Wilmington Economic Profile

The Film Industry

The Wilmington Regional Film Commission, located on the EUE/Screen Gems Studios lot, facilitates on-location filmmaking in the Cape Fear region. With the largest film studio facility outside of Los Angeles, Wilmington consistently ranks as one of the top filmmaking locations in the nation. Adding to its viability for film projects, the studio has two special effect water tank sound stages. In fact, Stage 10 of the studios is the third largest stage in North America and is home to a 283,000-gallon water tank, up to 20 feet deep with a width that can extend to 75 x 75.

Since the industry's beginning in 1983, filmmaking activities in the Port City include more than 300 feature film, television series, movie-of-the-week and mini-series productions. Nine television series - Matlock, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, The Road Home, American Gothic, Dawson's Creek, One Tree Hill, Surface, Little Britain USA, and Eastbound and Down - have filmed here, and numerous music videos, television commercials, and still photography shoots have utilized the area's amenities. Filmmakers have access to a broad base of local talent and professional film crews along with the facilities at Screen Gems Studios and, of course, fabulous natural scenery.

Feature films and television movies made in the Wilmington area include Lolita, Billy Bathgate, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Domestic Disturbance, The Hudsucker Proxy, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Betsy's Wedding, The Runaway, 28 Days, Black Knight, Muppets From Space, Rambling Rose, Year of the Dragon, Elmo In Grouchland, The Jackal, Maximum Overdrive, Silver Bullet, Blue Velvet, Firestarter, Sleeping With the Enemy and Weekend at Bernie's. Several recent movies were filmed in the Wilmington area, including The Secret Lives of Bees,Nights in Rodanthe and Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. Current productions include Safe Haven and the latest installment of the Iron Man series.

Commercials filmed here include local, regional, and national companies such as SunCom, Nautica, American Express, National Geographic, Mattel, Smithfield Farms, the New York Ballet, J. Crew, Kodak, Harley Davidson, Rolling Stone magazine, McDonald's, RJ Reynolds, and Wachovia Bank.

EUE/Screen Gems Studios offers many amenities to film and television production companies. The studio's lot features 10 stages, post-production services, more than 20,000 square feet of production office space, a 40-seat screening room, editing suites, sound transfer services, lighting and grip equipment rental, set construction shops and much more. In addition to the studios, production companies discover a wealth of experienced film crew professionals here. Wilmington Regional Film Commission Director Johnny Griffin estimates that number at 650 in the greater Wilmington region.

Real Estate

Now more than ever, it is a great time to buy a house. Interest rates are low, choices abound with a large inventory of new and existing homes for sale, and prices have leveled off or declined. After the real estate boom of 2005 and 2006, the market has corrected and sales have decreased. See our Real Estate section for more about the local market.

The University

With a recently estimated annual economic impact of about $500 million on the southeastern North Carolina coast, including New Hanover, Pender, Brunswick, and Columbus counties, is it any wonder that the University of North Carolina Wilmington is a major economic force in the area? The Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce lists the university as one of the Top 25 employers in the region with more than 1,800 employees. Serving a student body of more than 13,000, UNCW is unique in its dedication to combining a small-college commitment to excellence in teaching with a research university's opportunities for student involvement in significant faculty scholarship. For the 13th year, UNCW was ranked among the top 10 public master's universities in the South by U.S. News and World Report. Among both public and private institutions in the South, UNCW is ranked number 13 out of 118 institutions. Organized into the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Health and Human Services, the Cameron School of Business, the Donald R. Watson School of Education and the Graduate School, the university offers undergraduate degrees in 52 majors as well as 31 master's degrees, a Ph.D. in marine biology and an Ed.D. in educational leadership and administration. See our Colleges and Universities section for more about education in our area.

Senior Services and Healthcare

Over the past few years, the business of retirement has become a major industry in southern coastal areas. This is due in part to a relative low tax rate, to a decidedly diverse cultural atmosphere, easy access to world class medical facilties, and the maritime location which makes the climate unusually mild for this latitude. Warm spring breezes, hot summers, a mild autumn and few days of freezing winter temperatures create a friendly weather pattern for retirees from the North who yearn for the warm weather of Florida, but still want to experience the seasons. Many services geared to retirees have been established in this area. (See our Retirement sections for more about senior services.)

On the state level, 12 percent of North Carolina's population is in the age 65 and older category, and about 14 percent of New Hanover County residents are older than age 65. That number increases to 52% in the city of Wilmington. The percentage of residents older than 65 is projected to grow in the future as the number of retirees continues to increase. In response and expectation, planned retirement communities, senior services, recreational opportunities aimed at retirees and other enterprises represent a major component of the local economy. As retirees flow into the area, they bring their nest eggs with them, thereby giving them the ability to contribute to the local economy. An added benefit is their contribution of skills and knowledge to area volunteer organizations.

Healthcare is big business in the region. More than 450 physicians and five hospitals employ large numbers of medical personnel. One of the largest employers is New Hanover Regional Medical Center, with nearly 4,700 employees. Local healthcare services are extensive, and many are comparable with the best state-of-the-art medical facilities and services in the nation. An example is the Zimmer Cancer Center at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, providing complete cancer care in one facility.

The rapidly expanding seniors' healthcare market is a national phenomenon, but it is particularly pronounced in coastal/resort communities. In addition to extensive medical services, New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties offer a large and constantly growing number of domiciliary care facilities. See our Healthcare sections for more information about area hospitals and medical services in the three-county area.

The Port, Industry and Trade

The North Carolina State Ports Authority was created by the state legislature in 1945. Its mission was to promote a better atmosphere for the development of North Carolina industry by establishing two deep-water ports, thus breaking the state's dependence on ports in Virginia and South Carolina. The terminals, one in Morehead City and one in Wilmington, were equipped to handle ocean-going vessels and opened in 1952. Today they are the backbone of the North Carolina shipping industry with the mission to enhance the state's economy.

In fiscal year 2011 the Port of Wilmington received more than 450 ships loaded with diverse cargoes from Europe, South America, the Far East and beyond. Cargo tonnage through the port exceeded 3.5 million tons. The container TEUs were more than 290,000. Warehousing at the port includes almost one million square feet of prime covered and sprinklered storage with 100-plus acres of paved storage area and 25 acres of semi-improved open storage area. The port has rail access to berths, transit sheds, warehouses and open storage and direct transfer of heavy lift and dimensional loads between vessel and rail or truck. The entire Wilmington Terminal is approved as Foreign Trade Zone 66.

Countries that do significant business through the North Carolina Port at Wilmington include China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Belgium, Taiwan, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Great Britain. Top imports for fiscal year 2011 were chemicals, tools, metal products, furniture, cement, forest products, synthetic fibers, and general merchandise. Primary exports were wood pulp, forest products, general merchandise, scrap metal, animal feed, synthetic fibers, and food.

A channel-deepening project in the Cape Fear River completed in 2008 increased channel depth to 42 feet from the river's mouth to the port to accommodate larger ships. Since that time, the port's capacity has tripled due to the addition of four 100-foot container cranes and other container-handling equipment and improvements to the dock infrastructure and terminal operating system in the first phase of Wilmington's container terminal expansion.

The largest industrial companies in the area include Corning Glass Works (the Wilmington location is the largest manufacturer of optical fibers in the world); General Electric (aircraft engine parts, nuclear fuel components); Progress Energy; International Paper; KoSa (chemicals); PPD (pharmaceutical research); Louisiana Pacific (wood products); Terex American Crane; VisionAir (software); Verizon (wireless phone service); Oracle Packaging; Del Laboratories; L.L. Building Products; aaiPharma (pharmaceutical products); and Interroll (conveyor components).

Shopping on our coast is a participation sport. The past few years have seen the opening of major national and regional chains with more arriving almost daily, making Wilmington a major shopping destination. The city's retail corridor is pushing north along U. S. Highway 17, with extremely heavy development along Military Cutoff Road on the east side, including four large upscale shopping complexes - Landfall Shopping Center, The Forum, Lumina Station and Mayfaire Towncenter. On every corner, there seems to be a new shopping plaza going up, and retail stores stocking everything from beachwear and souvenirs to designer clothing and high-ticket household furnishings are everywhere.

Retail and service-industry businesses have made in-roads in the southern corridor from Wilmington's city limits to Carolina Beach as well. Of particular note is the Lowe's Home Improvement Superstore, Home Depot and the Walmart Supercenter shopping complex in the Myrtle Grove area at the end of S. College Road, which features places to eat and a variety of shopping opportunities.

Demographics and Statistics

With a land area of a mere 191.53 square miles, there is only one county smaller than New Hanover in the field of 100 counties in the state of North Carolina. Don't be fooled by it's small size. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the coastal county of New Hanover continues to grow with 206,189 people living in the county in 2011. Wilmington takes about half of that with 106, 476 residents in 2010 (the last date Wilmington stats are available from the US Census). For more information on demographics of the area, look up the most recent United States Census.

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