As the greater Wilmington area burgeons with new growth and development, many local landowners and developers have been waiting with bated breath for the Environmental Protection Agency to clarify the definition of a wetland.
Without specifics, their plans to move forward have ground to a halt, said Tyler Newman, the CEO and president of the nonprofit advocacy group Business Alliance for a Strong Economy (BASE). “Some federal Waters of the United States rules are pending and holding up investment across the area,” Newman said recently. “If someone has a … large piece of land around here and needs to get the Army Corps of Engineers to delineate a wetland, there might be a delay if we don’t know what a wetland is.”
The EPA announced a new wetland definition at the end of August, but its parameters proved murky, Newman said. The lack of clarity continues to frustrate him and local developers.
The wetlands legislative issue is one of several that Newman, who took the helm at BASE in 2016, focuses on in his endeavors to foment business opportunities and growth in the Wilmington area. A significant accomplishment was the recent addition of Brunswick County back into the Wilmington MSA (read more about that impact on page 46).
Newman said he finds the advocacy work energizing.
“I like thinking proactively and strategically about the region. I like focusing on the positive things we have going on in the community and trying to build on those,” he said. “The big-ticket items like getting to help land several million dollars for a new bridge or getting Brunswick County back into the MSA, or smaller land use ordinance changes that help facilitate investment – I like the challenge of all of it.”
Since joining BASE, Newman has expanded membership from Realtor and home development associations to also include names such as the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Corning, Novant Health and Live Oak Bank. He strives to ensure all parties are unified in growing the region together, he said, adding that serving as an information resource for business leaders is also important.
Newman, who attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and began his career handling state regulatory agencies and lobbying at the Georgia legislature, moved to Wilmington in 2007. He worked as the governmental affairs director at BASE before becoming special assistant to the city manager for legislative affairs for the city of Wilmington.
“I got to see the municipal perspective of what challenges the city faces in the advocacy arena, and that was educational for me,” Newman said.
Now as the head at BASE, Newman spends most of his time traveling to Raleigh for legislative meetings or flying on planes to faraway meetings or driving to meet local officials, developers and business owners ranging from Brunswick to Onslow counties. He doesn’t involve himself in specific projects but rather concentrates on policy changes and legislation that can effect change. “I’m really more focused on making sure the process is smooth and efficient, and to get elected officials and senior staff and management to facilitate growth and investment our way,” he said.
BASE is also focusing on workforce development, particularly in conjunction with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Newman said. Generating jobs, he said, is paramount as more and more people flock to the Wilmington area. Keeping talented Cape Fear Community College and University of North Carolina Wilmington graduates from migrating to bigger cities like Charlotte or Raleigh is also a priority, he said.
“People are coming – the question is how we accommodate them and making sure we have the infrastructure in place and jobs in place,” Newman said, adding that investment in the airport, port and water and sewer infrastructure is vital. “If we want to have a growing fintech hub and retain UNC Wilmington graduates every year, we need to make sure we have a balance to our growth.”
Projects abound in the greater Wilmington area, and Newman said he’s watching greenfield development of subdivisions in southern Brunswick County, a Market Street hotel transformation into multifamily housing and the progress of Project Grace downtown.
The opportunity to serve as a driving force in Wilmington’s growth and development is personal for Newman, who is a New Bern native. “I love the beach, and I love the state of North Carolina generally,” he said. “Being able to live at the beach in a growing urban environment is something that was really appealing to me and my family.”
Newman is looking ahead to municipal elections this fall and is also awaiting the state legislature to pass its budget, overdue from July, in anticipation of funding opportunities for education and infrastructure.
“Moving forward,” Newman said, “we’re going to need all of the infrastructure and housing and industrial investment we can get.”
Tyler Newman was part of last year’s WilmingtonBiz 100 as an Influencer. This year’s group will be highlighted in the December issue of WilmingtonBiz Magazine.