NHC Economic Mobility Report aims to combat issues of an aging population and a shrinking middle class

New Hanover County government building
New Hanover County government building
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 10:41 AM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - New Hanover County commissioned Greenfield to create a comprehensive report to give the county data to guide future development. Titled the 2022 Economic Mobility Report, it explores the changing economy of the county and recommendations for the future.

In brief, the report found that New Hanover County is struggling with a shrinking middle class, limited space for new developments and difficulty maintaining younger residents. To combat some of these issues, Greenfield recommends supporting industries such as film and logistics which play to the county’s strengths and could potentially strengthen the middle class.

From over 70 pages of the report, Greenfield took away a few key findings.

Their first finding: New Hanover County is struggling to maintain its middle class. With few middle of the road positions, it becomes increasingly difficult for people with lower wages to ever move up the wage scale at all. As the report puts it: “The consequences of an unbalanced economy are expensive.” Middle wage positions provide more tax revenue, and the price of housing continues to rise beyond the reach of many people.

Second, the county has limited space for new businesses: New Hanover County is the second smallest county by land area and the 12th largest by population. Currently, only about 14 percent of the county’s acres are available for new developments.

Third, the county’s population continues to age, and the county has trouble maintaining younger workers. The number of people under 18 years old decreased from 47,221 in 2010 to 41,047 in 2019.

The county's age distribution in the past two census reports.
The county's age distribution in the past two census reports.(New Hanover County / Greenfield)

The last of their key findings was that COVID-related work disruptions may have also created new opportunities for growth, such as more businesses being created and more people choosing to work remotely.

The report’s recommendations are built around three main economic goals:

  • Increase the tax base
  • Promote higher wage jobs while regrowing middle income opportunities
  • Align target business sectors to existing economic conditions

Greenfield recommends that the county encourage and support certain industries based off their research.

Warehouse and logistics positions, while not as high-paying as manufacturing positions, still provide higher wages than service-industry jobs. Plus, warehousing and logistics support the city’s strong commercial transportation network.

The report also encourages the growth of the existing life science manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries in the area. Cyber security, IT and other digital technology industry positions could offer new opportunities for county residents in a rapidly growing sector.

In line with both state and national goals of environmental quality, Greenfield highlights opportunities in the offshore wind sector. The US Bureau of Ocean Management found that North Carolina had the highest wind energy potential of the Atlantic Seaboard. It may be several years until construction is underway, but the offshore wind industry has strong support and momentum internationally.

As indicated by the various local film festivals, Greenfield sees potential in supporting the local film industry. The Film Partnership of NC provides funds for workforce training, UNCW and CFCC both run film-related programs and groups like the Wilmington Regional Film Commission support the local industry.

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