Cape Fear Region

14 May, 2018

The Cape Fear Region is made up of Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender Counties in southeastern North Carolina. “We have come together only recently as a region to market the assets we have to offer; we want to share those assets with folks looking at making an expansion or move,” says Wilmington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Natalie English.

The Choose Cape Fear campaign’s mission is to raise awareness of the region’s business infrastructure and to “give the private sector the energy and support it needs to create high-paying jobs. Our County Commissioners have identified that as a priority we are to advance every day,” says New Hanover County Manager, Chris Coudriet.

To do all that, the Cape Fear Region has adopted a comprehensive plan (PlanNHC) for ongoing updates to the counties’ land development regulations, its infrastructure and for support of innovation.

The region has secured $1.6 million in funds for a design project to extend water and sewer service along the U.S. Highway 421 corridor. A bid for that construction was approved in December 2017, according to County Commissioner Skip Watkins.

The NC State Port of Wilmington has historically been a cornerstone of the economy of the region; first as a WWII shipbuilding facility and now as a conduit of economic development.

Choose Cape Fear is also partnering with the state-level Innovate NC initiative with a focus on marine and life sciences. “The University of North Carolina Wilmington has a tremendous marine biology program,” says Watkins.

All beaches in North Carolina are publicly owned, and state and federal representatives prioritize coastal storm damage reduction to keep sand on the beaches, which Watkins says, “helps local citizens have great quality of life — and it’s great for tourism.”

In addition to tourism, the region’s citizens have historically worked to attract diverse, innovative manufacturers — such as General Electric Inc and Corning Inc — and to make the region’s permitting process as business-friendly as possible.

“That foundation from all those years ago is helping now,” says New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair, Woody White. “Our new generation of growth is in pharmaceuticals and other bio sciences.”

Pharmaceutical Product Development (PPD) LLC’s world headquarters is in the region, along with facilities for forty other clinical research businesses. Castle Branch, Live Oak Bank and nCino Software all have moved into the region and benefited from its fiber optic internet, transportation and education infrastructure.

Regional political support is behind businesses and education. “This community, hands down, works together,” says Chief Communications Officer of New Hanover County, Ruth Smith.

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington ranks highly in metrics such as number of degrees sought and cost efficiency for students. North Carolina’s community college network “is ranked at or near the top in the country in terms of developing workforce, and ours [Cape Fear Community College] is at or near the top of those,” White says.

“We have the highest increase in salary growth in North Carolina, which means we are a relatively underutilized market. Lots of folks here are very talented and ready to go to work,” says Smith.

“Our public education system increased funding by 21 percent in the last five years,” says White. “This county government is committed to its education and works to retain the best teachers in North Carolina who want to live at the beach.”

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