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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Study ranks Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover at top of economic investment

A truck exits the Pender Commerce Park onto U.S. 421. The park’s proximity to the highway and the Cape Fear River is a draw to the area. (File photo)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The Cape Fear received sterling marks in a report on how much investment is going into every county in the country.

Pender, Brunswick and New Hanover counties ranked second, third and ninth in North Carolina, respectively, in SmartAsset’s annual nationwide investment study. The tri-county area also performed well on a national scale.

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The study is based on annual business growth, gross domestic product growth in millions of dollars and the rate of new building permits per 1,000 homes in the county. The three factors are used to calculate an incoming investment index for each county and determine list placement. The top county in the country gets a score of 100 and the worst is assigned a 0.

According to SmartAsset, the business growth metric is based on the change in the number of businesses in each location over the course of the past three years. The number is intended to show there is interest in new ventures in the area.

Pender saw the greatest business growth in the state at 9.4%, while permitting in Brunswick was the highest in the state as well. The metric is unsurprising for Brunswick, the fastest-growing county in the state, according to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Population Center.

The county is seeing renewed interest from industry. There are 70-acres along U.S. Hwy. 17, in the Rocky Point area, slated to be built out with new retail and industry and is getting its own Amazon distribution center.

Within it, several municipalities are seeing double-digit population growth. In 2021 Navassa’s population grew by 11.2%, Leland’s at 10.9% and Northwest’s at 10.1%. These municipalities are also in the top-five fastest-growing in the state.

The real-estate permitting data is gathered from Census Bureau permit surveys and is intended to show investment in development in the local residential real estate market. Permitted projects may never be built or take years to come to fruition. 

Port City Daily asked SmartAsset if it has any way to account for those discrepancies or considers it a shortfall of the study, but did not hear back by press.

The GDP calculations are based on data from the United States Bureau of Economic Analysis, which is adjusted for inflation.

Wake County came in at the top of the list, and Mecklenburg followed in fourth, with $29,330 million and $32,155 million in GDP growth, respectively.

Union County trailed behind Pender in growth at 8.7% and Transylvania County at 8.5%. No other Cape Fear counties ranked in the top 10, nor any counties in the eastern part of the state. Most of the largest percentage growth occurred in the Asheville metropolitan area.

New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick each scored in the top 10 in new building permits. Brunswick has the most new permits in the state at 12.5 more per 1,000 residents than Wake, which ranked second. Pender came in third and New Hanover at ninth.

New Hanover was the only county to rank in the top 10 — sixth — in GDP growth. The county board of commissioners and the City of Wilmington banded together in February 2022 to create a $2.6 million incentive package aimed at incentivising several business expansions. The largest was $1.5 million to fund the GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy expansion.

The Cape Fear fared well nationally as well. Pender came in at 69th in the entire nation and Brunswick at 73rd, easily beating all of New York City’s five counties and Philadelphia, New Hanover trails at 166. The top spot in the entire country went to Los Angeles County.

Here is the counties breakdown in the SmartAsset study:


Business growth: 9.4%  

GDP growth: $1,138 million  

New building permits: 20.9 per 1,000 


Business growth: 4.3%  

GDP growth: $2,509 million  

New building permits: 43.2 per 1,000

New Hanover

Business growth: 5.2%  

GDP growth: $7,543 million 

New building permits: 22.9 per 1,000

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