City of Wilmington officials believe marine and biotech industries could become a local economic powerhouse due to the recent acceptance into InnovateNC, a two-year economic development program sponsored by NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) and other partners in the Research Triangle Park area. The program donates $250,000 to communities pledging to foster creative innovative environments or “clusters,” a model for growth similar to Research Triangle Park.
An economic cluster represents a critical mass of firms within an area and also the network of suppliers, customers, and support institutions helping the area grow. According to city officials, one of the most promising clusters in the Wilmington region is the Marine and Life science sector with AAIPharma, PPD, Marine Bio-Technologies Center of Innovation (MBCOI), and MARBIONC, a marine biology research and development center at UNCW identified as strong local partners in the industry.
A total of 18 communities applied for the economic development program with Asheville, Greensboro, Pembroke, and Wilson communities also selected to participate.
“The five InnovateNC communities were selected because each has the right mix of assets, is fully committed to collective impact and to making major gains in building and sustaining innovation, and is ready to engage in collaboration,” said IEI director Anita Brown- Graham.
“We’re excited to work with some outstanding partners to learn and grow a unique economic development focus around marine and life sciences,” said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. “This initiative will help us realize one of the Garner Report’s major recommendations by making Wilmington and the Carolina Coast a marine and biotech powerhouse.”
Funded by New Hanover County in August of 2013, The Garner Report is an economic development strategy report created to help the county strengthen existing industries and identify emerging ones to increase private investment, job creation, and retention. UNCW’s Marine Biology program was highlighted in the report as a major player for Wilmington’s growth in biotech and marine sciences.
Ron Vetter, associate provost for research and dean of UNCW’s graduate school, believes the InnovateNC program will continue to bolster a growing local marine science and bio tech community.
“UNCW has many assets that we’ll be able to leverage through this grant and we’re very excited about the opportunities this funding will provide,”said Vetter. “UNCW’s Marine Biotechnology program, faculty, students, research and other facilities can play a vital role in further developing Wilmington’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and we are looking forward to strengthening our relationships with partners in Wilmington and the surrounding communities.”
According to a release from the city, the team receiving the grant includes the city, New Hanover County, UNCW, the Town of Leland, Marine Bio-Technologies Center of Innovation, Brunswick County NC Biotech Center SE Office, Brunswick Community College and other partners.