Monday, December 27, 2010

The Stars of New Hanover County

StarNews recently revealed that New Hanover County is ranked sixth in the state for the number of teachers with National Board Certification for 2010.

This is exciting news and on behalf of the Cape Fear Future Team, I want to offer a huge congratulations to our newly certified teachers!

This article caught my eye for two reasons: Cape Fear Future is committed to improving our region’s educational system and this is an extraordinary achievement that should be highlighted at great length. Secondly, this certification process hits home for me because my mother, a former art teacher of Roanoke Rapids, NC, was one of the first teachers to qualify for the National Board Certification in the early 1990s. After reading the StarNews article, I called my mom to ask about her personal experience.

“The National Board for Teacher Certification was the most grueling experience of my professional life. But once accomplished, the experience changed everything about the way I saw my teaching and my students. The National Board is voluntary: a challenge where one must be fiercely committed to being the best you can be. As in any worthwhile endeavor, to be better, to step beyond what is expected or ordinary, one has to take risks. It was such a remarkable experience. New Hanover County must be very proud of their newly certified teachers.”

I remember this time period well. Aside from losing almost every one of her hair follicles and the diversion of copious amounts of blood away from her vital organs, she made it through. The certification process is akin to that of a lawyer preparing to take the bar...not easy. The applicants prepare extensive portfolios related to their field of expertise and are assessed on their current teaching methods, as well as their comprehension and expertise on those subjects as evaluated by their responses to a series of exercises.

The interesting, and probably most valuable takeaway of this process is the requirement that a candidate’s lesson plans make an impact outside of the classroom. My mom described this as throwing a pebble into a still pond. “Every lesson should have a ripple effect in which the lesson’s content of experience affects not just the student in that classroom, but also involves other teachers, and extends into the community at large, as the content of the lesson also exists in the context of the community.”

Teachers voluntarily undergo huge self assessments and practice their craft looking for ways to expand knowledge and critically assess their strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are improving the quality of their teaching to produce a superior learning environment that consistently supports the student’s knowledge.

This process is a great parallel for start-up businesses/entrepreneurs who are essentially doing the same thing—consistently reevaluating their craft, their expertise, and their impact (in their case, profitability and number of items sold to community). Starting something new is tricky and the New Hanover County teachers really took a risk to do this. Achieving national board certification is in a way being the ultimate entrepreneur.

This intense self-examination and performance appraisal process should be widely encouraged across the region, state, and nation. We should be proud that New Hanover County has produced such a high number of recipients as this marks an important achievement for our school system, and an important milestone in terms of community and economic development.

See the following link for StarNews article:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Peeling Back the Layers

In his fight against the joke-slaying villain, Batman said: "The Riddler's mind is like an artichoke. You have to rip off spiny leaves to reach the heart!" Now that is strategic crime-fighting.

While the Cape Fear Future Leadership team isn’t unraveling brain teasers, they are actively pealing back those layers that are the primary causes of crime in downtown Wilmington, as the issue has garnered the attention of several community groups.
CFF chose to first concentrate on crime because it is a secondary issue associated with one of the main initiatives under CFF’s Quality of Life Task Force: promoting a vibrant downtown. Research overwhelming shows that a strong downtown is fundamental to the strength and vibrancy of an area’s regional economy; therefore, the task force wanted to solicit feedback from community members on those issues most pressing in terms of downtown revitalization. At the Cape Fear Future Commission meeting on September 1, attendees unanimously expressed their concern about crime in the central business district.

Since the meeting in September, CFF leaders have hosted and participated in several focus groups and roundtable discussions in an effort to develop a clear understanding of the effects of the problem and the means required to resolve it.

In one roundtable discussion hosted by PPD’s CEO General David Grange, attendees heard about the General’s experience with tackling crime through his work at the McCormick Foundation in Chicago. General Grange explained how violence is inextricably linked to civic health. Again, the idea of peeling back the layers surfaced as General Grange suggested our community “look below the water line” and identify the root causes of the issue.

So what do we see when we look below the water line? The most prevalent concern is the surplus of bars in the area. Compared to most cities, the density of bars in Wilmington is overwhelmingly disproportionate to the geographic zone of the CBD. Because those bars close at the same time, weekend party-goers exit onto the streets en masse, many intoxicated. Fighting and assaults often result.

It is not fair to solely blame the bar owners, property owners, bar-patrons or the police. It is fair to say, however, that there is a dangerous concoction at work: numerous bars, high number of college students, and the proximity in which all these dynamics take place is (about 12 blocks: Red Cross to Castle Street). But there may be strategies available that can help reduce the incidents of crime during these hours. The Department of Justice suggests two specific responses to reducing assaults in and around bars: the first recommendation is to implement responses to reduce how much alcohol patrons drink, thereby reducing aggression and vulnerability to assault; and implement responses to make bars safer, regardless of how much alcohol patrons consume.

What is the next step? CFF has been approached by several groups to aid efforts in exploring long-term options that include collaboration and policy development. CFF plans to act as a supporting unit and assist both community groups and local representatives in creating crime prevention strategies and policies that lead to long-term community success against crime.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Unpave Paradise…and Put Up a Park

Enhancing quality of life can encompass improving education, developing the arts, stimulating local business creation, or improving the physical amenities of an area…just to name a few. But one idea that has taken off across the globe is the creation of green space. In an effort to attract and retain residents and skilled workers, cities are using parks and open space to leverage investment into their local economies.

In the 1980s, Chattanooga, Tennessee suffered an economic recession due to the closing and relocation of factories…not to mention the area was wrought with air pollution from towering smoke stacks. Due to the increasing unemployment rates and the declining quality of life, residents were quickly moving elsewhere. As a result, the local government, businesses, and community groups came together to explore ways in which they could improve Chattanooga’s quality of life. They decided to purchase land for parks and open space, and, as a result, things began to turn around.

In their case study of Chattanooga, the Trust for Public Land found: “the environmentally progressive redevelopment of Chattanooga’s downtown riverfront [there is a 75-mile network of greenways and trails located along river] involved $356 million in public and private investment. In eight years between 1988 and 1996 the number of businesses and full-time jobs in the district more than doubled, and assessed property values went up over $11 million, an increase of 127.5 %. Over the same period, the annual combined city and county property tax revenues [in the downtown riverfront area] went up $592,000, an increase of 99%.”

Chattanooga’s success is one of many. People want to live in areas that are adorned with open space and that are visually appealing. Countless studies have shown that corporate CEOs and small company owners alike equate parks/open space (ie. quality of life) as the highest priority for choosing a new location for their business.

The Cape Fear Future Quality of Life Team understands this rationale and is currently exploring/supporting efforts to create green space. Other efforts are also already underway: the newly sworn-in New Hanover County commissioners wasted no time, voting unanimously to purchase approximately 63 acres near Castle Hayne Park in an effort to create a multi-use park. In their list of prioritized initiatives, the Vision 2020 Committee has also endorsed ways in which we can create more waterfront parks and green corridors.

There are, however, other “green” projects that improve an area’s quality of life. While traveling in Europe this summer, I had the fortune of seeing multiple projects that were pioneering, creative, progressive, and downright sensible. There were few new large-scale development projects, but instead, revitalization and improvement efforts that enhanced the unique infrastructure already in place. For instance, the European Environmental Agency in Copenhagen launched their “Europe in Bloom” campaign which built on the concept of façade improvements- a brilliant idea. The project puts a twist on the traditional ideas of green space, gardens, and external building improvements. Several agencies came together in Copenhagen and designed a vertical garden, the first outdoor green façade in Denmark. It serves multiple purposes: acts as a home for animals, produces food, insulates buildings, absorbs urban noise, reduces dust (improving air quality), and improves the overall aesthetics of the area (see the link below for photographs and more detail).

The European Environmental Agency explains: “The EEA Living Façade wants to illustrate the significance of vertical gardens as urban green areas. These areas represent a backbone for human health, biodiversity and ecosystem services in cities. For most urban dwellers, the perception of "greenery" in or nearby their cities is an integral part of what constitutes the 'quality of life'.”

In closing, the acquisition of land and redevelopment projects like the aforementioned are not always feasible… in large part this is a result of the current economic state and reduced budgets. But it is important to remember that conservation and open space have overwhelmingly proved to have incredible return on investment. If we want to improve the quality of life in the Cape Fear Region we must formulate strategies that are sustainable and innovative, but that represent our regional brand and satisfy the community as a whole.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Entrepreneurial Economy

In case you haven’t heard, entrepreneurship is all the rage…and should be.

In a recent opinion column published in the Greater Wilmington Business Journal, Jonathan Rowe, the Director of the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center, stated the importance of entrepreneurship: “For Southeastern North Carolina, 73 percent of our registered businesses have less than ten employees and, according to the North Carolina Division of Labor, 60 percent to 80 percent of new jobs each year come from companies with less than 25 employees or less than five years old.” These statistics clearly encapsulate the need for entrepreneurs and startups in our region; they also mean we, as a community, must provide the proper training, education and support to ensure their emergence and fruition.

If you decide to start your own business, no one is going to hand you a blueprint that will determine the roadmap for success. There are however, a few characteristics that set successful entrepreneurs aside from the rest.

Entrepreneurs must be innovative, committed, determined, passionate, and have an ability to understand their target market and why that market must have their product…oh yeah, and successful entrepreneurs need a little financial capital too.

The News and Observer recently published a report on a Duke Alum who demonstrated such tenacious entrepreneurial spirit. A novice at Microsoft, Kimberly Jenkins went to her boss with what she thought was one heck of a pitch—sell Microsoft products to Universities. Steve Ballmer, CEO, ran the idea up the ladder to Bill Gates; neither was taken with the idea but decided to let her go with it…the N&O reports “Within a year, Microsoft’s new educational products division was responsible for 10% of the company’s domestic revenue”. Jenkins is a beautiful exemplar of someone with determination and passion, and who decided to take a risk because she knew what market to target.

We hear countless stories about entrepreneurs, young and old, who have launched successful start-ups across our region…and most of these start-ups are smaller in scale, with the occasional emergence of a Fred Eshelman—an incredible story of an entrepreneur who established a start up that blossomed into a high-growth company called PPD, with offices in 42 countries and more than 10,500 professionals worldwide. We need more of those types, and we may be on our way.

Universities across the state are already realizing the importance of entrepreneurial activity to the regional and global economy. The UNCW E-Center is growing at an incredible pace, offering mentorship, competitions, regular networking events, education, and even real financial capital. Efforts are underway at both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill to invest in interdisciplinary entrepreneurial education (see News and Observer article link below), but efforts must go beyond just educational programs. Our region must first understand the importance of entrepreneurship and what resources are needed to foster such an environment.

Peter Drucker, the renowned business management guru and philosopher said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. Now is the time. Let us create a prosperous future, a creative future, a future that will buzz with economic wealth and a better quality of life.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Jobless Need Technical Expertise to Re-enter Workforce

In today’s evolving workforce, there is an increasing demand for technical and computer expertise.

AP Economics writer Christopher Rugaber has reported that in the midst of financial crisis, many retirees and aging employees are finding the need to return to work, but many are not able to compete because the jobs they once knew so well are now relying on technical skills that were not needed before. People are beginning to discover they cannot even qualify for their old positions. Unfortunately, this further hinders the staggering unemployment rate across the country. As most employers are looking for a specific skill set, they are not turning to the unemployed/formerly employed sector, but rather those individuals already employed who are already equipped with the skills they need.

The competition to obtain a job in general is compounded by the fact that most manufacturing industries (where much of the retired workforce has experience) now require two skill sets: business analysis and system analysis. Christopher Rugaber of the Associated Press, reports this trend is a result of companies’ decision to control costs during the recession. The goal is to hire fewer people with varied skills which in turn maintains or increases productivity.

Rugaber reports, “Human resource specialists say employers who increasingly need multi-skilled employees aren’t willing to settle for less. They’d rather wait and hold jobs vacant”.

This is one of the issues that Cape Fear Future will help to address. The skills gap is growing in today’s workforce and it is important to push forward those training and educational programs necessary in addressing the needs of employers. Cape Fear Future is exploring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs to be implemented in the New Hanover County School System that may better prepare the upcoming workforce. Moreover, to assess the needs of local employers, the Cape Fear Future Education Task Force has distributed surveys asking employers the current educational/technical expertise needed in their field, the current performance/proficiency of their employers, and those demands they expect from future applicants. This survey will allow a closer look at the needs and expectations of our recent graduates, and our current and future workforce.

Click here to read Christopher Rugaber’s full article.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Entrepreneurship Summit - September 19-20

The University of North Carolina Wilmington and the N.C. Biotechnology Center southeastern office will host the fourth North Carolina Entrepreneurship Summit on September 19-20 at the Hilton Wilmington Riverside.

The conference will focus on fostering relationships between policy makers, entrepreneurs and advocates for business, economic or work-force development to help entrepreneurs flourish in the state.

For the two-day agenda visit:

Registration is $95 for professionals and $25 for students. The events are open to the public. To register, go to:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Entrepreneurs Get Opportunity for Free Business Advice

The UNCW Entrepreneurship Center is hosting an Entrepreneurial Speed Dating event on August 26th at 5:30pm where attendees will have an opportunity to talk with leading experts on the following key topics related to individual entrepreneurs and business: legal, accounting, commercial insurance, equity investing, successful entrepreneurs, and commercial bank lending. Attendees will be able to speak with the above individuals in 5-10 minute "speed dating" intervals. Each booth will have a sign-up sheet for the "speed date" on an ordered first come first serve basis.

This creative idea is a great networking opportunity for students, business owners, upcoming entrepreneurs, and all other interested parties. Events are regularly held by the Entrepreneurship Center and are vital when trying to educate, train, and connect the young entrepreneurs of our community.

The events and networking socials at the Center showcase upcoming entrepreneurs and regional businesses, serving as a catalyst in training and attracting knowledge sector workers and businesses. Jonathan Rowe, the Director of the UNCW Entrepreneur Center, is also an active team leader for the Entrepreneurship task force under Cape Fear Future. Cape Fear Future is thrilled to have the support and cooperation from Rowe and his colleagues as their efforts give momentum to the CFF Entrepreneurial Team, and benefit the business community as a whole.

For more information on the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center or the Entrepreneurial Speed Dating Event, please contact Jonathan Rowe at

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wilmington Looks to Expand International Ties

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo signed a Letter of Understanding with Samarra, Iraq Mayor Mahmood Khalaf Al Bomahdi, with the intent to establish a Sister City relationship between the two cities. The arrangement, signed on August 5th, will help open doors for cultural and educational exchanges and will encourage economic and commercial activity between the cities.

Samarra, like Wilmington, is a riverfront city that also has significant tourism, mainly due to holy sites in the area. Mayor Mahmood visited Wilmington in March of 2010, and met with local business and education leaders over lunch at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss ideas for riverfront and economic development.

If approved by the councils of both cities, Samarra will become Wilmington's fifth Sister City since the program was established in the 1980s. Twinnings have also been established with Dandong, China; Doncaster, England; Bridgetown, Barbados; and San Pedro, Belize. Having international ties is looked upon favorably by knowledge sector workers. Expanding Wilmington's international ties could also be a source for attracting skilled workers to the region in the future.

Schools Earn Good Marks

Education is one of the three priority areas for Cape Fear Future. A recent report shows New Hanover County Schools are doing well, but there is still considerable room for improvement.

Almost all area schools met expected academic growth goals, and no local schools were classified as low performing, according to a statewide report on education released Thursday, August 5, 2010.

The ABCs of Public Education report is based on results of end-of-grade and end-of-course tests taken in grades 3 through 12. The report also includes information about Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, the federal measure of school progress required by No Child Left Behind and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

In New Hanover County, 37 of 41 schools met expected academic growth, according to the report, while 27 schools recorded high academic growth. The report put 20 schools into the top three tiers of performance – Honor Schools of Excellence, Schools of Excellence and Schools of Distinction – and 29 schools met AYP.

Read the full article at StarNews Online

Friday, June 11, 2010

Article Highlights CFF Education Task Force Work

The Wilmington StarNews ran an article on June 4 noting some of the focus areas and challenges faced by the Cape Fear Future Education Task Force. Click here to read the article

Friday, May 28, 2010

One of the Best for Recreation

Anyone who lives in Wilmington knows that opportunities for recreation abound. This is especially true for water-related activities that can use the Atlantic ocean, Cape Fear River, lakes and creeks as a backdrop. But recreation certainly isn't limited to water...with ever expanding bike paths, the new Cross City Trail under construction, very popular tennis, soccer, and softball leagues, more than 50 area golf courses, a skate park, and much more. recently recognized the area's recreation opportunities by ranking Wilmington No. 9 on its "Top 10 Recreation Cities" list. And all that recreation is working: Wilmington is also one of only 7 NC cities that has been given the designation of "Fit Community". Learn more about the designation...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Student get opportunity to Enov8t

Local high school students can get innovative with a new University of North Carolina Wilmington camp focused on entrepreneurship June 21-25, 2010.

Participants of the camp, named Enov8t (innovate), will learn about building a business from concept to completion, including identifying and evaluating business ideas, writing a business plan, understanding basic financial management, marketing and selling. Instruction will teach teens how to build a successful team and how to be a strong leader. The week of innovation will culminate with a “rocket pitch” event where campers will present their business plan to local business leaders.

Registration is still open for the unique Enov8t camp, which will be held 8:45 a.m. -4 p.m. June 21-25 in the state-of-the-art UNC Wilmington Computer Information Systems Building. The camp is open to rising 10th through 12th grade students. For cost and registration information, visit

Jonathan Rowe, director of the UNCW Entrepreneurship Center, and Fran Scarlett, regional director of the UNCW Small Business & Technology Development Center, will lead campers. Guest speakers and UNCW student leaders will educate and encourage campers with discussions, mentoring and hands-on activities.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cape Fear Future Commission Formed

Cape Fear Future will receive greater input and support from influential business and government leaders who will serve on the newly formed Cape Fear Future Commission. The role of the 47-member Commission will be to communicate and provide input on Cape Fear Future initiatives, identify and propel important initiatives forward, and help leverage existing efforts and organizations. The Commission includes representatives from New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick County. The goal of Cape Fear Future is to attract and retain knowledge workers and further develop the area’s skilled workforce.

The Commission held its kickoff meeting Tuesday, April 20, where Commission members received an update on the work of the three CFF Task Forces that are focusing on area Quality of Life, Entrepreneurship and Education. Commission members also heard from guest speaker Fred Eshelman (Executive Chairman, PPD, Inc.).

Each of the three focus areas is instrumental in creating an environment that will attract and retain knowledge workers in order to promote sustained economic growth and greater prosperity for the region. Many additional areas of focus have been defined through community input and the work of the consulting group Catalytix, which will be addressed as the process moves forward.

The Quality of Life Task Force, led by Chris Boney (LS3P Associates Ltd.), is developing policies and projects aimed at improving the special characteristics of Wilmington’s unique quality of place in order to attract and retain knowledge workers and businesses. Focus areas include: establishing a consolidated regional effort to enhance and maximize tourism efforts; re-energizing the arts community, and promoting and improving a vibrant downtown.

The Entrepreneurship Action Team, led by Jonathan Rowe (UNCW Entrepreneurship Center), is a catalyst for entrepreneurial growth in Southeastern North Carolina by linking together emerging and high-growth ventures, entrepreneurs, and relevant support organizations to create business growth, jobs, and innovation. CFF will work in partnership with the established UNCW Entrepreneurship Center and others in this effort.

The Education Task Force, led by John Gizdic (NHRMC), will seek to increase involvement and representation of business leaders on educational decision-making committees; establish an assessment of workforce readiness of local students by area businesses; provide advocacy for high quality K-12 education for all students (grass-roots and school board efforts); and enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education programs and offerings.

“By working toward these enhancements to the region, Cape Fear Future will help ensure that businesses in the region have skilled workers as the Baby Boomers retire and the younger demographic shrinks, and that the area will be a magnet for knowledge-based businesses,” said Chamber President & CEO Connie Majure-Rhett. “The establishment of the Commission is a key part of Cape Fear Future and we are pleased that so many important leaders have stepped forward to serve.”

The Cape Fear Future Commission Kickoff meeting will be available for viewing on the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce ( and City of Wilmington websites ( beginning April 22.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Idea for Wilmington Public Market Spurred by CFF Trip

In November 2009, a group of Wilmington business leaders and elected officials visited Charleston, SC for a series of meetings, presentations and site visits tied to the Cape Fear Future initiative. Topics included downtown development, CVB promotion, planning, design and historic preservation. The group met with Mayor Riley, top level officials from a variety of agencies (CVB, SC Aquarium, Charleston Civic Center, Preservation Society, Gibbes Museum of Art and many more), as well as developers, architects, and other private business owners.

The site visit to the Charleston public market has led to a proposal to create a public market in Wilmington again. The addition of a public market in Downtown Wilmington would enhance quality of place and encourage additional growth, development and economic benefits within the Central Business District.

A public market also supports recommendations made in the Vision 2020 plan and would help reconnect citizens with downtown Wilmington and the riverfront, increase off-peak visitation, and enhance the identity of Wilmington as a unique place. Not to mention that it would establish a living symbol of the city’s heritage: a market once stood in the middle of Market Street (which the street name was derived from) between Front and Water Street, but was demolished in 1881.

Learn more about the Wilmington Public Market at: