NHC Economic Mobility Report aims to tackle issues of aging population and shrinking middle class

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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – New Hanover County commissioned Greenfield to create a comprehensive report to provide the county with data to help guide future development. Titled Economic Mobility Report 2022, it explores the evolution of the county’s economy and recommendations for the future.

In short, the report found that New Hanover County struggles with a declining middle class, limited space for new developments, and challenges maintaining young residents. To combat some of these issues, Greenfield recommends supporting industries such as film and logistics that play to county strengths and could potentially strengthen the middle class.

From more than 70 pages of the report, Greenfield pulled out some key findings.

Their first observation: the county of New Hanover is struggling to maintain its middle class. With few middle positions, it becomes increasingly difficult for people with lower salaries to move up the salary ladder. As the report puts it: “The consequences of an unbalanced economy are costly. Average salaries provide more tax revenue and the price of housing continues to rise beyond the reach of many people.

Second, the county has limited space for new businesses: New Hanover County is the second smallest county by area and 12th by population. Currently, only about 14% of the county’s acres are available for new development.

Third, the county’s population continues to age and the county struggles to retain young workers. The number of people under the age of 18 increased from 47,221 in 2010 to 41,047 in 2019.

The age distribution of the county in the last two census reports.(New Hanover/Greenfield County)

The last of their key findings is that COVID-related labor disruptions may also have created new opportunities for growth, such as more businesses being established and more people choosing to work remotely.

The report’s recommendations revolve around three main economic objectives:

  • Increase the tax base
  • Promoting better paying jobs while recreating middle income opportunities
  • Align targeted business lines with existing economic conditions

Greenfield recommends that the county encourage and support certain industries based on their research.

Warehouse and logistics positions, while not as well paid as manufacturing positions, still offer higher salaries than service sector jobs. Additionally, warehousing and logistics support the city’s strong commercial transportation network.

The report also encourages the growth of existing life science manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries in the region. Positions in the cybersecurity, IT and other digital technology industry could provide new opportunities for county residents in a rapidly growing sector.

In line with state and national environmental quality objectives, Greenfield highlights opportunities in the offshore wind sector. The United States Bureau of Ocean Management has found that North Carolina has the highest wind energy potential on the Atlantic coast. It may be several years before construction gets underway, but the offshore wind industry has strong international support and momentum.

As the various local film festivals indicate, Greenfield sees potential in supporting the local film industry. The Film Partnership of NC provides funds for workforce training, UNCW and the CFCC both run film-related programs, and groups like the Wilmington Regional Film Commission support the local industry.

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