Saturday, May 18, 2024

Eastern: Beach bound

By Kevin Maurer

One of Charlotte’s most energetic community leaders is embracing a new role in the Port City.

Natalie English starts as president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce this month. English, 49, previously worked as chief public policy officer for Charlotte’s chamber. She fills the position vacated by Dick Blouse, who had been interim CEO since last summer after the retirement of Connie Majure-Rhett. The latter had led the chamber for 22 years.

“It has been a longtime goal of mine to lead a chamber of commerce,” English says. “I’ve been in the chamber business for 20 years. I love it. It’s my calling.”

An N.C. State University graduate, English helped spearhead campaigns supporting $5 billion in Charlotte area infrastructure investments since 2006. One of her more challenging tasks was helping block efforts that would have stripped funding for Charlotte’s light-rail program. Her experience in legislative and regulatory policy made her the perfect fit for the new post, Wilmington Chamber Chairman Charlie Mattox said in a release.

Having learned the importance of regional collaboration, she plans to reach out to other economic-development organizations in the Cape Fear area. “We envision working closely with them,” she says. “The Wilmington Chamber can’t do it alone. We can’t be the be-all, end-all.”

New Hanover County in 2014 commissioned a report by Atlanta-based consulting firm Garner Economics that concluded the area’s economic-development efforts were lacking. The report made 21 recommendations, ranging from targeting specific industries to how much the region should offer in incentives. While few of the recommendations have been acted upon, local economic-development officials say the document is a playbook for future policy.

The chamber is a supporter of economic development in the Cape Fear region, not a driver, English says. That effort is led by groups such as Wilmington Business Development, a public-private partnership for New Hanover and Pender counties and the city of Wilmington, and the North Carolina Ports Authority.

English is the second former Charlotte Chamber exec hired to lead a similar group in a major North Carolina city: Kit Cramer, who worked in the Queen City for 16 years, joined the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce in 2010.

Each time English and her family visited Wilmington, she always said she’d own a house at the beach. Now she will.

“I was looking for a community that was already vibrant but has a lot of potential,” she says. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s vibrant. It’s exciting. I’m excited about being here.”

LAURINBURG — Mountaire Farms will invest $44 million in a feed mill, creating 65 jobs over the next three years with an average annual wage of $51,408. The average annual salary in Scotland County is $34,037. The Delaware-based company employs nearly 2,700 people at seven locations in North Carolina. Mountaire Farms could receive a state grant of up to $200,000.

NEW BERN — Hatteras/Cabo Yachts named Kelly Todd Grindle chief executive officer. He replaces John Ward, who became CEO of Florida-based Everglades Boats. Grindle was president of outdoor products at Vista Outdoor, an Overland Park, Kan.-based sporting-goods manufacturer. Hatteras, which is owned by Philadelphia private-equity firm Versa Capital Management, builds yachts from 60 to 100 feet.

TARBORO — Keihin plans to add 42 jobs to its 400 and invest $13 million over three years at its local 147,000-square-foot plant. The Tokyo-based company assembles and tests electrical components for Honda vehicles. Jobs will pay an average annual wage of $32,230, close to Edgecombe County’s $32,642.

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