WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – For Connie Majure-Rhett, president and CEO of Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, 2013 required tough conversations.
"We were trying to make people aware that our economy wasn't doing so well," said Majure-Rhett. "I mean, it's a sad thing for a chamber to have to do, but if you've looked at our job growth over the last couple years and our GDP growth, it's been pretty, pretty anemic."
Majure-Rhett stressed the community has to be focused on boosting employment, and not just so-called knowledge jobs.
"We're really excited about the work that the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is doing at the university and continue to support that for those types of high-growth jobs, but at the same time, we need service jobs and manufacturing jobs, too."
The chamber head believes leaders have to change the way they think about attracting business to the area.
"Sadly we've been doing the same thing the same way over and over and it's not working," she said.
Majure-Rhett is looking forward to the release of an economic development study commissioned by New Hanover County government.
"[I am] hoping it's an honest self-assessment of our community, hoping [the consultant is] going to use his expertise in telling us what our weaknesses are, what our strengths are, what we can build on, what our targets should be."
In Brunswick County, Economic Developer Jim Bradshaw has a new focus for 2014 – attracting retail businesses.
"We have 125,000 some people and very few retail opportunities," he said. "Many of our residents have to go to Wilmington or Myrtle Beach."
Bradshaw explained it's difficult to attract retail businesses because the county is so spread out geographically. He plans to hire a consultant in the new year to help devise a recruitment strategy.
While retail remains a challenge, Bradshaw said Brunswick County saw increased interested from manufacturers this year, a trend he expects to continue in 2014.
"The main thing is getting the word out to folks throughout the United States that Brunswick County is open for business," he said, adding the job was easier in 2013 thanks to a new pot of money, $70,000 in private funds, that his office can use to market the county.
"We're actually going to be able to go face to face with not only site consultants, but at these trade shows, meet with industries we have targeted for Brunswick County's industrial parks," Bradshaw said.
In 2013, 35 businesses inquired about the county, 18 visited, and three announced they were locating there, according to Bradshaw.
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