NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC – An overnight visit earlier this week to a top tourism destination in the U.S. that also has a progressive economic development program is invigorating local officials to work toward a regional approach in bringing economic prosperity to southeast North Carolina. More than two dozen elected and business leaders spent Monday and Tuesday learning best practices in industrial recruitment, tourism, development, and how to collaborate with local government and economic development agencies to ensure a quality of place. The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce invited commissioners and council members, and a mix of private industry officials to the InterCity Leadership Visit to Charleston, South Carolina to meet with their counterparts.
For New Hanover County Commission Chairman, Jonathan Barfield, Jr, the biggest takeaway from the bus trip was how the city and county of Charleston, its neighboring counties, and State of South Carolina work together in economic development. “Regionalism is my new word”, says Barfield. From the South Carolina Aquarium and Joe Riley Baseball Stadium, to the recently relocated Boeing, Volvo, and BMW facilities, “everyone sings from the same songbook,” he added.
Barfield will begin a new conversation with Brunswick and Pender officials and economic development agencies within the next few weeks. The mission he says will be to learn from those best practices and determine ways to build the infrastructure that would bring in large manufacturers. “This momentum is nothing to sit on” he said.
He added, “What the delegation learned in South Carolina will be helpful as New Hanover County prepares to host an affordable housing summit this fall. Making sure workers have a place to live is a major factor in developing the supporting infrastructure and recruiting new industry”.
Commissioner Rob Zapple found the trip to be enlightening stating that “quality of place and quality of life are major factors in community strength, growth and long term prosperity.” He added that a “unified point of view is the strongest negotiating tool in economic development.”
New Hanover County Manager, Chris Coudriet, also part of the InterCity exchange, said Charleston prides itself on consistency and that region’s success “is built on having a plan and sticking to it for the long haul.” He echoed Barfield’s thoughts on collaboration. “I think we need to communicate consistently and aggressively our strategic plan, never miss a chance to talk about economic development and the business clusters that are to our advantage, and the public policies underway to grow those clusters”.