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.

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 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, a thriving arts community and historic district, and more. But there is room for improvement, so CFF is focused on improving education (particularly science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM), promoting entrepreneurship, and spearheading projects to further enhance quality of life.

Projects have included advocating for more open space in downtown Wilmington and a signature park. The City has now purchased and approved the master design for Northern Waterfront Park that will add new festival and event space, as well as passive park land. CFF worked with the City, Wilmington Downtown, Inc., and others to revitalize and expand Riverfront Park.

CFF is also supporting programs that will enhance the region’s competitiveness globally, particularly through entrepreneurship. CFF has provided significant funding to the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which serves as a catalyst for entrepreneurial growth in Southeastern North Carolina. Through events, opportunities, research, education and building relationships, the CIE is building a large community of entrepreneurs and works to align start ups with angel investors. The CIE has successfully helped create jobs, recruit companies and launch new businesses.

In 2015, Cape Fear Future published its first Regional Economic Scorecard for the Wilmington region. This unbiased collection of key data provides our region’s business, governmental, community and academic leaders with information to help focus a collective effort to address our challenges and highlight strengths. The second annual Scorecard was published in 2016 and the publication will continue for years to come.

CFF is also working to improve K-12 education and STEM offerings. In 2014, CFF funded the STEM program Project Lead The Way at Trask Middle School. Students participated in the “Gateway To Technology” program that engages the natural curiosity and imagination of students, while introducing them to engineering, robotics, computer modeling, and energy, among other STEM-related subjects. CFF continued funding for these students through the seventh and eighth grades. The PLTW program was so well received by students that New Hanover County Schools has expanded it to an additional school, and is exploring expansion to every middle school in New Hanover County.

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.

There are 4 main occupation groups that make up the Knowledge Sector. They 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

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

Workers (Talent)
31,220 63,740 30,320
% of Workforce
24.9% 50.8% 24.2%
% of Wages
41.0% 36.0% 22.9%

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 were used as benchmarks. 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 were compiled when CFF was initiated in 2006. Click here to view the original benchmarking data…

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
      • 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 a Superintendent’s Business Advisory Council
  • Maintain and strengthen a robust infrastructure that sustains current and future programs through marketing and promotion
    • Fund the STEM program Project Lead The Way (PLTW) at Trask Middle School. The PLTW “Gateway To Technology” program engages the natural curiosity and imagination of students, while introducing them to engineering, robotics, computer modeling, and energy, among other STEM-related subjects. The program has been so successful that New Hanover County Schools is expanding it to additional schools.

Quality of Life

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 The Wilson Center (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
  • 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 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 Riverfront Park improvements in downtown
  • Create a Civic Design Center

Entrepreneurial Development

Approximately 75% of businesses in our region have less than 10 employees. The UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is training and recruiting entrepreneurs to help create jobs, advance innovation, and increase the region’s tax base.

  • Promote and assist the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) 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 CIE so it will be the premier model for other cities, towns, and universities to emulate for job creation, entrepreneurship and innovation
    • 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

Successes to Date

Since 2010, CFF has achieved a number of successes through its 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 1,800 recipients); collected contact information
    • Placed advertising in the 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
  • Began Project Lead The Way STEM program at Trask Middle School for sixth-eighth grade students
  • Partnered with Chamber Foundation and New Hanover County Schools superintendent 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 funding for the UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, helping to generate new jobs, student internships and equity funding for startup companies
Mitch Lamm, CFF Chairman (First Citizens, Senior VP)
Chris Boney (LS3P Associates, Principal)
John Elliott (Duke Energy, Director, Government & Community Relations)
Natalie English (Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, President & CEO)
John Gizdic (New Hanover Regional Medical Center, President & CEO)
Rob Kaiser (Greater Wilmington Business Journal, Publisher)
Hal Kitchin (McGuireWoods LLP, Partner)
Charlie Mattox (BB&T, Senior Vice President/Market President)
Tee Nunnelly (President, Coastal Beverage Co.)
Ted Shipley (Counsel, Live Oak Bank)
Randy Tomsic (Wells Fargo, Market President)
Sign up to receive the next issue of Chamber Email Newsletter.

Founders Circle ($100,000 and above)

New Hanover Regional Medical Center
George Rountree, III
Liberty Healthcare

Platinum Division ($50,000 – $99,999)

City of Wilmington
Wells Fargo

Gold Division ($25,000 – $49,999)

First Citizens Bank
McKim & Creed
Cape Fear Commercial
Landmark Organization, Inc.
Live Oak Bank
Longley Supply Company
Monteith Construction

Silver Division ($10,000 – 24,999)

Smith Moore Leatherwood
Premier Staffing
McGuireWoods LLP
Murchison, Taylor & Gibson, PLLC
NewBridge Bank
Thomas Construction Group
LS3P Associates, Ltd.
StarNews Media
Bob King Auto Mall

Bronze Division ($2,500 to $9,999)

Morvil Advertising & Design
Residence Inn Marriott
Parkway Hyundai
Greater Wilmington Business Journal
Becker Morgan Group
Schaeffer BMW
Wilmington Machinery Inc.
Cunningham & Company
TD Bank
Reeds Jewelers
Connie Majure-Rhett
Craige & Fox, PLLC
Cornerstone Advisory Partners
Pathfinder Wealth Consulting
Ken Weeden & Associates
Woodbury and Company
Imperial Trading Company
Plantation Building Corp.
Adam Shay, CPA
Wilmington Pathology
Fountain Financial Associates
James Moore Insurance
Edward Jones Financial Advisors

Copper Division ($1,000 – $2,499)

Bank of America
Williford, Houston and Company, CPAs, P.A.
Verzaal’s Florist
Hawthorne Residential Partners
Inclinix / PMG Research
Matchmaker Logistics, Inc.
Andrew Consulting Engineers PC
Markraft Cabinets
North State Bank
Delaney Radiologists
Children’s Museum of Wilmington
David Sims & Associates, Consulting Engineers, PC
Duke Ladd Music
IronGate Partners