WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – A new report detailing ways in which both Wilmington and New Hanover County can attract more businesses was presented Wednesday to members of the Board of Commissioners and the City Council.
The county hired the firm Garner Economics in August to come up with recommendations. It cost the county $92,500 plus travel costs for the development consulting firm.
The firm came up with 21 recommendations and also outlined some of Wilmington/New Hanover County's strengths and weaknesses.
Both Mayor Bill Saffo and Chairman Woody White said they were surprised by some of the results.
"I was surprised that we ranked so low on average wage," said White after the firm reported New Hanover County has a lower average wage than both the state and the country. "I was surprised that we ranked so high on small business compared to our peers, those were things that we would not have known if we had not initiated this study."
"I knew that we got hit pretty hard during the recession on the construction and real estate end of things," said Saffo. "I didn't realize how hard of a hit it was for our community, and how long that recovery has taken."
Some of the firm's recommendations included:
- Partnering with Brunswick and Pender Counties and having each area contribute funds to market the area to businesses
- Create a County Department of Economic Development and hire a director
- Focus on bringing aircraft assembly operations to the area (the firm argued New Hanover already has many features needed to attract those companies )
- Create a pharmacy school
- Provide free public internet in the county
- Get rid of Special Use Permits (the firm argued they can prevent businesses form wanting to come to the area)
Even though the study cost more than $90,000, White said it was worth the money.
"We have to pause and self-reflect and have outside, third party people look at us and tell us things we may not want to hear sometimes as a community, and engaging the citizens like we did and beginning this process to re-engaging the citizens, it is always worth that," said White.
"It was a thorough study and the money was well spent," added Saffo. "At the end of the day, we as elected leaders for the community, have to lead and try to find ways to improve the quality of life, bring jobs to our community, and bring companies here."
He said that both the Board of Commissioners and City Council will discuss all of these recommendations. Saffo said some of these recommendations were easily attainable, so if approved, could take effect soon.
Others he said will require lots of discussion, and will be more of a long range potential project.