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Moonshot Recommendation #4: Time For A New Economic Development Strategy

Economic development in the region has concentrated historically on finding large industrial firms one at a time. However, the US manufacturing base has shrunk dramatically and substantially moved overseas to low cost labor markets. Additionally, manufacturing innovations have reduced the labor force of those remaining or returning, and recruiting them is very competitive and expensive. The State has several overlapping economic development entities. There are county and local organizations that have cooperated at times and competed at other times. Recently, we see signs of increasing local cooperation when good candidates do express interest. That trend seems favorable and is reason for optimism. As we pointed out in Blog #3, attracting one tech worker creates 5 related jobs. Attracting a manufacturing business may create only 3 related jobs. Tech jobs are worth greater effort and provide greater return.

Meanwhile, around the country, regions are more frequently concentrating on how to build on “Economic Clusters” of well-paid knowledge workers, such as our region has in CRO’s (see Moonshot Recommendation #3). Thus, a reallocation or expansion of economic development resources would be consistent with national trends, along with an effort to identify every existent or emergent economic cluster and nurture them. Other regions also prioritize working closely with their “advanced industries” (in our region, GE, Corning, NHRMC, and Live Oak are examples) to find compatible suppliers and other complementary resources. So should we. Reviving our film industry—a lost economic cluster— will also be a rewarding outcome we should relentlessly pursue.

Advanced manufacturing advocates in Leland are enthusiastic about a promising small collection of tech savvy firms epitomized by Manufacturing Methods and are promoting the Leland Industrial Park as a clustering place for others. UNCW’s CIE and TekMountain are part of a Consortia encouraging emergence of successful startups. At CIE, gatherings of cross-industry execs and techies who aspire to know more about “advanced technologies” including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Blockchain are meeting, and creating promising new businesses. NHRMC has created an Innovation Center at TekMountain and brought on board talented newcomer Chris Hillier to drive innovation in health care. He is already working on state-of-the-art innovations with leaders elsewhere to bring health breakthroughs to the Wilmington region.

In a brief summary, economic development leaders need to search out economic clusters across the entire region, bring them together, help them with sharing resources and efficiencies. Examples: education and training, certifications, insurance, meeting facilities, service providers, suppliers, financial resources, R&D, personnel, consultants, new technologies and upgrades, social events and industry conferences are among the possibilities to grow the clusters internally and externally.

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