Wilmington's historic waterfront attracts tourists, filmmakers and new businesses to this bustling port city.
Twenty-five years ago, Dave Phillips helped New York-based Citibank turn the ATM into a worldwide acronym. A few years later, he began marketing Citibank's credit cards on a national scale and became respected in the industry as the father of the modern-day card. Five years ago, he took his own company, Chicago-based CCC Information Services Inc., public. Today, he and his wife, Ruthann, live on the Intracoastal Waterway in Wilmington and he teaches business-marketing courses at UNC Wilmington.
In the early '90s, when the Phillipses started looking for places to get them out of the big-city rat race, their search settled on Wilmington. They built a home in the gated community of Landfall, more than 2,000 acres of million-dollar homes just minutes from Wrightsville Beach. Their lighthouse-shaped guesthouse is the envy of many a boater cruising the waterway. "We chose this place because of the quality of life here -- it's on the coast, it's more than a retirement community, it has a respected university and it has an airport, so we can travel when we want," said Phillips.
The Phillips' story has become typical in this fast-growing haven of southeastern North Carolina. In the past 10 years, as overall population growth here has reached 33%, much of the business growth has come from people figuring out they can conduct business from this corner of the world just as well as from any other. As a result, Wilmington and New Hanover County are home to a rich mix of people who gained their knowledge and experience on the world stage and are now sharing that with a community remarkable for its beach environment, historic downtown and cultural nightlife.
"This is a simpler place to do business. It has been very easy to attract people because of the environment here," says Fred Sancilio, founder and CEO of Wilmington-based aaiPharma Inc., whose ability to think outside the box has led to everything from innovative treatments for cancer to a company day-care center.
The day-care center came about after one of Sancillo's scientists had to leave during a meeting to pick up her child. "It was like if she didn't get there by a certain time, she'd be tied at the stake," Sancilio says. "It just seemed odd that there was no flexibility for her." Company lawyers told him getting into the day-care business would be a disaster. "Everybody said it couldn't be done, but then again, we hear that in this business all the time," says Sancilio, whose company is increasingly marketing its own drugs in addition to doing contract research for other companies. "We are of the mindset here that there is a way to do anything. It's just that it may not have been thought of yet."
People such as Sancilio are helping to drive Wilmington forward. Though their ideas and vision have been met with skepticism from longtime residents, they keep pushing and trying different ways to get their point across -- whether they are proposing structural changes to the local hospital, perceived as taking money away from nurses, or a mixed-use community that goes against longtime zoning laws set up to keep neighborhoods away from industries.
"When the regulations were passed, they made sense. They didn't want people having to live next to factories or schools next to slaughter houses," says Joel Tomaselli, the vision behind Lumina...