WilmingtonBiz Magazine

The WilmingtonBiz 100: The Influencers

By Staff Reports, posted Dec 14, 2023

The Influencers: The changemakers, in front of or behind the scenes

Jackson Autry

Executive Plant Leader, GE Aerospace 

After working with General Electric for over 14 years, Jackson Autry was named plant leader of GE Aerospace Wilmington last year.  

Why He’s an Influencer:
As head of the plant in Wilmington, Autry is getting ready for the newest phase of GE Aerospace next year as the GE conglomerate spins off its power operations into a separate, stand-alone company. 

GE already spun off HealthCare this year and plans to do a similar spinoff with the GE Vernova energy portfolio of businesses in the second quarter of next year, leaving GE Aerospace to continue as the GE entity. 

When that happens, the Wilmington GE Aerospace site and its neighboring GE Hitachi site will function as two stand-alone businesses. 
For the local aviation manufacturing facility, this year has seen 20% growth year-over-year, Autry said, adding that more demand is expected next year. 

GE Aerospace Wilmington expects to grow by more than 35% next year, creating a need to hire more than 100 new employees, Autry said. 
The site is ramping production on the GE9X engine designed specifically for the Boeing 777X family of aircraft.  

Multigeneration: Autry is an active member of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Council. 

Dawn-Michele Blalock

CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern North Carolina

Dawn-Michele Blalock is making an impact as the leader of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern North Carolina. The nonprofit employs 98 people and has locations in New Hanover and Onslow counties. 

Why She’s an Influencer:
Since being chosen for the role in May, Blalock has focused on supporting a major consolidation. The merger of two local Boys & Girls Club chapters into one began this year, and Blalock has focused on unifying the club campuses, aligning the group’s mission and building its leadership team. 

Before coming to the Boys & Girls Club, Blalock created several children’s bereavement camps to help families navigate grief after significant loss.  

Blalock and her staff focus on reaching underserved populations, particularly the Hispanic community, through partnerships with other nonprofits and volunteers. The club aims to help kids who are still two to three years behind in reading skills because of COVID-19 disruptions. 

Looking ahead, the Boys & Girls Clubs of SENC has plans to add two social workers to train staff and engage with students around trauma-informed practices. The club is also eyeing expansion in the region as a top priority. 

Previous Awards: Before coming to the Wilmington area, Blalock was recognized as Spartanburg Chamber Minority Leader of the Year and the Spartanburg Businesswoman of the Year. She also received the South Carolina Governor’s Quality Award. 

Rob Burrus

Dean, UNCW Cameron School of Business

UNCW’s Cameron School of Business ranked in the top 100 undergraduate business schools by Poets and Quants for the fifth time this year. The business school is also classified as a Tier One North American MBA program by CEO Magazine. Rob Burrus has been instrumental in establishing many new programs in the business school during his tenure as dean to meet the employment demands of the state. He works to find funding for these programs while ensuring the existing curriculums remain current.  

Why He’s an Influencer:
Since 2014, Burrus has led the business school, which has 15 undergraduate concentrations, seven graduate programs, three joint degree programs and several certificate programs. 

Burrus led the effort to establish a master’s degree in supply chain management this year and new bachelor’s degree concentrations in fintech and real estate. UNCW’s MBA program also received a STEM designation from the Department of Homeland Security. Next, Burrus is working on establishing a face-to-face version of the master’s programs in business analytics and finance. He also plans to expand international partners for the business school’s portfolio.  

Persistence Pays: For his first job, Burrus said he delivered The Free Press in Kinston, his local newspaper, with a route of about 40 residences. He said he learned to “politely bother the customers until they paid.” 

Tony Caudle 

City Manager, City of Wilmington 

Tony Caudle has served as Wilmington’s city manager since September 2021, replacing longtime manager Sterling Cheatham.  

Why He’s an Influencer:
Caudle recently led the city through the complicated process of purchasing the tallest office building in the area. The city paid global life sciences firm Thermo Fisher Scientific $68 million for the former headquarters of PPD, a 12-story structure in northern downtown Wilmington. Caudle and other officials said the purchase not only consolidates the city’s scattered offices but also saves millions of dollars the city would have to pay for renovations required to update those aging office buildings. 

To offset the $68 million price tag, the city is selling office properties it no longer needs now that departments are occupying the former PPD building at 929 N. Front St. 

“We will do everything in our power to make sure we get the maximum amount of return from the sale of those properties,” Caudle said. 

Previous Jobs: Caudle started with the city of Wilmington in 2008, serving 12 years as deputy city manager and a brief stint as interim city manager before being appointed city manager. Before his posts in Wilmington, Caudle served as town manager for the North Carolina communities of Black Mountain, Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Beach and as city manager of Woodruff, South Carolina.

Chris Coudriet 

County Manager, New Hanover County 

Chris Coudriet has served as New Hanover County’s top administrator since 2012, overseeing an organization with a $508 million budget and more than 2,100 employees.  

Why He’s an Influencer:
Coudriet has played a crucial role in several substantial county projects this year. 

County staff moved into a new, $46 million Government Center this spring. In the fall, Project Grace, the redevelopment of Wilmington’s downtown library and the Cape Fear Museum, moved ahead with financing approval from the Local Government Commission. The project is set to break ground early next year. 

Coudriet led the development of the county’s new five-year strategic plan, the balancing of its $508 million budget and the maintenance of the municipality’s triple-A bond rating from Moody’s and S&P for the 11th straight year. In 2023, New Hanover County also received 11 awards from the National Association of Counties – an all-time high for a single year. 

In the year ahead: Coudriet will lead the continued redevelopment of the Government Center site, which is expected to include greenspace, outdoor art, a new Board of Elections building and private development. 

The county will also continue its work on Project Grace, Hanover Pines Nature Park, two new fire stations and a new public library branch in the Northchase area. 

Ken Dull

President, McKinley Building Corp.

Ken Dull started his company in 1992.  

Why He’s an Influencer:
Dull’s firm is impacting top projects throughout the region. They include serving as general contractor for Parkway Hyundai, Capital Lincoln, Wilmington Trade Center 3, Yogasleep National Headquarters, Roger Bacon Academy Expansion, Rex and Sons RV, Cameron Development/Sunnyvale, Leland Town Center, One Place, Brunswick Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army New Campus, Thermo Fisher and Kesseböhmer American Headquarters. 

Dull is passionate about philanthropy and was recognized as the Philanthropist of the Year by AFP Cape Fear. The Harrelson Center is a key focus for Dull, and he has organized a fundraiser for them, A Day in the Country, for over 10 years. He also continues to serve on the N.C. State University Foundation board.  

Civic Duties: Dull is a Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen member. Over the years, he has served on numerous civic and professional boards, including the Wilmington Planning Commission (board chairman for four years) and the New Hanover County Planning Board (chairman for three years). He has also served on boards for Wilmington Business Development, the Wilmington-Cape Fear Home Builders Association, Wilmington Housing Authority and several banks.  

Charles Foust

Superintendent, New Hanover County Schools

As the head of New Hanover County Schools, Charles Foust oversees a $290 million budget, operating 45 schools in the district that includes 3,700 employees and 25,000 students. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
Foust points to several metrics demonstrating school improvements, describing it as a banner year for the district. 

“We learned that 90 percent of our schools met or exceeded growth last year, and 18 schools exceeded the standards for academic growth, including Holly Shelter Middle School, the overall number five school in the state for growth and the No. 1 ‘Title 1’ school,” he said. 
Fourteen schools in the county elevated their overall performance by a letter grade, and five schools came off the low-performing schools list. 
Since Foust became the district’s superintendent, one of his goals has been to improve literacy rates to have 90% of students reading at or above their grade levels. 

This year, the school system received the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s first-ever Champion for Change Award for the district’s efforts to improve student literacy. 

Biz Ties: Foust is also working with the district’s career and technical education department to create new specialty areas at each high school. “One improvement I’d like to see in the region,” he said, “is additional partnerships with local employers so our students can learn about career options and experience internships before high school graduation.” 

Travis Gilbert 

Executive Director, Historic Wilmington Foundation 

Gilbert took the helm of the Historic Wilmington Foundation (HWF) in February 2021. He was previously the manager of the Latimer House at the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society.  

Why He’s an Influencer:
Gilbert is a vocal advocate for preservation efforts and related initiatives, including Cape Fear Community College’s Historic Preservation Construction certification, preservation easements, historic plaques, walking tours and the preservation equity fund. 

HWF accomplishments under his leadership have included the fascia and soffit restoration at historical Black Mason’s landmark Giblem Lodge; the local landmark designation for Giblem Lodge; removing two homes from the city of Wilmington’s Demolition by Neglect List through HWF’s Preservation Equity Fund; securing three preservation easements; hosting over 400 individuals on walking tours; and over 40 historic plaques awarded to historic homes.  

Goals: Gilbert said he would like to finalize a partnership with Cape Fear Collective to rehabilitate two houses on the National Register of Historic Places and sell them with affordable housing and preservation covenants. Other goals are raising $150,000 to preserve the masonry/stucco at Giblem Lodge and completing ground penetrating radar at Maides Cemetery. 

Livian Jones 

President, Streamline Development

Livian Jones has been president of her own firm, Streamline Development, since 2016. 

Why She's an Influencer:
Jones is known for connecting development firms with the people and resources they need to complete projects. Streamline specializes in development and construction management, as well as consulting on permitting, rezoning, project management, marketing, business development and land acquisition.  

Jones’ career had always been in the construction industry until she accepted the role of vice president of operations with Newland Real Estate, developer of Riverlights, a 1,400-acre master-planned Wilmington community along River Road.

Over the years, her clients have included Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage, Samet Corp., The Carroll Companies and State Street. 
Jones earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University and an MBA from UNCW, where she has served on various boards and was awarded Alumni of the Year in 2006. 

Nonprofit Work: Since 2007, Jones has owned and operated Furniture Finders, a nonprofit organization providing furniture to people in need.    

Chad Kimes

Division Engineer & Engineering Director, NCDOT

Chad Kimes in 2019 was appointed division engineer over the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Division 3 region, which includes New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties. He began working at the NCDOT in 1989 while attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and became a full-time employee in 1994. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
Kimes leads significant transportation projects in the Wilmington area. A major recent accomplishment was opening the $100 million Military Cutoff Extension project between Market Street and Interstate 140 in September. The Hampstead Bypass ($180 million) and N.C. 211 ($217 million) projects began construction in 2022.  

“My top unfunded project is the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement project,” Kimes said. “We are currently studying all options on the replacement of this critical bridge. We are working with all of our various partners to find the solution on this bridge.” 

Storm Crew: Kimes said he is also “very proud to be first responder to all storm events in this region for the last 30 years. Storm response is very critical in making sure our highways are open so other responders and critical supplies can get to their destinations. Storm resiliency continues to be a top priority. U.S. 421 is a perfect example of where the road completely washed out from Hurricane Florence, and NCDOT had a temporary bridge built within 45 days and had a new permanent bridge constructed within one year.”

Ryan Legg 

CEO, MegaCorp Logistics
As head of third-party logistics company MegaCorp Logistics, Ryan Legg has fostered business growth for a company built from scratch. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
Legg’s growing firm generates millions of dollars in revenue annually. Legg and his wife, Denise, launched the business in Wilmington in 2009, the day a noncompete agreement with a former business partner expired.

In 2022, the company purchased several properties around the Mayfaire area surrounding its current headquarters to help the company prepare for its planned expansion. MegaCorp has also expanded its presence in the Jacksonville, Florida, market.   

Ryan Legg is involved in community projects, including serving as chair of Home for Good: A Campaign for Permanent Solutions, a Good Shepherd initiative to build housing for the unsheltered population.   

Employee Base: The company has more than 500 employees in its five locations, with the majority of them in Wilmington. 

BJ Losch 

President & CFO, Live Oak Bank

In William C. (BJ) Losch III’s two years at Live Oak Bank, his responsibilities – and thus his impact – have burgeoned. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
Brought on board in 2021 as CFO, Losch was also named chief banking officer the following year. In that role, he led customer-facing sales, support and operational groups across the bank’s lending and deposit functions.  

In August of this year, Losch’s role expanded again as Live Oak appointed him president; he continues to serve as CFO of Live Oak Bancshares, the bank’s parent company. 

Live Oak Bancshares’ chairman and CEO Chip Mahan has credited Losch with making numerous changes to the company’s operations and management of its financial performance during two hectic years. In 2021, Live Oak Bank helped countless small businesses navigate pandemic-related issues. In 2022, the bank committed to specific expansions in exchange for receiving more than $2 million in investment grants from the state of North Carolina, New Hanover County and Wilmington. 

Losch has spent his entire career in the banking industry, including 12 years as senior vice president and CFO at First Horizon Corp. 

Planting the Seed: Helping lead a bank that emphasizes customer focus, Losch draws on what he learned at his first job: working at his hometown’s Bagel Smith. That experience, he said, convinced him that everyone should have to work in the service industry at some point. 

Tony McEwen

Carolinas Director, American Flood Coalition

After Hurricane Florence devastated the Cape Fear region in 2018, Tony McEwen organized a bipartisan coalition of Eastern North Carolina leaders to advance flood resilience at the state and federal level in partnership with the American Flood Coalition.  

Why He’s an Influencer:
At the time, McEwen was working for the city of Wilmington as its legislative and intergovernmental affairs director. A few years after Florence, he went to work for the American Flood Coalition, managing the group’s operations across both North Carolina and South Carolina. He’s a registered lobbyist in both states. 

The D.C.-based American Flood Coalition is a nonpartisan group of leaders that have come together to drive adaptation to the reality of higher seas, stronger storms and more frequent flooding. 

A statewide effort led to a $357 million allocation in North Carolina’s 2021 budget to fund flood resilience. This year, McEwen helped secure about $30 million for transportation-specific grants to improve flood resilience.   

Many municipalities in Southeastern North Carolina belong to the coalition McEwen formed, which leads the state in a direction that prepares infrastructure for more frequent flooding and severe storms. 

McEwen plans to use his role to continue advocating for more reliable and recurring resources for flood resilience across the Carolinas. 

Outside Work: McEwen also plays an active role in the Wilmington community. He’s a United Way of the Cape Fear member, and he created and still leads the annual Port City Jerry Day charity concert.

Tyler Newman  

President & CEO, BASE 

Representing a network of business interests in the region, Tyler Newman advocates for policy-related changes at the local and state government levels through the advocacy group Business Alliance for a Sound Economy, or BASE.

Why He’s an Influencer:
In recent years, Newman’s role has involved collaborating with partners “to advocate for several major regional wins including the return of Brunswick County to the Wilmington MSA; Project Grace (downtown block redevelopment project); Wrightsville Beach being able to use its traditional sand source for this fall’s renourishment; regulatory improvements (stormwater permitting); and substantial infrastructure investments at the NC. General Assembly (ILM, CFPUA, etc.); and delay of the state’s proposed Inlet Hazard Zone designations impacting hundreds of coastal properties,” he said. 

Current pushes include advocating for a Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement; keeping an eye on issues that impact the region’s ability to draw a young, talented workforce, enable businesses to grow and provide housing across the spectrum; and regulatory processes that frustrate investment. 

Projects in 2024: He said some of next year’s goals include “continuing to add business members to our growing BASE membership; advocating for passenger rail; and awaiting the results of the ongoing revenue study regarding the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge replacement.” 

Chris Norvell

Founding Principal, Edgewater Ventures 

Chris Norvell leads Edgewater Ventures’ efforts to buy and develop industrial assets throughout the Carolinas and the Southeast. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
Norvell and his company are having a significant impact on the industrial sector of Wilmington’s economy. 
In October, his company bought 187 acres on U.S. 421 in Wilmington for a massive expansion of one of its existing industrial projects. Edgewater purchased the property next to Wilmington Trade Center for $7.65 million from Invista to expand the industrial park to 212 acres. Edgewater plans to provide up to 3.3 million square feet of class A industrial facilities in the park.  

Edgewater has already developed two buildings totaling 315,000 square feet on the original 25-acre parcel acquired in 2021. “These facilities are presently 85% leased to four tenants: PaperFoam, Coastal Carrier, GLE and New Hanover County Emergency Services,” according to an October news release. “Edgewater plans to break ground on Building 3 in the first quarter of 2024, which will add another 100,000 square feet to the growing portfolio.” 

On the Latest Purchase: “This is one of the most exciting moments of my 26-year career in industrial real estate,” Norvell said. “I’ve worked on similar parks in larger Southeast markets for my entire career. But as a Wilmington resident, it’s exciting to bring a park of this scale to the region, which will provide great opportunities for job growth and economic development in my hometown.” 

Chris Reid 

President & COO, Thomas Construction Group
Chris Reid established Thomas Construction Group in 2005 with more than a decade of experience in management and technology. Since then, he’s secured unprecedented work for the firm, notably in the corporate commercial, behavioral health care and senior living program sectors. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
Reid directs and manages all aspects of the company’s day-to-day operations.

The company’s projects in Wilmington have included the mixed-use redevelopment of the New Hanover County Government Center; nCino’s corporate headquarters and parking deck; Autumn Hall office buildings and Origins restaurant; a medical office building for Novant Health in Brunswick County; and Eden Village, a tiny home village for the homeless and disabled in the Wilmington community. 

Project Underway: Reid’s company was awarded the design-build contract for Autumn Hall Building Five. Construction has begun on the 30,000-square-foot structure, which will hold medical practices. 

Rebekah Roth

Planning and Land Use Director, New Hanover County

Rebekah Roth leads the county’s 20-person Planning and Land Use Department, developing policies that help guide growth in unincorporated parts of New Hanover County. 

Why She’s an Influencer:
As the county’s top planning official, Roth and her staff work with residents, elected officials and other stakeholders to establish policies on how the unincorporated county should be developed.  

For Roth, this year laid a foundation for her department’s future work. For example, the department’s housing-focused team capitalized on a successful funding cycle this year to give nearly $3 million to two affordable housing projects. 

Roth’s department is currently in the early stages of updating the county’s Comprehensive Plan, a document that lays out the county’s long-term development vision. The update will kick off with a handful of short-term initiatives, including updates to development guidelines for the Cape Fear River’s western bank.  

The complete Comprehensive Plan update is set to begin in early 2024. It aims to identify existing needs and future challenges for residents, along with factoring in the economy and the area’s built and natural environments. 

Roth is also leading a staff study of flood risks in parts of the county without FEMA detailed studies, and the department is looking for grants to fund a tree canopy study.  

Making Edits: This year, the planning department refined and clarified its development procedures to make the process more standardized and accessible for residents and developers.  

Corey & Phallin Scott 

Owners, On Thyme Catering, Food Truck & Restaurant
Since Corey and Phallin Scott opened their business in 2019, they’ve consistently grown their ventures toward consumer demand. When the pandemic struck months after On Thyme Catering launched, the couple pivoted to selling their fare from a food truck. Soon after, customers requested a more reliable way to enjoy On Thyme’s offerings: a brick-and-mortar, community-minded restaurant that opened at 918 Castle St. in November 2022. 

Why They’re Influencers:
Part of the Scotts’ inspiration for opening the space came from visiting other cities with active Black-owned restaurant scenes. 

This year, the Scotts have continued to build their brand from their spot on Castle Street, which has drawn other new businesses and food spots; continued catering; and launched with friends a food cart for the trending hot dogs known as glizzies to be rented for events. 
They have no plans to slow down. 

Future concepts include either On Thyme Part Two or a brunch spot, Corey Scott said this summer. 

Going Viral: On Thyme got a social media boost – and national exposure – this year when popular TikTok food reviewer Keith Lee named On Thyme as one of the 10 winners of the Pepsi Dig In Restaurant Royalty Challenge.

Gene Smith

President, Brunswick Community College
As head of a community college consistently ranked as one of the state’s best, Gene Smith strives to engage residents with the college in some way: as a student, a donor, a member of its sports complex or an attendee at events staged at BCC’s Odell Williamson Auditorium. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
He’s working to help design BCC’s new Public Safety Training Center after the college received a $1 million Golden LEAF Foundation grant to provide public safety training equipment to expand and enhance its related curriculum.  

With another grant – from the John M. Belk Endowment – he’s leading efforts to attract more adult learners and improve student retention and completion.  

Under Smith’s guidance, BCC is expanding current trades programs, collaborating with East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine to implement a dental assisting program and an N.C. Community College System grant to help counterpart institutions develop programs similar to one at BCC that provides academic, social and workforce initiatives to help students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

On the Agenda: As the county’s population swells, Smith’s goals for 2024 include expanding program offerings and services for students at the main (Bolivia) campus as well as the Southport and Leland centers. The main campus will see continuing construction of the 25,000-square-foot Public Safety Training Center and the development of a new Center for Innovation and Workforce Development.

Lynda Stanley

President & CEO, Dosher Memorial Hospital
Lynda Stanley heads up Southport’s critical access hospital. Dosher Memorial Hospital employs 360 people and is currently growing its footprint. 

Why She’s an Influencer:
As Dosher’s president and CEO, Stanley has overseen new advancements in the hospital’s service lines, especially in technology. Patients in its emergency department are treated with technologies such as neurosurgery and telehealth, and robotic surgeries are an option for orthopedics patients.    

The hospital is about to embark on a significant expansion in size and services under its seven-year master facility plan as the southeastern part of Brunswick County continues to see rapid population growth. 

Under the plan, several clinics and hospital departments will be upgraded and expanded. The largest project involves building a new 8,000-square-foot emergency department.  

The first phase, expected to take about three years to finish, also includes expanding the hospital’s central sterile space, adding three more provider workspaces at Dosher Medical Plaza and growing the hospital’s lab and pharmacy spaces. 

Tech Interventions: Dosher recently added teleneurology to help identify and treat stroke patients faster and without having to be transferred to a neighboring hospital. 

Jason & David Swain 

Developers, Swain & Associates

Father-son duo David and Jason Swain led the way for the creation of Center Point, a massive mixed-use project underway on Military Cutoff and Eastwood roads. 

Why They’re Influencers:
Besides the Center Point development, the Swains’ development vision can be seen throughout the Wilmington area and beyond. Center Point, where apartments are currently under construction, is anticipated to include a hotel; retail shops and restaurants that combine national chains and local boutiques; first-class office space; and two multi-level, structured parking decks.  

During the early phase of his career, David Swain developed and constructed more than 45 apartment complexes. Since 1979, a division of Swain & Associates has specialized in creating retail shopping centers and has developed, built or redeveloped about 80 properties. 

After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2002, Jason Swain joined the Swain & Associates team to learn the family business. Today, he is involved in all new projects the company undertakes and oversees all development process elements, including property acquisition, project leasing and financing. 

Community Involvement: The son of a schoolteacher, David Swain and his wife in 2009 donated $1 million to UNCW for the Swain Center for Business and Economic Services. Jason Swain is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers, a member of the board of the Swain Center and a member of St. Andrews-Covenant Presbyterian Church.

Bryan Thomas 

President & CEO, Monteith Construction
Bryan Thomas has worked for 25 years at Monteith Construction, rising from assistant superintendent to his current roles of president and CEO. Thomas was part of the founding team to grow Monteith Construction from a small office in Monroe to four locations in North Carolina and South Carolina. 

Why He’s an Influencer: Thomas oversees high-level operations for each of Monteith Construction’s construction projects. 
One of the most notable sites in the Wilmington area is the Wilmington International Airport (ILM). According to company officials, an expansion/renovation project in the early 2000s at ILM initially brought Monteith Construction and Thomas to Wilmington, eventually leading the company to relocate its headquarters here from Monroe.  
In 2018, the company worked to repair dozens of New Hanover County schools following damage from Hurricane Florence. The following year brought the opening of Girls Leadership Academy of Wilmington (GLOW), built by Monteith. In 2021 came the launch of Spotlight, Monteith Construction’s renovation, upfit and specialty project division. In 2022, the firm opened a larger office in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to expand operations and local ties across the Grand Strand Region. 

Upcoming Project: Monteith is the general contractor for Project Grace. This public-private partnership will redevelop a block owned by New Hanover County into a mix of public facilities and commercial and residential space.   

Raiford Trask

President, Trask Land Co. 

Raiford Trask III is responsible for all aspects of day-to-day management, strategic planning and long-range planning for Trask Land Co. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
With roots starting in the 18th century, the Trask family’s influence on the Cape Fear region goes back hundreds of years. They first made a name for themselves as successful lettuce farmers and then landowners and prominent developers. These days, Raiford Trask III continues to be closely involved in numerous developments. Trask was also essential in creating and executing the overall vision of the popular mixed-use community Autumn Hall.  

Accolades: Trask has received numerous awards, including recognition from the American Planning Association’s North Carolina chapter and the city of Wilmington. He previously served on the UNC Board of Governors, completing a four-year term in 2015. 

Stephanie Caulder & Ron Vetter

Founding Deans, UNCW College of Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts & UNCW College of Science and Engineering

At UNCW, Ron Vetter is founding dean of the College of Science and Engineering while Stephanie Caulder is founding dean of the College of Humanities, Social Sciences and the Arts. 

Both colleges started July 1 as a result of the university splitting its College of Arts and Sciences. Vetter is also a professor in the Department of Computer Science. Caulder came to her position from Redford University in Virginia, where she was dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts.  

Why They’re Influencers:
Caulder leads a college with 15 departments and is responsible for organizing curricula, managing finances, fundraising for scholarships, professorships, programs, facilities and other college needs, she said. Coordinating with UNCW’s new 10-year plan, Caulder said she is putting together a strategic plan for the college and will create an annual report to commemorate the college’s inaugural year. 

Vetter has published more than 120 journal, conference and technical papers in his career. His 25-year-long career has included starting two technology companies, serving as associate provost for research and then dean of the Graduate School at UNCW until 2018.  

Homecoming: Caulder was born and raised in Wilmington before leaving for 30 years to pursue her career. She has always called Wilmington home, she said in UNCW’s release. 

Kenneth Waldroup

Executive Director, CFPUA 

Kenneth Waldroup is leading the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority as it embarks on the largest capital improvement project yet – the $250 million replacement of the Southside Wastewater Treatment Plant, which opened in 1972. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
At the helm of the utility authority that supplies water and wastewater services to much of New Hanover County, Waldroup is responsible for a nearly $100 million budget and a staff of 340. 

Waldroup joined the utility authority in June 2021 amid a yearslong effort to mediate dangerous levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the region’s drinking water.  

He led efforts to install eight granular activated carbon filters at the Sweeney Water Treatment Plant last year. Under Waldroup’s leadership, the utility authority remains involved in PFAS advocacy at the local, state and federal levels. 

The utility authority is working to replace aging water and sewer infrastructure across its service area and is currently negotiating a potential consolidation with the town of Wrightsville Beach. 

In the coming year, the utility authority aims to extend water and sewer infrastructure into key northern New Hanover County corridors. The organization will hire a workforce development manager to oversee employee development, diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. 

Water Leader: This year, Waldroup was appointed one of about 20 utility leaders nationwide to sit on the American Water Works Association’s Water Utility Council. The council develops policy recommendations for the water industry’s largest professional group. 

Jack Watson

Dean, UNCW College of Health and Human Services
Since he became head of the CHHS earlier this year, Jack Watson has lost no time in identifying health care and social services needs in the region and finding partners to help address those needs. He previously served as dean of West Virginia University’s College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
To address the shortage of nurses in New Hanover County, Waston and his colleagues at the college teamed up with Cape Fear Community College, New Hanover County Schools and the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce to craft a grant proposal for the New Hanover Community Endowment.  

Watson is also leading the development of new academic programs that meet health care workforce needs. As a new resident of the area, he is aware that housing costs are out of reach for many people, from students to service employees to retirees, and would like to be part of finding solutions to the problem. 

Looking Forward: Although he’s still settling into his new position, Watson has identified several goals for the college, including growth in the number of students, quality of programs and reputation. An enhanced institution, he believes, will be able to produce more students to help address the health care workforce shortage. Pair that with new programs that answer the needs of the future and more opportunities for students and faculty to engage with the community, and Watson sees increased influence for his college in the region. 

Margaret Weller-Stargell

President & CEO, Coastal Horizons Center

Margaret Weller-Stargell oversees Coastal Horizons Center’s service area in Eastern North Carolina, with services addressing substance abuse and mental health to crisis intervention and justice services. The organization also operates the only integrated school-based health provider in Wilmington. 

Why She’s an Influencer:
Named director in 1995, Weller-Stargell began her work in counseling at Coastal Horizons in 1985. 

Wilmington-based Coastal Horizons’ service footprint covers over half of the state’s counties. It is the largest private, nonprofit human service organization in Southeastern North Carolina. 

In 2023, the nonprofit was named one of 10 winners of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Behavioral Health Equity Challenge for promoting equity within the behavioral health sphere. 

It has expanded medication-assisted treatment programs in Brunswick and Pender counties. The New Hanover Opioid Treatment Program provides services to more than 600 patients, caring for another 50 patients in Brunswick County and 50 in Pender County. 

Outreach: In the past year, Coastal Horizons’ 680 employees worked with about 14,000 people through various services. 

Woody White 

Member, UNC System Board of Governers & New Hanover Community Endowment 

Woody White is a longtime attorney who has served on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and in the state Senate. 

Why He’s an Influencer:
This year, White added other high-profile appointments to his body of work that include having a say on higher education issues statewide and on the $1 billion-plus endowment fund that came from NHRMC's sale to Novant Health. 

In March, White, who previously served as a UNCW trustee, was appointed to the UNC Board of Governors. That board governs the UNC system, including 16 public universities and the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics. The N.C. Senate appointed White to a spot on the BOG replacing fellow Wilmington attorney Thomas Goolsby, whose term ended in June. 

Closer to home, in December, White will join the 13-member New Hanover Community Endowment board as an appointee by the county commissioners along with Pat Kusek. It followed a required two-year pause between serving as county commissioners and being eligible to join the endowment board. 

Magic Wand: Asked what is one thing he would change about the region to make it better, Woody said, “I would consolidate government into a city/county entity that would a) immediately partner with the New Hanover Community Endowment on a number of challenges facing us; b) lower the number of elected officials; c) merge key departments to realize scaled efficiencies; and d) vertically integrate the delivery of government services and allocation of resources to achieve greater outcomes.”

Gwen Whitley 

President & CEO, Lower Cape Fear LifeCare

Gwen Whitley has spent over 35 years in health care in the area, moving through the nursing ranks and becoming president and CEO of Lower Cape Fear LifeCare in 2016. It is one of the area’s largest nonprofits and is now the third-largest hospice provider in North Carolina.
Why She’s an Influencer:
Since becoming head of the organization, Whitley has overseen it being recognized as an industry leader and presented with the Hospice Honor Elite award from HEALTHCAREfirst. 

Lower Cape Fear LifeCare, or LCFL, created its first diversity initiative to increase knowledge and access to critical care in all communities.
Whitley has led LCFL’s commitment to serving people with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related diseases, including creating LifeCare Memory Partners. This consultative program provides free assessments, information, education and resources to families. Since LifeCare Memory Partners launched in 2019, the program has worked with more than 1,500 patients and caregivers. 

Industry Board: Whitley has been a member of the Association for Home & Hospice Care of North Carolina’s board for the past six years, including serving on its executive committee.

Read more about the 2023 WilmingtonBiz 100 honorees by clicking here.

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