Leaving the Chamber Strong

After 35 years of chamber of commerce management, including 22 years as President & CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, today I announced my retirement.


Wilmington Named One of Coolest Southern Towns

Jetsetter Magazine has released its list of Coolest Southern Towns, and Wilmington was ranked at #6.


Cape Fear Future

The mission of Cape Fear Future - the flagship program of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce - is to further develop the region's knowledge sector economy to promote economic development and ensure the prosperity of the region. The initiative aims to leverage existing assets to build a community where knowledge sector workers would like to live.

Why is this important? Because the knowledge sector (entrepreneurs, scientists, tech workers, nurses, teachers, etc.) will continue to be the fuel for economic growth through their development of new businesses, business models, and technological innovation. Cape Fear Future will also help the region keep stride with globalization and remain competitive with other cities vying for workers in high-growth industries.

Fortunately, the Wilmington area has inherent advantages due to its supreme quality of life and resources such as the beach and river, thriving arts community, historic district, and more. But there is room for improvement, so CFF has created three task forces to focus on education (particularly science, technology, engineering and math or STEM), promoting entrepreneurship, and spearheading projects to further enhance quality of life.

Recent projects have included advocating for more open space in downtown Wilmington and a signature park. Members of the CFF Quality of Life Task Force are currently working with the City, WDI, and others to revitalize and expand Riverfront Park.

CFF is also supporting programs that will enhance the region's competitiveness globally, particularly through entrepreneurship. The Entrepreneurship Task Force is led by the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center, which serves as a catalyst for entrepreneurial growth in Southeastern North Carolina. The center created an entrepreneur camp for youth; provides advisors for aspiring entrepreneurs and helps connect them with angel investors; and has successfully helped create jobs, recruit companies and launch startups.

The CFF Education Task Force is working to improve K-12 education and STEM offerings. One initiative has been the promotion of STEM programs by creating a website with a comprehensive list of after-school programs, contests, and activities that promote an interest in STEM. The project was completed through a partnership with the UNCW Watson School of Education.

These are only a few of the projects CFF is undertaking to help ensure our businesses have the workers they need and the region enjoys economic prosperity for decades to come.

Dr. Richard Florida's Creativity Action Team, Catalytix Inc., initially facilitated CFF and was responsible for creation of the blueprint for achieving its goals.

Who makes up the knowledge sector? There are 4 main occupation groups that can be remembered using the acronym TAPE:

T = Technology and R&D Innovation
A = Arts and Culture
P = Professional and Managerial
E = Educating and Training

The knowledge sector segment does not include the manufacturing or service work sectors. But many of the workers in these segments are knowledge workers, so the Cape Fear Future initiative will look at occupations as opposed to industry segments.

U.S. Occupation Breakdowns

Knowledge Service Manufacturing
Workers (Talent) 38,600,000 48,600,000 24,600,000
% of Workforce 30.3% 46.1% 23.3%
% of Wages 48.9% 31.1% 19.9%

Wilmington Occupation Breakdowns

Knowledge Service Manufacturing
Workers (Talent) 31,220 63,740 30,320
% of Workforce 24.9% 50.8% 24.2%
% of Wages 41.0% 36.0% 22.9%
The 4 Ts

Catalytix uses data compiled nationally from the "4-T's" to help define a region's rank in knowledge sector development: Technology and Innovation; Talent and Workforce; Tolerance and Diversity; and Territory Assets and Quality of Place.

At the time of the study in 2007, in the Technology category, Wilmington ranked number 54 out of 331 U.S. regions (84%), which is above average.

For Talent, Wilmington dropped to the middle of the pack at 164 (50%) and had a very similar score for Tolerance and Diversity at 182 (45%).

Territory assets are not given a ranked score, as they are things unique to a region that knowledge sector workers may find attractive in enhancing their quality of life. However, Catalytix consultants said Wilmington does exceptionally well in this area.

Wilmington's composite knowledge index ranked the area at 118 out of 331 regions, or 64%, giving the area a respectable rank, but with plenty of room for improvement.

For the data gathered by Catalytix to be truly significant, comparisons will be made against other cities. The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors compiled a list of 25 cities that will be benchmarked. Cities were chosen for numerous reasons, including: similar size/makeup, location/proximity, areas known to have strong knowledge sector development, areas that are competitive with the Cape Fear area for attracting workers, etc.

A list of the benchmark cities and their base knowledge sector rankings compared to the Cape Fear area has already been compiled.

Cape Fear Final Benchmarks

Education and Workforce Development

Cape Fear Future supports efforts that expand educational programs/resources that have the greatest impact on preparing our students with the knowledge and skills needed to meet our current and future workforce needs. This program compliments the efforts of numerous existing local and state groups, agencies, institutions, and service providers in developing and delivering a sustainable, well-trained, and competitive workforce.

  • Support efforts to increase opportunities/availability for STEM education programs and projects in the tri-county region
    • STEM Inventory
      • Partner with UNCW Watson School of Education on project to increase exposure and expand STEM database
      • Update inventory quarterly, expand content, enhance ease of use, raise awareness, and foster usage among teachers and parents
      • Design a comprehensive, web-based resource to maximize teacher/parent access to STEM programs for K-12 students in New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender Counties
    • STEM Roundtable
      • Partner with UNCW Watson School of Education to bring businesses and community organizations together to collaborate on programs and initiatives to improve STEM education in our region and support our local schools
      • Hold periodic open forums to explore synergies and collaborate on initiatives that would benefit regional organizations and the broader community, including programs in support of core standards
  • Maximize opportunities for businesses and civic leaders to participate in our schools and work to significantly grow the base of business leaders committed to public education through programs like:
    • Superintendent's Business Advisory Council
    • "Lunch and Learn" Speaker Series that facilitates business and school partnerships
  • Maintain and strengthen a robust infrastructure that sustains current and future programs through marketing and promotion
    • Partner with members from the Chamber Foundation to compile Pre K-12 schools' statistics for tri- county performance profile
      • Create brochure to provide relevant statistical information to recruiting prospects, commercial and residential realtors and anyone interested at our school systems that is the go-to resource
      • Pre-K-12 and STEM statistics are being provided on the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce website and a brochure has been created to distribute to the aforementioned entities; updated quarterly [link to brochure here]

Central Business District Revitalization

Downtown Wilmington is a mix of history, artistry, and possibility. Its varied character makes it a vibrant urban hub for business, tourism, chic living and more. Recent additions like the construction of the Wilmington Convention Center and Cape Fear Community College Performing Arts Center are bringing additional amenities. CFF seeks to leverage these strengths and downtown's beautiful location along the riverfront, while infusing more creativity and culture. Our goal is to continue the revitalization of downtown into a thriving, exciting and appealing urban district that symbolizes our community's unique blend of past and present:

  • Assist in identifying and developing visitor-related projects that will improve downtown visitation and investment
  • Support the establishment of an entrepreneur/business incubator downtown to connect entrepreneurs and small businesses
  • Expand offerings for arts, cultural amenities, and recreation within the CBD and along the Riverfront
    • Promote the arts as an economic driver
      • Develop a public arts project
      • Support the efforts of the new arts council
      • Partner with the NC Arts Council/Americans for the Arts "Arts and Economic Prosperity Study"
    • Riverfront Park Space
      • Facilitate the partnerships necessary to complete the three phases of an improved downtown park
    • Create a Civic Design Center

Entrepreneurial Development

73% of businesses in our region have less than 10 employees and 75% of new jobs created in the US since 1992 are entrepreneurial. The UNCW Entrepreneurship Center is training and recruiting entrepreneurs to help create jobs, advance innovation, and increase the region's tax base.

  • Promote and assist the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center (EC) to connect and recruit entrepreneurs, catalyze more business startups and create jobs, and encourage and develop entrepreneurship education/research
    • Become the destination for entrepreneurship in Southeastern NC and one of the top 10 entrepreneurship centers in the world for entrepreneurial content and information
    • Continue to develop the EC so it will be the premier model for other cities, towns, and universities to emulate for job creation, entrepreneurship and innovation
    • Create 2,000 jobs in 10 years
    • Establish an innovative incubator to recruit and launch startups
    • Create community investment fund and establish long-term financial security
    • Perform cutting edge research on angel investment
    • Continue hosting innovative events attended by people from all over the world
  • Create an interactive map for knowledge workers considering relocating to Greater Wilmington that includes detailed information on our bike trails, parks, restaurants, historic districts, beaches, nightlife, waterways, and the diversity of cultural attractions we all enjoy

Successes to Date

Since 2010, CFF has experienced a number of successes through our initiatives:

  • Collaborated with City of Wilmington and Wilmington Downtown Incorporated to implement U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant for downtown Riverfront park
  • Acted as Fiscal Agent for the NC Arts Council/Americans for the Arts "Arts and Economic Prosperity Study"
  • Assisted in the re-establishment of an arts council through promotion and marketing
    • Issued Pledge Forms to Chamber and CFF distribution lists (over 1800 recipients); collected contact information
    • Placed full page ad in StarNews advocating creation of Arts Council which included a pledge form to call for support
    • Designed online survey to gauge community support for arts council
  • Worked with local law enforcement to advocate for and ultimately achieve ABC reform to allow police in bars downtown.
  • Created and distributed workforce readiness survey to gain a better understanding of business leaders' expectations for the future workforce, and to help guide CFF's focus areas in workforce preparedness
  • Created an inventory of available area STEM related programs, contests, competitions, hands-on activities and more; partnering with the UNCW Watson School of Education to expand inventory content and to create a comprehensive, web-based resource to maximize teacher/parent access to STEM programs for K-12 students
  • Partnered with Chamber Foundation and New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley to create a Business Advisory Council to leverage business-school partnerships
  • Produced tri-county performance profile of area school statistics to provide to corporate prospects
  • Affected positive change in the New Hanover County Schools superintendent selection process, allowing for a greater degree of business community input
  • Advanced entrepreneurial development through the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center by generating 13 new jobs (average salary $44k), 7 student internships and $1.6 million in equity funding for startup companies
    • 24 Entrepreneurship Majors Graduated
    • EC Membership Base Reached 110 Entrepreneurs
    • 2 New Companies Launched
    • 4 Events Hosted Attended by 610 People (State of Entrepreneurship, Going Global, Rocket Pitch, and Coastal Entrepreneur Awards)

Connie Majure-Rhett, CCE
Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce
President & CEO (CFF co-leader)

Rob Kaiser
Greater Wilmington Business Journal
Publisher (CFF co-leader)

Emily Longley
Longley Supply Company

Hal Kitchin
McGuireWoods, LLC

Randy Tomsic
Wachovia Bank
Market President

Jack Barto
New Hanover Regional Medical Center

Scott Satterfield
Wilmington Industrial Development

Chris Boney
LS3P Associates
Principal (Quality of Life initiative leader)

John Gizdic
New Hanover Regional Medical Center
Vice President (Education initiative leader)

Jonathan Rowe
UNCW Entrepreneurship Center
Director (Entrepreneurship initiative leader)

Cape Fear Future Commission

47 area business, community and government leaders make up the Cape Fear Future Commission. The role of the Commission is to communicate and provide input on CFF initiatives, identify and propel important initiatives forward, and help leverage existing efforts and organizations.

Cape Fear Future was initiated by the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Richard Florida's Creativity Action Team, Catalytix Inc., served as a consultant on the initiative.

CFF Commission Members

Jack Barto, CEO
New Hanover Regional Medical Center

Chris Boney, Managing Principal
LS3P Associates LTD.

Jim Bradshaw, Director
Brunswick County Economic Dev.

Anne Brennan, Director
Cameron Art Museum

Jim Bryan, Regional
Executive V.P., First Citizens Bank

Sterling Cheatham, City Manager
City of Wilmington

Shann Coleman, Founder
Wilm. Minority Professional Networking Group

Andy Combs, General Manager
WWAY NewsChannel 3

Chris Coudriet, Asst. County Manager
New Hanover County

John Elliott, District Manager
Progress Energy

Jack Fuller
Retired CEO, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy

Donna Girardot, Executive Officer
Wilmington-Cape Fear Homebuilders Assoc.

Jon Gizdic, Vice President
New Hanover Regional Medical Center

Bill Graham, Chairman
Cape Fear Health Policy Council

Bob Gruber, Publisher
StarNews Media

Jeff James, CEO
Wilmington Health Associates

Gene Jordan, Chairman
Pender County Smart Start Board

Rob Kaiser, Publisher
Greater Wilmington Business Journal

Hal Kitchin, Partner
McGuireWoods LLP

Connie Knox, General Manager

Elizabeth Kuronen, SVP

Emily Longley, President
Longley Supply Company

Captain Howard Loving
US Navy (Ret)

John Lyon, Regional Director
AT&T North Carolina

Connie Majure-Rhett, Pres. & CEO
Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

Phil Marion, City Executive

Tim Markley, Superintendent
New Hanover County Schools

Louise McColl, Owner
McColl & Associates

Paul McCombie, City Executive
NewBridge Bank

Eric McKeithan, President
Cape Fear Community College

Gary McNair, VP & General Manager

Tim Milam, Owner
Coldwell Banker Seacoast Realty

Gary Miller, Chancellor

Jerry Panz, Director
Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS

Chad Paul, Managing Partner
Harbor Island Equity Partners, LLC

Tom Roper, Chairman
Pender County School Board

Jon Rosborough, Director
Wilmington International Airport

George Rountree, Principal
Rountree Losee Baldwin

Jonathan Rowe, Director
UNCW Entrepreneurship Center

Bill Saffo, Mayor
City of Wilmington

Scott Satterfield, Director
Wilmington Industrial Development

Dave Spetrino, Owner
Plantation Building Corp.

Margaret Stargell, Executive Director
Coastal Horizons Center, Inc.

Scott Sullivan, Manager
Cameron Management

Randy Tomsic, Market President
Wells Fargo

Raiford Trask, Vice President
Autumn Hall

James Wallace, CEO
Intracoastal Realty Corporation

Bob Warwick, Partner
McGladrey, Inc.

Todd Wiggs, Plant Manager
Corning, Inc.