By: Christina Haley O'Neal, WilmingtonBiz
North Carolina’s Southeast, an 18-county regional economic development group, has been approved for federal funding to look at industry sectors and industrial real estate in its territory, according to a recent announcement.
The organization, which includes the Wilmington area, has been approved for a $148,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA), officials said in a news release.
North Carolina's Southeast will contribute a 20% match of $37,000 toward the project's total $185,000 cost.
The EDA grant project, called The Southeast’s Regional Industry Sector Analysis, features four components: an industry sector analysis; an industrial site analysis; an incubator development strategy; and efforts to sharpen the group's regional marketing and revamp the North Carolina’s Southeast website, last updated in 2011.
North Carolina's Southeast plans to launch the project Sept. 1, Steve Yost, president of North Carolina's Southeast, said this week. It's expected to be completed in September 2020.
Part of the organization's overall 18-county industry sector assessment could have a component to focus on the Wilmington micro-region, which includes New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick and Columbus counties.
Columbus County was recently incorporated into the organization's Wilmington micro-region strategic marketing plan released earlier this year.
“Over the history of this organization, the Greater Wilmington area has always been a critical feature of the Southeast region ... It’s one of our urban engine areas; the other urban engine being Greater Fayetteville,” Yost said.
The study will provide a more comprehensive look at the business and industry sectors in the 18-county territory, Yost said.
“Health care is probably the largest [employment sectors] in Southeastern North Carolina now, which it was not 10 years ago,” Yost said. “So this [study] is going to look at all the dynamics and trending that’s going on in all the sectors, including the ones that we target now for marketing."
The study's conclusions will help the organization adjust, if needed, any marketing focuses for the overall 18-county region, or parts of the region, he added.
North Carolina’s Southeast, which was founded in 1994 and is currently celebrating its 25-year anniversary, launched its first industry cluster strategy in 1999 and updated those plans most recently in 2006.
Since its formation, the organization has helped generate more than $2.1 billion in announced capital investment, as well as over 14,000 announced new jobs and helped recruit 148 companies, according to the release.
Since the last cluster analysis was done in 2006, the group's focus has grown from 11 to 18 counties. Yost said that was also before the group started looking at micro-regions.
“The updates are especially important right now because of the dramatic changes that have been made to the region’s footprint in recent years,” Joe Melvin, director of business development at North Carolina’s Southeast, said in the release.
Its entire region has seen growth in residents and employers, as well as new additions to regional assets and infrastructure, officials said.
“Modern economics being what they are, we have to make sure we’re basing all our assumptions on the most accurate, up-to-date and relevant information available,” Melvin added in the release.
Along with a focus on industry sector analysis, Yost said, plans are to hire a site-selection consultant to help look at the region's industrial real estate inventory to identify strengths, gaps and needs with sites and properties.
Another piece of the four-part project is to pull together policies and best practices for an incubator development strategy intended to support job growth from small companies and startups.
"We are grateful that the U.S. Department of Commerce agrees that successful regional economic development begins with a thorough assessment of assets and opportunities," Yost said in the release.
The assessment involves feeding the latest data into a "credible framework" for how the region's economy fits within national and global business trends, officials added in the release.
"We are eager to engage our county, state, academic and private partners in this significant effort, which will inform the region's recruitment strategies for the coming five to 10 years," said Yost.