NEW HANOVER COUNTY — County commissioners signed off on its third strategic plan Monday, to focus on workforce and economic development, community safety and well-being, and sustainable land use and environmental stewardship.
New Hanover County staff has been developing the new five-year plan, 2024-2028, for the last six months with input from department heads, commissioners and the public.
Chief strategy officer Jennifer Rigby told commissioners Monday the chosen focus areas have “the most ability to create transformational change.”
“Providing our residents with services and amenities is an important function of what county government does, but it’s equally important to know if what we are providing is meeting their needs and supporting them — that’s what this strategic plan is all about,” Commissioners Chair Bill Rivenbark said in a press release. “Over the last 11 years, we’ve had tremendous success by leading with strategic intent and we remain committed to ensuring we provide staff with the framework to achieve our community’s vision.”
Workforce and economic development will focus on creating a “cradle to career” pipeline, in an effort to connect residents to education and highly skilled employment. The county’s goal is to maintain an unemployment rate 0.25% lower than the state average and achieve wage growth of 1.5% higher than the state.
It also intends to target businesses to support growth and collaboration and “lead the area” in resilient infrastructure to achieve a positive return on investment.
An example given by commissioner Jonathan Barfield was the county’s investment in extending water and sewer to northern New Hanover County for future development.
Community safety and well-being will increase the number of mental health providers, to one per every 140 residents. The county is also looking to reduce the top three causes of death: cancer, heart disease and accidents.
Rigby said the county plans to leverage its $50 million mental health and substance use fund, as well as opioid settlement money to accomplish the goals.
For sustainable land use and environmental stewardship, the county is focusing on increasing the housing supply — while avoiding special flood hazard areas — and ensure 95% of residents live within 10 minutes of basic resources such as grocery stores, pharmacies, childcare and medical providers.
To monitor the plan’s effectiveness, key metrics have been established for each of the focus areas. These specific, data-driven targets will be monitored and adjusted, as needed, over the next five years.
“A strategic plan is a tool to guide decision-making for an organization, but it’s important to be adaptable as needs change,” County Manager Chris Coudriet said in a release. “If the last few years taught us anything, it’s that we must be flexible. That’s why it’s important to remember this is a living document, capable of changing as needed.”
The strategic plan will guide the work of 2,000 county employees and more than $2.5 billion in county funding over the next five years. It will also help shape the work of community partners, including the New Hanover Community Endowment.
“That alone makes the county’s strategic plan an important guide, to help ensure needed resources are deployed into our community for real and transformational change,” Coudriet said in the release.
According to Rigby’s Monday presentation, the prior strategic plan adopted in 2018 grew the tax base by $14 billion, added 18,000 new high-wage jobs, invested in pre-K services to ensure kindergarteners are prepared and reduced call times for fire service.
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