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NC Tech Innovation Index Reveals Wilmington's Tech Chops

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Oct 19, 2023
Wilmington is making a name for itself in the tech industry, but it continues to grow in the shadow of the Research Triangle.

NC Tech released its annual Tech Innovation Index on Thursday, showing little change year over year. The ranking considers the stars of the tech industry in the state to be Durham-Chapel Hill, Raleigh-Cary and Charlotte. But Wilmington continues to rank just under the much larger metros.

In a nationwide ranking of tech metros, Wilmington placed 51st, up three places from last year. This stat is good news when compared to the city’s over 200th rank in population, said Jim Roberts, founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW), who listened in on the briefing.

The webinar shared North Carolina cities’ rankings in state and nationwide tech indexes, such as innovation, tech job postings, STEM education, bachelor degrees and tech workers. Wilmington was consistently in the top five of the state rankings, placing second in median tech job postings and business-funded research and development as a percent of GDP.

The overall technology index is calculated as a combination of an area’s supply, demand and innovation capacity such as funded research and development, said Ted Abernathy, an economic development, workforce and strategy consultant who led the briefing with NC Tech.

Wilmington is the “up-and-comer” compared to the Research Triangle and Charlotte, Abernathy told the Business Journal.

“Overall, the supply numbers were real strong, but demand numbers were a couple points lower,” Abernathy said. “The idea of focusing on your business dynamism and attracting new technology firms based on the strength of your technology worker supply would be something for the community to focus on.”

Although Wilmington scored just shy of the top 50 tech cities in the country, it ranked fifth in the state on the tech innovation index, the brief reported.  

“You guys on the index punch way above your weight,” Abernathy said.

The city’s 51st ranking puts its tech economy above cities like Tuscon, Ariz. and Orlando, Fla.,  Roberts said, cities with higher populations that are usually considered economic powerhouses.

The index validated Wilmington’s growing tech sector but also pointed out the city’s pain points.

“I think venture capital is always going to be a problem until we create some leadership around that issue,” Roberts said. “Some local, private, well-respected leaders that can raise capital and help our startups move beyond the startup stage.”

NC Tech CEO Brooks Raiford hosted the briefing and spoke on North Carolina having to overcome national perceptions of the state, even as it ranks ninth for tech growth in the country.

Wilmington is no different, Abernathy said.

“I think you already are a tech town, but you don't have the image yet of one outside of North Carolina,” he said.

He suggested that Wilmington work with other technology companies in North Carolina, be vocal about the city’s tech supply, and lean into Wilmington’s quality-of-life benefits to increase visibility outside the state.

Roberts’s organization NEW is hosting a startup event Thursday evening with over 100 people pre-registered, he said. He hopes his work with media outlets and local entrepreneurs will spread the word about Wilmington’s tech ecosystem.
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