Improving Business in the Wilmington Region


When measured by land mass, New Hanover County is North Carolina’s second smallest
county. At the same time, the county’s population is among the state’s fastest growing. In
response, county leaders are looking into the future, gauging land needs for use by the
companies and people of tomorrow. Strategic investments in acreage and infrastructure
are readying sites for industrial operations. The vision is similar to the thinking and planning
by Pender County leaders 20 years ago when conversations began with Wilmington
Business Development (WBD) about transforming the U.S. 421 corridor. The result was
Pender Commerce Park, which has shifted the region’s center of economic gravity.

For New Hanover County leaders, the next frontier is Castle Hayne – specifically, Blue Clay Road, Sidbury Road and Holly Shelter Road.

“Having successful economic development in the community means using real-time
information to make decisions that work for today’s market but also staying strategically
focused for what the future holds,” said Bill Rivenbark, Chair of the New Hanover County
Board of Commissioners. Rivenbark, who serves in an ex officio role on WBD’s board,
says efforts are underway to prepare new industrial properties at the northern end of the
County. “Having partners like WBD allows us to engage with engineering and technical
experts who understand the process of turning undeveloped space into attractive business
properties equipped with everything companies are looking for.”

In 2023, New Hanover County leaders approved land transactions with Francini Marble
& Granite and Coastal Millwork Supply at Blue Clay Business Park. Both companies are slated to break ground in the first half of 2024 as infrastructure comes online at the park. New Hanover County committed about $7 million for water, sewer, roadways, signage and joint ponds. Work will be completed this year, making the park’s remaining 45 buildable acres even more attractive to investors and occupants.

Jennifer Rigby, chief strategy officer for New Hanover County, traces the county’s aggressive product development agenda to a set of recommendations from the 2014 “Pathways to Prosperity” consulting report. “The Pathways study included a key finding that New Hanover County needed more industrial product,” Rigby says. “That was something our board of commissioners took seriously.” The cost and technical complexity involved in shaping raw land into a shovel-ready industrial site takes time. “We are now seeing the fruits of our labor,” Rigby says. “This is the result of intentional and thoughtful
planning that’s been going on for a number of years.”

As Blue Clay Business Park continues its development, New Hanover County leadership is
making a major investment in +300 acres off Holly Shelter Road that will have intermediate to long-term potential. The County worked with Cameron Management in early 2023 to transact 50 acres there that will be Phase 1. County Commissioners approved over $6 million for infrastructure for the initial phase late last year. The County also optioned an additional 200 adjacent acres off Holly Shelter Road with an eye toward making it a destination for larger-scale, regional investment opportunities. New infrastructure should be available there by 2026.

“Today’s projects often turn on having ready-to-go business properties where arriving companies can ramp up quickly – whether that means cleared land or industrial spec space,” explains Cliff Pyron, Director of Business Development at WBD. Collaboration among local government leaders and private development partners has driven Greater Wilmington’s aggressive product development schedule in recent years. Other allies playing key roles are the Golden LEAF, Four County EMC, Duke Energy and North Carolina’s Southeast. “Our region is blessed to have committed local, regional
and statewide partners and allies, both private and public, who share our confidence that high-quality sites allow the most widespread economic impact,” Pyron says.

Complimenting government efforts, private developers are moving quickly to create new product. That is certainly the case at Wilmington Trade Center, a 212-acre property off U.S. Highway 421 in New Hanover County. Edgewater Ventures, a commercial real estate investment company and key WBD partner, purchased the property from Invista late last year for $7.65 million. The acquisition will expand Wilmington Trade Center, which is master planned for up to 3.3 million square-feet of Class A industrial space. It will be one of the largest properties of its kind in North Carolina.

“This is one of the most exciting moments of my 26-year career in industrial real estate,” says Chris Norvell, Principal at Edgewater Ventures. “I’ve worked on similar parks in larger U.S. 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.”

Edgewater has already developed two buildings at Wilmington Trade Center, totaling 315,000 square-feet on a 25-acre parcel the firm acquired in 2021. The buildings are now 85% leased to
four tenants: PaperFoam, Coastal Carrier, GLE and New Hanover County Emergency Services. Edgewater plans to break ground with its partner McKinley Building on Building 3 in the second quarter
of 2024, a move that will add another 100,000 square-feet to its growing portfolio. On the greenfield side, sites on the newly acquired parcel are now available that can accommodate buildings as large
as +1M sf.

These product development initiatives position New Hanover County — and the region — for job creation and economic investment well into the next generation.