New Hanover County’s economic future is bright, but needs polishing

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Much has changed since New Hanover County passed its last economic roadmap in 2015, including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hanover’s new leaders were recently given updated targets for the county in a new economic report prepared by business consultancy firm Greenfield. The analysis outlines the county’s strengths and past growth as well as opportunities and challenges for future economic growth.

The newly presented report is expected to update the Gardner Report, a set of economic development goals that was commissioned by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in 2014.

Some of the report’s goals — like extending water and sewer lines along US 421 to spur business growth — have been achieved while others are still in progress or have been postponed.

New Hanover County is in good economic shape, having received a AAA bond rating from Moody’s since 2010 and a AAA rating from S&P since 2013.

The bond’s rating is based on the county’s strong economy, broad tax base, financial flexibility, manageable fixed cost burden and strong management practices and policies, according to a 2021 news release announcing the rating. .

As New Hanover’s economy continues to thrive, here are four takeaways from New Hanover County’s updated economic report, released last month:

An unbalanced economy

New Hanover County has seen the gaps between its highest and lowest paid workers widen as middle-income jobs disappear.

Jobs with the highest weekly wages include positions in finance and insurance, which account for 2.8% of county employment, utilities with 0.2% of overall employment, and professional services, science and technology, which accounts for 8% of countywide employment.

Those with the lowest wages include accommodation and food services, which accounts for 12.2% of county employment, arts, entertainment and recreation, accounting for 1.3% of overall employment county and retail which accounts for 13.5% of countywide employment.

The MV Hyundai Hope is brought into Wilmington Harbor on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 along the Cape Fear River.  The container ship is the largest in North Carolina port history, measuring 157 feet wide and nearly 1,200 feet long.  It can carry nearly 14,000 20ft containers.  Several changes to the port in recent years, including the widening of its turning basin just upstream of the port, have allowed the port to accommodate larger vessels.

The wage gap in these positions creates a barrier to economic mobility, the report says, because “there is no path between entry-level employment and higher-wage sectors.”

Focus on manufacturing

One solution to the county’s wage gap is to create more manufacturing jobs.

The manufacturing industry provides the 5th highest average weekly salary in New Hanover County, but is not among the top five employers. In New Hanover, the manufacturing sector accounts for just 4.2% of total employment, compared to 10.5% statewide.

Over the past two decades, manufacturing in New Hanover County has declined. In 2000, Corning was the county’s third-largest employer. In 2021, he had slipped to 10th place. It has been replaced, at least in part, by professional technical jobs, according to the report.

New Hanover County has seen the growth of the life sciences sector over the past 20 years with PPD and a growing digital support sector that includes nCino, Live Oak Bank and Castle Branch, a company that provides audits antecedents.

According to the report, in areas with large tourism sectors, it is not uncommon for manufacturing to fall into the back burner, as high land values ​​often drive residential development and quality of life issues often take precedence. on job creation.

Train new workers

Over the past few decades, New Hanover County has seen its population steadily increase. But county residents are older than the state average.

People 65 and older made up about 18.4% of the county’s population in 2020, while the same age group made up about 16.7% of the state’s population.

Tony Di Norcia, left, owner of Beach Bagels, sits with General Manager Alycia Marshall while surveying contestants at the Monkey Junction location in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. Di Norcia had some struggling to find staff at its four Wilmington locations. [MATT BORN/STARNEWS]

As the Cape Fear area continues to be a retirement destination for many, the report emphasizes developing a youthful workforce by leveraging local institutions like the University of North Carolina in Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College.

Employers interviewed for the report repeatedly raised the need for younger, more diverse people to fill positions with higher skill levels, including technicians and engineers, especially electrical and chemical engineers.

The report suggests local middle and high schools should focus on engineering and other technical careers. It also recommends a regular survey of employers to better assess local labor needs.

Use remaining land wisely

It makes sense that a rising population means more development and less vacant land.

New Hanover County is now the third most densely populated county in North Carolina behind Mecklenburg and Wake counties, home to Charlotte and Raleigh.

Of the county’s 130,261 acres of land, 18,600 acres or more than 14% remain to be developed.

Of the land available, more than 16% is zoned for industrial development, more than 14% is zoned for commercial projects and nearly 14% is zoned residential.

The report encourages leaders to focus on maximizing the county’s industrial land, even though residential development often results in higher property taxes. He also encouraged county leaders to invest in infrastructure such as sewers and water pipes that would attract new industries and encourage the expansion of existing businesses.

Reporter Emma Dill can be reached at 910-343-2096 or [email protected]

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