Whether it’s the automobile industry in Detroit or the textile industry in the North Carolina Piedmont, many areas of our nation and state have been hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
That’s not the case for Wilmington. The Port City hasn’t had a large manufacturing base since the naval-stores days 100 years ago. In the early 20th Century, cotton was king in Wilmington – not growing it, but shipping it. In the middle of the 1900s, Wilmington was a railroad town.
While the area has been lucky to land industries such as GE and Corning, as well as a number of smaller manufacturers, the economy has revolved more around commerce, service and real estate development (health care and education also are major players).
With expensive land and a delicate ecosystem, Wilmington probably is not a prime spot for large manufacturers to seek out.
It’s becoming more and more clear that the best future for the immediate Wilmington area is in the so-called “knowledge” economy.
The agricultural economy is built around land; the manufacturing economy is built around natural resources; the knowledge economy is built around knowledge, specifically knowledge that can be sold.
A good example is PPD. One of Wilmington’s largest and well-known employers, PPD doesn’t sell “stuff,” it sells its specialty knowledge.
The knowledge economy is best displayed in Raleigh’s Research Triangle. Although the companies there are cutting-edge, RTP was formed in 1959.
Wilmington has been late to the game, but over the past 20 or so years – you might call it the Interstate 40 era – knowledge economy players have emerged.