The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners is putting up a little less than one-third of budgeted economic development dollars for a $92,500 initiative study.
Commissioners announced the collaborative effort — the 2013 Economic Development Planning Initiative — during an Aug. 7 press conference with representatives from the City of Wilmington, Cape Fear Community College and the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
A total of $323,000 is set aside in the economic development budget line item.
During a 20-week period, Jay Garner of Garner Economics, LLC, will hold a series of focus groups along with an electronic survey and an assets and challenges assessment to conduct an honest assessment of the business climate.
“We will be seeking a lot of interest from local constituents,” Garner said.
Recommendations will be made into three brackets: product marketing, product improvement and organization.
Mayor David Cignotti said while Wrightsville Beach government officials may not necessarily be involved in the process, Wrightsville Beach citizens will likely be involved.
“I think the end result’s going to be that most people want clean industry in New Hanover County is my guess,” Cignotti said, giving the lack of public involvement in early talks of a Titan Cement plant as an example. “Now we all know that’s been going on for a good five years. In my personal opinion, this is a good way to make sure whoever we try to pursue in the future, that we know that our citizens want that type of industry. … Our big industry is tourism, movie industry is growing, those things rely on a very clean environment. It’s what brought most of those here in the first place, and we’re not known as an industrial hotbed, and I think it’s going to be crucial to identify the types of industries people think will not pollute our environment and at least preserve what we have.”
Commissioner Thomas Wolfe said the initiative is his pet project and has been in the works since he took his seat as commissioner in December 2012.
“It has to be an all-inclusive thing to be successful,” he said, following the press conference. “… What we’re doing is not anything new. This was done 50 years ago.”
Wolfe gave the Verizon Wireless call center offering jobs to CFCC graduates as an example of what the study could potentially help bring to the area.
The idea was to have someone other than politicians involved to give the study some credence, he added.
“The type of workforce we have doesn’t pay the national scale,” Wolfe said. “Let’s go after the better-paying jobs.”
A 20-member steering committee will deliver input in February 2014 before implementation begins.