Staff photo by Joshua Curry
Although Wilmington and Brunswick County are closely connected, Brunswick County was removed from the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area one year ago and the economic effects of the shift on economic development are still unknown.
In March 2013, the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area lost 100,000 people when Brunswick County was transferred to the Myrtle Beach MSA after the 2010 United States Census.
After one year, business development leaders on both sides of the Cape Fear River have seen mixed results from the change.
Wilmington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Connie Majure-Rhett said her fear is national businesses looking to relocate or open new facilities will no longer consider Wilmington a viable option because of the drop in population stated in the MSA statistics.
“The scary thing with the MSA change is we don’t know what impacts there are,” Majure-Rhett said. “Our population has gone down so national companies that are dependent on customers walking through their door are going to look online first and learn about Wilmington through numbers.”
She said many companies now conduct the bulk of their research online about a variety of different locations without informing any of those sites they are being considered.
“Without the Internet there was a lot of one-on-one contact, but now companies relocating look at your websites and know you by numbers before you ever know you are being considered,” she said. “The speculation is that if this had happened before Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s then we probably would not have been considered.”
On the other side of the river, Brunswick County Economic Development Council Executive Director Jim Bradshaw said the county has not seen many negative impacts from the shift.
“I haven’t seen any negative impacts,” Bradshaw said. “[Brunswick County] has brought in a boat manufacturer, a metal fabricator, a surfboard fin producer and a healthcare operation.”
Majure-Rhett said the MSA shift would serve as a disadvantage to Brunswick County, because it would no longer be part of an MSA with a port. But Bradshaw said his organization has continued marketing the area as being in close proximity to infrastructural resources.
“That is because our industrial parks are all in close proximity to the Port of Wilmington, so our economic development market is industrial and our concentration is on those parks that are closer to Wilmington,” he said.
Cape Fear Economic Development Council Board of Directors Member William Graham said the entire region should work together to recruit businesses in spite of the MSA realignment.
“We have entirely ignored the fact that this mistaken redrawing of the MSA lines has excluded Brunswick County,” Graham said. “The offset of that has to be us pulling together and saying that is just counting bodies but what really is here is an economic unit pulling together.”
The next census will be in 2020. Majure-Rhett said the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce would be working to bring Brunswick County back into the Wilmington MSA.
“We have to live with this until probably 2022,” she said. “But starting in about 2017 we will make sure we are loud and talking with [the United States Office of Management and Budget] about their methodology and the rules for determining the MSA next time.”