Initiatives target local business growth

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Creating confusion among local board and committee members, New Hanover County and the University of North Carolina Wilmington are working on two separate but related initiatives to bring business to Wilmington.

Announced in August 2013, New Hanover County hired Garner Economics, LLC, to conduct a $92,500 economic development study for the 2013 Economic Development Planning Initiative in partnership with the City of Wilmington.

Another initiative by UNCW, the Brand Identity Leadership Team, was presented to the city and county in August 2013 and later to the beach towns, receiving several criticisms. The team includes about 18 representatives working toward a goal of economic growth by creating a regional identity.

Beth Schrader, county strategy and policy manager, is a facilitator and coordinator for both initiatives but does not serve in formal capacities.

“They’re structured to do slightly different things,” Schrader said. “… They are related, and the intent is the branding identity will help us do an effective job of marketing ourselves to these industries and subclusters that we want to bring in, both the employers and the employees.”

2013 Economic Development Planning Initiative

The county initiative includes a steering committee of about 15 members, with Dr. Ted Spring, president of Cape Fear Community College, and Dr. Gary Miller, chancellor of the University of North Carolina Wilmington, serving as co-chairs.

The steering committee is made up of representatives from the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Cape Fear Economic Development Council, Cape Fear River Watch, New Hanover County, and the City of Wilmington among other organizations. 

Those representatives chose members to populate six focus groups to gather information and present their impressions about the county and how it rates as a business partner, said Tim Burgess, assistant county manager.

After looking at assets, ordinances, infrastructure and land availability, Burgess said Garner, who is an economist and site selector, would bring a report back to the county in March. Following a report will be a decision about how to handle the recommendations or implementation phase of the study.

“He will come back with recommendations as to what types of industries … would be a good fit if we were trying to attract industry based on what’s here, probably looking at what changes we might have to make in order to enhance our economic development potential based on what challenges that we have,” Burgess said.

Brand Identity Leadership Team

About 18 BILT members represent a broad range of companies, from PPD and Castle Branch to insurance and real estate agents and municipality representatives.

Dr. Thomas Porter, chair of the UNCW department of marketing, conducted recently released survey research and was asked to stay on as a nonvoting member. 

“Ultimately, this isn’t a brand for tourism, this is a brand for economic purposes,” Porter said. “The bottom line is what can we do to bring in business to the area that will increase the economic success of the area and produce more jobs.”

One of the key realizations from the survey results, with 1,669 partial respondents and 1,029 full respondents, was that there was not one name that stood out, he said.

“There’s not a real consistency in how people refer to the area, which kind of shows how important maybe branding would be when people in the area don’t really think about it in the same way,” Porter said.

The projected timeline for brand identification is April 2014 with a marketing plan created by July 2014.

Alfred White, BILT chairman and Wells Fargo small business banker, said BILT has been charged with identifying and attempting to create a brand identity for what is known currently as the Wilmington, Cape Fear, Southeastern North Carolina region.

He said the team, which is in the early stages, has been tasked with creating two to four strong presentations to come before the public and for approval, but that he is unsure of how it will be presented.

“It would be nice if Wilmington already had a clear identity, but it doesn’t, and that’s why the branding is something the Wilmington area is looking at as well as cities and regions and states across the whole country and world in fact,” Porter said. “Place branding is becoming a really, really hot topic for that very reason.”


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