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Strategy for economic vitality considered by city, county

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An economic report presented to Wilmington and New Hanover County officials on April 2 is expected to initiate discussion about new growth and development strategies.

The report, Pathways to Prosperity: New Hanover County’s Plan for Jobs and Investments, was completed by Garner Economics, an Atlanta-based consulting firm.

CEO Jay Garner and research economist Tom Tveidt shared findings with the Wilmington City Council and New Hanover County Board of Commission during a special meeting. Suggestions included creation of a county department of economic development and elimination of the special use permit.

Commission Chairman Woody White said he hoped the recommendations would initiate a conversation in the community.

“This is the beginning of a conversation we need to have. Policy choices need to be made. Funding needs to be assessed. Feasibility of each and every one [needs to be considered], whether we agree or disagree on them,” White said.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo agreed, adding that he hoped to see city and county cooperation.

“[The report] drilled down into some very specific issues we in the community have been talking about for a number of years. I hope we can find common ground between the city and county to support these initiatives,” Saffo said.

The report offered 21 suggestions to offset challenges to economic development, create an environment attractive for high-quality companies and implement effective marketing strategies.

Garner said his suggestion to create a county department of economic development would serve as an antithesis to regulations established by the county’s effective planning commission.

“For New Hanover County, this is a definite and profound need. You need an advocate who wakes up and goes to bed thinking about what they can do every day to make this community better,” Garner said.

Garner urged the county to eliminate its special use permit. He said the permitting process is vague and complicated, which averts businesses.

Commissioner Jonathan Barfield Jr. expressed concern about negative impacts to the environment if the permit were eliminated.

Garner said none of the 25 suggested industries were intensive industries.

The report pointed to life and marine science research and development, high-value office operations, precision manufacturing and aircraft assembly and maintenance as good fits for the county’s assets and challenges.

The report also called for consolidation in county government, creation of a local pharmacy school, a marketing alliance with Brunswick and Pender counties, participation of business leaders in local government and a more structured incentive policy.

Garner specifically mentioned film incentives, noting incentives are necessary for sustained growth in the film industry.

The study took seven months to complete and cost $100,000, which the county paid for from funds allocated for economic development efforts.

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