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From Fintech To Film, Wilmington Executives Talk Industry Outlooks

By Emma Dill, posted Jan 18, 2024
A panel of executives speak during the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit on Thursday. (Photo by Emma Dill)
From health care and fintech to film and hospitality, executives from top Wilmington-area companies shared their industry outlooks on Thursday during a panel discussion hosted by the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber’s Economic Summit: Executive Leadership Outlook event kicked off with a regional economic outlook from Mouhcine Guettabi, Wilmington’s regional economist and an associate professor of economics at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

The Cape Fear region has witnessed substantial migration in recent years, but that growth rate appears to be stabilizing, Guettabi said, citing data that suggests migration peaked for several states across the Southeastern U.S. in 2022.

“Migration towards the South is probably just beginning in terms of the shifts of the population across the country,” he said, “but not at the rate that we saw over the last couple of years.”

Retirees aren’t the only ones fueling population growth in the Cape Fear region, Guettabi said. 

“Wilmington is the 10th fastest-growing metropolitan area in terms of millennial migration,” he said. “It confirms that there is this interest in the region by not just people who are retiring from New Jersey, but also from prime labor force aged individuals.”

That’s a good sign for local companies looking to hire, Guettabi said. The Wilmington area has roughly 1,000 more jobs today than it did in 2019 and every sector has witnessed growth in job numbers except leisure and hospitality.

There’s room for growth and evolution in the local hospitality industry said panelist Nicolas Montoya, general manager of Wrightsville Beach’s Blockade Runner Beach Resort.

“We have a number of people –  over 6,000 – that make up the labor force of the (leisure and hospitality) industry here,” he said. “Generally, it’s looked at as low-paying jobs, transitional jobs, not many career paths. But that is changing.”

Montoya said the industry needs to come together to create talent pipelines and establish career paths within the hospitality sector. 

Panelist Ben Currin, CEO of Vantaca, said recruiting new workers into the Wilmington area's technology sector can be challenging although it’s become easier as the local economy has grown in recent years.

“It's been easier the last year than it was three or four years ago,” he said. “I think for us and for companies like us, we just want Wilmington to be an incredibly attractive place for people to come and work.”

Live Oak Bank President BJ Losch agreed. He said he supports the continued diversification of the regional economy.

“If we’re not seen as economically vibrant across a lot of different industries, then our story will not get out,” he said, “and we won't be able to sustain our growth rate.”

Panelist and Novant Health President and CEO Carl Armato said his organization plans to continue training and hiring health care workers across the region in the coming months and years. 

He noted the ongoing construction of a new facility in Scotts Hill will allow the company to expand its local program offerings. Novant’s recent $10 million investment in increasing the number of trained health care workers in the region will also help build a pipeline of nurses, he said.

Separately, the Health Care Talent Collaboration, a partnership of several local organizations including the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, is slated to receive $22.3 million over the next several years from the New Hanover Community Endowment.

At Quality Chemical Laboratories, CEO and panelist Yousry Sayed, said his company still struggles with supply chain issues and a shift toward working from home. Sayed said businesses across the Wilmington area need to define the issues they want to address and collaborate to find solutions.

Panelist Ashley Rice, president and co-managing partner of Cinespace, said the film industry was glad to “close the door” on the writers' and actors’ strikes of last year. The pressures of those strikes have made the film industry increasingly competitive, she said.

“We have to be competitive globally not just nationally, to bring in productions to respective states and countries,” she said. “The economic impact that we bring to those respective returns is meaningful.”

Chamber President and CEO Natalie English closed the panel by encouraging business leaders across the region to speak up and collaborate to address workforce needs.

“If you are having challenges developing the talent that you need for the work that you need to get done, don't sit in silence,” she said, “let us, the community, help you.”
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