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18
Jul
2016

In Wilmington, NC and Everywhere: Economic Development Is More Than Just Growth

by Scott Johnson, Chairman, Cape Fear Economic Development Council Category:

The following blog post is the second entry of a series in WilmingtonBiz.com Insights and reflects the opinion of the Cape Fear Economic Development Council. Written by Chairman Scott Johnson in support of adopting the improved community-focused Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP), it advocates for clean and responsible economic growth for New Hanover County.

Cities and towns recognize the need to pursue economic growth and adopt policies and programs, including incentives, that are designed to enhance economic development opportunities. Most residents understand there is a relationship between the successful function of the local economy and the quality of life they enjoy. They also know that many community services, including public schools, are often defined by the amount of local taxes collected. But how we implement and define what economic growth means to us will be the tipping point for how an older industrial area, such as ours, will remake and rewrite the story of the power of economic innovation.

Historic concepts of economic growth in American cities like Wilmington can be viewed in many ways. One view has been that all growth is good, without a realistic consideration of the impact it may have on the environment, public health and quality of life. Our city has been defined by the quality of employment and family incomes, and there is an assumption that there is a positive relationship between economic growth and quality of life.

However, recent trends in economic development indicate that elected and appointed officials in communities both large and small are now choosing to promote growth strategies that inherently protect quality of life and the public’s health over unbridled growth. While there has always been some tension between environmental protections and economic development, for the most part, communities now appreciate the value and return on investment of smart growth. Wilmington and New Hanover County should not be an exception to this strategy. The way we approach and discuss economic development can help our long-standing environmental, health and economic disparities. Many of these challenges are related to how communities and regions are planned and built.

In recent land use requests involving heavy industry, the CFEDC and the greater Wilmington community have articulated that the preservation and protection of our air and water quality should be a top priority. While we understand the need for an innovative economy that provides a wide variety of job opportunities for a diverse workforce, we also recognize that certain intensive industries have a greater cost than benefit to the community.

The CFEDC believes that a sustainable and thriving economy includes a wide variety of businesses, industries and institutions that are environmentally responsible, financially viable and provide living wages. We also believe that economic development grounded in the notion of growth for growth’s sake is not only an antiquated view, but is potentially harmful and counterintuitive to modern trends in development that emphasize quality of place. Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo was recently quoted in this Business Journal as saying, “[we’re] very protective of our water quality and our environment …and that’s one of the things that makes us a great place.” He added, “Citizens have come to expect and want good environmental stewardship of the area.” With this stewardship comes the recognition that there must be polices in place to safeguard the natural assets of our community and to mitigate unintended consequences. The proposed improvements to the Industrial Special Use Permit (SUP) are a zoning tool and require our support for the timely adoption by our commissioners.

By adopting the proposed improvements to the Industrial SUP, our leaders and residents have the tool to preserve the well-being of our community and reduce threats to our public health and natural resources by properly and publicly vetting potentially heavy intensive polluting industries. The proposed improvements to the Industrial SUP can support smart economic growth to build inclusive communities that are attractive to residents and businesses and help recruit clean industries. Furthermore, proper and sustainable land-use planning can support an increase in clean, innovative, knowledge-based jobs that provide employment opportunities for all residents.

Our community and business leaders should promote non-polluting economic and community development and provide tools to pave the way for more clean businesses, including recreation, marine and biotechnology, tech and software, tourism, the renewable energy sector, and more. More importantly, without the filters provided by the proposed improvements to the Industrial SUP to vet heavy polluters, these types of advanced manufacturing and clean industries might not choose to invest and create new jobs in New Hanover County.

The CFEDC brings together industry, community leaders, and the public to foster collaboration, transparency, inspiration, and alignment around a shared regional vision. To learn more about the Cape Fear Economic Development Council or become a member, go to www.capefearedc.org or call (910) 471-1616.