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A Closer Look At The Year Ahead

By Staff Reports, posted Jan 7, 2022
The redevelopment of the New Hanover County Government Center site is expected to reach milestones this year. (Photo by Michael Cline Spencer)
This year, important facets of the Wilmington business scene are set to face significant changes. Here’s a look at some of 2022’s predicted newsmakers:
 

BIG PROJECTS COUNTY PROJECTS ON THE RISE

Millions of dollars’ worth of New Hanover County-led development projects are expected to be complete or under construction in the coming months.
 
The projects set to be finished in 2022 are addiction treatment facility The Healing Place and the new Government Center Complex, said County Manager Chris Coudriet in a release in December. Another project in the planning stages is Project Grace, a mixed-use development in downtown Wilmington for which construction is expected to start this year.
 
The Healing Place: The more than $25 million facility will offer 100 beds to men and 100 to women, providing underserved adults who live with alcohol and other drug addictions with a no-cost program.
 
Government Center: The redeveloped New Hanover County Government Center off South College Road will include a newly-designed facility for county offices with an emergency operations and 911 center, as well as private development to include apartments and office space. GHK Cape Fear is the developer for the public-private partnership.
 
Project Grace: Another redevelopment, this project aims to transform a 3-acre block bordered by Grace, Third, Chestnut and Second streets into a mixed-use project with public and private facilities. Wilmington- based Zimmer Development Co. is partnering with the county, the block’s owner, on the transformation. The public facilities will be first – a new main branch of the New Hanover County Public Library and a new Cape Fear Museum.
 

INDUSTRIAL STRIDES MORE INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AHEAD?

Major traction took place along the region’s budding industrial sites in 2021. After years of planning to get infrastructure in the ground, many developers’ speculative bets paid off and could continue to reap rewards in the coming year.
 
The first tenant at the long-planned International Logistics Park on the Brunswick-Columbus County line was announced in June – Precision Swiss Products, a small, high-precision aerospace parts manufacturer. In August, Tri-Tech Forensics, which assembles test kits for medical and forensic collections, announced it too would land in the industrial park.
 
With the two tenants, the International Commerce Center, developed by Cameron Management and Windsor Commercial, is roughly 56% leased. Construction on the first phase will wrap by the first quarter this year. A second phase is planned to be complete by the fourth quarter.
 
Along U.S. 421, the first tenant at the industrial spec project Wilmington Trade Center was confirmed late last month with PaperFoam, a local sustainable packaging manufacturer. The first phase of the Edgewater Ventures and McKinley Building Corp. project is now 64% leased; a second and third phase is also planned.
 
Across the highway, Ramm Capital Partners is planning on a second industrial spec building at the Pender Commerce Park.
 
In November, the New Hanover County Airport Authority announced two signed leases for a $120 million investment between two industrial speculative projects: Edgewater Ventures is planning another speculative site, and CIL Capital Partners is creating space for the life sciences industry.
 
Near the airport, New Hanover County is nearing design completion to install infrastructure at its new Blue Clay Business Park. Utility lines are set to be in the ground by this summer.
 

PORT PROGRESS AN EYE ON INVESTMENTS

Investments in major infrastructure upgrades at the Port of Wilmington are ongoing, with major milestones reached last year and more ahead.
 
In October, the new Wilmington Midwest Express launched, directly connecting the port to Midwest hubs including Chicago, St. Louis and northwest Ohio. The years-long effort by the partnership of the N.C. Department of Transportation and CSX to build the Carolina Connector intermodal terminal in Rocky Mount could help increase Wilmington’s reliance on rail.
 
Roughly 3% of the Wilmington port’s container volume moved via rail last fiscal year, a segment with room to grow, according to port officials. Utilizing rail facilities can improve efficiencies and cut down on emissions.
 
Around Thanksgiving, the Wilmington port finished a $26 million improvement project to improve trucking efficiencies at the southern gate.
 
A second phase of the port’s refrigerated container yard is expected to open this spring. The $14 million first phase opened in the spring of 2020, boosting the Wilmington port’s container plugs from 235 to 775. Another 710 plugs will come online through the second phase, bumped up from the 540 considered during earlier planning stages.
 
These investments are part of a multi-year capital improvement plan. Since 2016, the ports authority has invested $274 million in upgrades, according to its latest audit.
 
Momentum on an $846 million harbor deepening project is stalled as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awaits federal funding to answer flagged concerns about the ports’ proposal documents raised by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. The project is still in its infancy, according to an Army Corps spokesperson.
 

NEW LEADERS CHANGES IN TOP SPOTS

This year will bring in new faces for some of the area’s largest institutions.
 
Jeffrey Bourk started January as Wilmington International Airport’s new director, following a national search. Bourk most recently served as executive director of Branson Airport in Hollister, Missouri, for 14 years. Longtime airport deputy director Gary Broughton wrapped up his time at ILM, retiring on Dec. 31 and leaving that spot open to fill.
 
After six years running the University of North Carolina Wilmington, chancellor Jose Sartarelli plans to retire at the end of June. A search committee has been meeting since November to identify chancellor candidates and will make recommendations to UNCW’s Board of Trustees. Trustees will send their picks to UNC System President Peter Hans, who will nominate a finalist from UNCW’s choices along with his own two nominees to the UNC Board of Governors. The Board of Governors is slated to elect the next chancellor this year.
 
And in Brunswick County, which has more than 1,000 employees and continues to be among the fastest- growing counties in the state, Steve Stone transitions from deputy county manager to the county’s manager on Jan. 15. Outgoing county manager Randell Woodruff, who is retiring, plans to stay with the county and work with Stone through the end of the month.
 

PANDEMIC EFFECTS SUPPLY AND DEMAND

A series of events during the pandemic created a domino effect that brought on supply chain disruptions and a worker shortage, felt both by producers and consumers.
 
This included various industries, from the low number of cars available at dealerships due to a chip shortage to lumber and appliances and even toys.
 
Last year we talked to local dealerships, Atlantic Appliance & Hardware and Wilmington’s Learning Express Toys, who all had to find ways to deal with shortages which included ordering items months in advance and helping customers compromise.
 
In addition, these shortages were coupled with a worker shortage, also referred to by economists as the Great Resignation. In July 2021, 4 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reasons for this are many, including more money in the pockets of Americans in 2021 thanks to pandemic-relief checks and loan forgiveness, among other aid, making people more comfortable with not having a steady income for a period. Plus, workers in in-demand fields such as foodservice and health care experienced burnout during the pandemic.
 
Good news is by the end of 2022, things could be looking up for supply shortages, according to Drew Rosen, professor of supply chain management at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in a November interview.
 
Rosen predicted that the earliest the world might see some relief in the supply chain would be in the fourth quarter of 2022.
 
For local economist Adam Jones, this year might need a slowdown to allow overworked employees some breathing room and let sidelined workers return to a marketplace where wages have increased.
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