop folks.”
Hiring bolstered by local- and state-paid financial incentives took place in a variety of industries this year.
In August, Brunswick County leaders approved up to $250,000 in incentives for a company that’s promised to bring 160 new jobs to Leland.
Industrial Reliability and Repair LLC, an Ohio-based industrial construction company, (shown left
) will have to add at least 160 new jobs with an average pay of $46,500 to receive up to $250,000 in incentives for building upgrades, according to a five-year agreement with Brunswick County.
The company plans to establish its manufacturing facility in Leland Innovation Park, where the firm will make equipment repair parts.
Hiring tied to incentives offered last year by Wilmington and New Hanover County continued including at GE Hitachi, which aims to hire 485 employees at an average salary of $131,000 in the coming years (it added more than 150 employees in Wilmington this year, according to company officials); Live Oak Bank, which is eligible for incentives for its plan to add 204 employees at an average salary of $113,000 over a 12-year period; MegaCorp Logistics, for 300 new, mostly sales-related jobs; and Port City Logistics with 75 jobs at its new warehouse near the Port of Wilmington.
TRAINING IN FOCUS
Workforce training initiatives that target specific industries in the area range from film to health care.
Efforts to address nursing shortages include Cape Fear Community College’s move into the former Bank of America building in downtown Wilmington. The renovated space allows CFCC to expand its nursing and other allied health programs. By early next year, the first floor of the building at 319 N. Third St. is expected to house two large lecture halls for CFCC’s health and human services programs. Half of each of the second and third floors will soon be transformed into labs with teaching and office suites.
New Hanover County purchased the five-story building for about $11.4 million earlier this year. CFCC will lease the property from the county for nine years at $1 annually; eventually, the college will own it outright.
In the film industry, which had experienced a significant bump locally in recent years, workforce training continues even amidst a writers and actors strike.
Wilmington’s film workforce training initiative, a project of the Film Partnership of North Carolina, was established with a $400,000 grant from American Rescue Plan Act funds. The training program aims to expand and diversify the local film crew.
Several large-scale, mixed-use developments are in discussion for downtown Wilmington.
One is the proposed $57 million Project Grace redevelopment for the county-owned block bordered by Chestnut, Grace, Second and North Third streets. The proposal, on which New Hanover County has partnered with Cape Fear Development, includes a new, 95,000-square-foot facility housing the Cape Fear Museum and a new library main branch, along with potential residential and commercial space. As of press time, county officials were waiting to see if the Local Government Commission would include the project at its Sept. 12 meeting to clear the way for the county to issue debt for construction on the project’s public portion.
Meanwhile, Wilmington city leaders are again negotiating with East West Partners to finalize a new purchase and development agreement for the Northern Gateway Project, a long-awaited project that could bring new apartments, a hotel and shopping to the northern end of downtown Wilmington.