By Christina Haley O'Neal - WilmingtonBiz
Local governments, businesses and residents are not the only ones in recovery mode from Hurricane Florence. The region’s economic development leaders are busy with post-storm economic development efforts.
North Carolina’s Southeast is working in conjunction with the N.C. Department of Commerce on an intensive assessment on the immediate impacts of the hurricane, which made landfall Sept. 14.
“Since our region was pretty much ground zero for the storm and had the heaviest impacts, they wanted to work with us and wanted to partner up to find out what was going on,” Steve Yost, president of North Carolina’s Southeast, said.
The assessment started Sept. 24, Yost said, adding that he expects the assessment could take about 30 days.
“We have not done anything like this before,” he said. “What we think this will lead to is having a very solid understanding of the impacts to business, industry and economic development in the region. Then the next step is to get ideas and recommendations for the recovery and rebuilding phase of how best to assist [businesses].”
The assessment also includes work with local economic development organizations and county managers.
Those with Wilmington Business Development (WBD) and Brunswick Business & Industry Development (Brunswick BID) will join in on the assessment, Yost said.
Scott Satterfield, CEO of WBD, said his organization is working with North Carolina’s Southeast and other state organizations to “inventory resources that will play a part in returning Wilmington to full function.”
“Central to our mission has always involved support for existing industry,” Satterfield said Sept. 27. “That role has intensified in the last 10 days and likely will remain so in the months ahead. Our top priority right now is checking on industrial operations and assessing the status of our infrastructure.”
WBD is checking in with local employers to assess disruption and offer support for relief and rebuilding, he said.
In addition, the group is also getting in touch with project clients to “assure them of the regional efforts to minimize storm-related disruption to our business community.”
Inventory evaluations are also ongoing, and there are various levels of damage to some buildings and sites, Satterfield said. Satterfield was not specific about the damages, however, and did not respond to questions about what locations may have been impacted.
Although not specifically a site, the roadway damage from the storm to U.S. 421 near the New Hanover- Pender county line is having an impact on commerce to and from Pender Commerce Park and other businesses along that industrial corridor, Yost said.
Roadway closures have been a challenge to assess some of WBD’s territory, Satterfield said, which includes Wilmington, New Hanover and Pender counties.
“The obvious and highly challenging problem has been the closures to our roads and highways, which impact supply chains and impedes our workforce from getting to their jobs,” Satterfield said.
Road closures have also been a challenge for Brunswick BID’s assessments, said Bill Early, executive director of the economic development organization for Brunswick County.
Among the damaged was the Leland Industrial Park, which had a road wash away and trees down, but the industrial site was passable, Early said. And a sign was down at one of the county’s largest industrial parks off U.S. 74/76.
“We are still in the very early stages of our assessment,” Early said.
Brunswick BID also aims to work with North Carolina’s Southeast and others in the region to coordinate a strategy of relief and recovery for business, he said.
“We certainly support what North Carolina’s Southeast is doing and want to be a part of that,” Early said.
Prospective clients are also on Brunswick BID’s radar.
Satterfield said that WBD is also talking with the N.C. Economic Development Association and the International Economic Development Council, which Satterfield said has experience and perspective on how regions have come back from natural disasters.
“Houston, for example, has spent the past year rebuilding from Hurricane Harvey. Economic development leaders there have generously shared their experiences with us and offered support,” Satterfield said.
“While the images of the destruction here aren’t the ones we’d prefer global businesses to see when they think of our region,” he said, “this is a unique opportunity to showcase the high quality of our leadership, the capability and competence of our government and elected officials, the collaborative spirit among the public and private sectors here, and the character of our people.”