Brunswick County Booms Brunswick County is the place to go. BY LISA STITES It seems that once again, southeastern North Carolina’s secret is out, and Brunswick County is growing. In fact, a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau again named Brunswick County the fastest growing county in the state.
Since the 2000 census, Brunswick County’s population has grown from 73,121 to 130,897 by 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And that number is still climbing as new houses continue to pop up all over the county. It’s reminiscent of the building boom seen in the mid-2000s, with commercial and residential development keeping pace with the influx of new residents. This explosion of development is hard to miss, especially in the north end of the county. Leland Several new developments and businesses have sprouted up in Leland, mostly along U.S. 17, but some along Village Road as well. The area is seeing new development in established communities, such as Brunswick Forest, Magnolia Greens and Waterford, and new communities as well. Town of Leland’s Economic and Community Development Director Gary Vidmar gave a breakdown of the development going on in Leland. — Harrington Village: A $45 million mixed-use development on Village Road which will have 13 buildings with 300 apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail/commercial space. It’s scheduled to be completed in two years. — Leland Town Center: A 63-acre regional shopping center with more than 250,000 square feet of retail stores, restaurants and offices planned on U.S. 17 between Ploof Road and Ocean Gate Way. An Aldi grocery store opened here in December 2017, and a Chick-fil-A is coming this year too. — Waterford Commercial Village: Two new 9,000-square foot retail buildings were completed in 2017. One building is already fully occupied, including national chain restaurant Panera Bread. Construction will also begin soon on a 120-unit luxury apartment community. — Magnolia Greens: Wilmington television station WWAY recently began broadcasting from its new Leland studios. A 20,000-square foot medical office building is also under construction for Wilmington Health. — Brunswick Forest: Shuckin Shack recently opened in a new retail/office building. EmergeOrtho plans to construct a 55,000-square foot medical office later this year. Construction will also begin this year on a senior living community which will include independent senior living, assisted living and skilled nursing care. New businesses in Westgate, the retail buildings in front of Walmart, include a mix of national and locally-owned establishments. Wilmington restaurants Cape Fear Seafood and Charlie Graingers, Fat Tony’s and The Joyce (called Slainte in Wilmington and Southport) have also opened locations in Leland, catering to the growing population. Vidmar said that these are just the highlights, and that much more is coming. The Town has economic development information on its website, townofleland.com, and has created a video highlighting the recent and planned development happening in town. The economic development effort in Leland includes working with developers and property owners to help them bring desirable businesses to town. “We provide guidance to help them prepare conceptual plans that meet the Town’s ordinances. We steer new businesses to suitable and affordable locations,” Vidmar said. The Economic Development Committee is working to create a Merchant’s Association, which will be new resource for the business community. The Committee is also reaching out to business in the Leland Industrial Park. Although the Park is not in the Town limits, Vidmar said many of the employees working for these companies live, shop and dine in Leland and “deserve our support.” The Town is also currently surveying business owners about the business climate in the area. Approximately 40 surveys had been returned by early May. Vidmar said they hope to learn how businesses are doing, why they chose Leland, if they’re satisfied with the Town government’s service or if there is something Town staff can do better, if they plan to expand their business in the next three years and if they’re able to find qualified employees. It’s the second such survey the town has done. Leland’s population has seen steady increases over the past five years averaging about 5% per year, or about 1,000 residents/year, Vidmar said. The current population is approximately 20,000.
Southport and Oak Island
Growth is not limited to the north end of the county, as Southport and Oak Island are also seeing increases in commercial and residential development. There are also plans for a 139-acre development, called St. James Center, adjacent to the St. James Town Hall and Community Center building. Plans at this point include more than 1,900 units, residential and commercial. Karen Sphar, Executive Vice President of the Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce, attributes the upswing in building to a number of factors. “New residents, predominately retirees, are attracted to the beauty of the area, quality of our healthcare system, friendliness of its people and a low cost of living,” Sphar said. “The combination of year-round residents, a healthy vacation industry and population growth is the main attraction for business investment in our community.” Sphar said that there are new businesses opening in the area, as well as expansions of existing businesses. And while major chain establishments have begun to take notice of Leland, in the Southport and Oak Island areas, Sphar said many of the businesses are independent, or locally-owned and operated franchises. There are approximately 500 members of the Chamber, including businesses and non-profit groups. “The more corporate owned chain development has exploded in the North Brunswick area of the county with an aggressive outreach campaign which is capitalizing on new residential housing growth and workforce potential due to its proximity to Wilmington,” Sphar said. “The cost of commercial property, available workforce, affordable housing for the workforce and funding for an aggressive outreach campaign is the biggest challenge to commercial growth and expansion in the Southport-Oak Island area.” Once known predominantly as a quaint fishing village with boundaries tied to proximity to the waterfront, the City of Southport is also expanding. Through voluntary annexation, the city took in the River Mist subdivision on N.C. 211, and the adjacent commercial development there. There’s already a Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits, Check 6 Brewery and Jersey Mike’s Subs, and plans for a new Wendy’s have been announced. Southport’s city limits also include the site of the new Lowes grocery store shopping center, on the north side of N.C. 211, adjacent to the Long Beach Road SE (the new extension of Long Beach Road). This 88-acre development, called Southport Crossing, is planned to include more than 40 single-family homes and 16 attached residences, a gas station, eight outparcels and a dozen strip mall spaces in addition to the grocery store. New home construction continues in Southport too, with 71 new homes last year and 16 permits in the first quarter of 2018, according to city staff. In the Town of Oak Island, the numbers for new housing starts is even greater. In the first four months of 2018, there were 124 new single-family resident permits issued, according to a building report compiled by Town staff. The Lowes Foods store at the intersection of Midway Road, Middleton Boulevard and N.C. 211 is in the town limits, as are the other three corners there. The Lowes Foods shopping center includes Pet Supplies Plus, Wok & Roll, Falcons & D’s, Mermaid Cove, Waterway Farmer, dental offices and a paint supplier. Pine Forest Plantation, east of the intersection of Midway Road and N.C. 211, has also started its first phases. Pine Forest of Oak Island will feature an integrated healthcare campus with residential living, recreation, shopping, and dining on more than 2,000 acres, according to the developer’s website. Plans for the healthcare campus include skilled-nursing, assisted-living, memory-care and acute-healthcare facilities with integrated family and senior medicine, occupational and physical therapists, in-home healthcare and medical equipment providers, as well as complete wellness facilities and personal services establishments. Novant medical offices opened for patients last fall, and the first phase of new homes will soon be underway. And a much-anticipated Publix grocery store has plans to build on the island. There are other large tracts in the Town limits on the mainland as well, though plans for development on those properties have not been announced. Whether the number of residents is driving business growth, if the new businesses are a draw for new residents, or if the two are feeding each other, one thing is clear — with all of this commercial and residential development in the works and on the drawing board, Brunswick County looks well placed to maintain its status as the fastest growing county in North Carolina.