By StarNews Editorial Board
StarNews Editorial Board
Water and sewer infrastructure rarely makes headlines unless there are problems. News Friday proved to be the exception as the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority announced it has been approved for a $16.45 million grant that will free up money to extend critical water and sewer service along the U.S. 421 industrial corridor.
The money comes from NC Connect, the $2 million bond issue that state voters overwhelmingly passed in 2015. The bond money actually will go to other CFPUA projects aimed at replacing and improving aging water and sewer infrastructure.
That, in turn, will allow CFPUA to redirect funds to the U.S. 421 project, pending approval by the CFPUA board.
Often referred to as the last major industrial land in New Hanover County, the stretch of four-lane highway has long been home to heavy industries in our area, many of which provided good-paying jobs along the highway, which now has direct access to Interstate 40 via Interstate 140.
The corridor also provides easy access to the Port of Wilmington to the south, and the improved infrastructure could create possible partnerships with Pender County, to the north.
It really is a win-win outcome -- aging sewer pipes and pump stations can be addressed and some brand-new infrastructure will go a long way toward spurring growth in what is known as “traded sector employment.”
According to the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Economic Scorecard, such companies “produce goods and services sold outside the region and provide a source of income for the region as a whole. Employment in the traded sector tends to pay better than local sector employment.”
That is a category that the Wilmington area scored low on in the Chamber’s scorecard. To some extent, that is expected in a geographically small and coastal county. But we can do better in attracting large industry to our area, and the 421 North Corridor is the ideal spot.
The board and staff of CFPUA, Sen. Michael Lee and New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chairman Woody White should all be commended for helping secure this grant.
Although the project -- if approved as expected -- will take about three years to complete, the fact that it would be funded and underway will be a tremendous selling point to lure potential employers.
The Wilmington area has an increasingly diverse economy. Landing more well-paying manufacturing businesses is vital to keeping that mix.