The greater Wilmington/SENC region provides a unique set of features that support evolution and maturation of BlueTech that is critical to the evolution and maturation of the Blue Economy:
- It is adjacent to the second largest coastal riverine estuary system in the nation.
- Second only to Florida, North Carolina has the largest coastal access to the open ocean of all states on the East Coast. Indeed, North Carolina has almost the same number of coastal miles as Texas. North Carolina’s geographically desirable coastal plain provides direct access to the Atlantic Gulf Stream and is only 775 miles from Bermuda, providing ample opportunity for conducting point-to-point open sea trials.
- The Cape Fear/Wilmington basin has the lowest risk exposure to climatically induced sea level rise of any port city on the East Coast. Exposure to hurricanes may be problematic, but also provides numerous opportunities for developing BlueTech applied to oceanographic and meteorological research, as well as for coastal resilience planning and recovery.
- It has a sheltered river harbor and is home to NC Ports, which is engaged in strategic effort to improve its competitive advantage in maritime trade and services. NC Port’s enabling statute as a public corporation is one of the most expansive and flexible of any state in the nation.
- It is home to UNCW (scientific research), NC Ports (commercial application & deployment) and CFCC (workforce training), which establishes a “winning trifecta” to advance BlueTech capabilities.
- It has easy access to the NC Triangle innovation research, commercialization, and investor funding ecosystem.
- It is only one hour flight time to Washington, DC, providing easy access to and by policy makers, agency staff, and a broader investor ecosystem.
- Wilmington provides easy and convenient access to provide ‘in the shop’ and ‘on the water’ product demonstrations and convening of experts, policy makers and investors.
This combination of critical vectors is unique in the southeast. The BlueTech Economy workforce profile includes some of the highest paying jobs, both blue and white collar, in the nation and it has a low environmental impact footprint for advanced commercial & manufacturing activities.
“You could start now, and spend another forty years learning about the sea without running out of new things to know.”
– Peter Benchley
Our world ocean is the source of all biological Life on Earth. It accounts for 70% of the Earth’s surface. Yet today, according to NOAA, only 5% of the ocean subsurface has been explored and mapped. It is truly an unexplored frontier.
The Blue Economy has a long history. The historical record shows that humankind applied seafaring skills and knowledge beginning 50,000 years ago. At that time, there were less than 100,000 humans on the entire planet. That’s about 2% of the modern population of New York City. Today 40% of the global population lives within 60 miles of a coastline and coastal metropolitan regions account for 80% of global GDP.
Ocean explorers were the original entrepreneurs and their sponsors were the original venture capitalists. Ocean exploration derived science, engineering, and technologies define our daily lives. Your iPhone works today, partly as a result of the sinking of the Titanic, which spurred initial efforts on global radio frequency spectrum management. The principles of celestial navigation for space travel are based on the same principles that prehistoric humans used to navigate at sea by night. The blood of the 244 million year old species of horseshoe crabs is the key ingredient in COVID-19 testing formulas.
The golden Ages of Navigation and Discovery from 1400-1800 were the primary economic activity of European nations for 400 years. That age of Blue Economy created the first large-scale, long term, systematic exploration of physical science and the commercialization of new technologies in human history. Every sailing of ocean explorers is dependent on the toolmakers; the engineers, technologists, scientists, and craftsmen, and a place to gather, manufacture and assemble what is necessary for that ocean exploration and discovery.
Cape Fear Ocean Labs is energizing the NextGen of toolmakers for the new high tech age of the Blue Economy and its ocean explorers.
"Although the term “blue economy” has been used in different ways, it is understood here as comprising the range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of oceanic resources is sustainable." -
The blue economy includes many different activities, including: renewable energy, fisheries, maritime transport, tourism, and defense just to name a few. The World Bank estimates that the Blue Economy contributes roughly $1.5 trillion to the global economy each year; very few other natural resources can claim as large an impact.
Blue Technology as we use the term at Cape Fear Ocean Labs refers to the tools used by the businesses, military, researchers and others in the blue economy. This would include surface and undersea vehicles, satellites, sensors, and software used in control systems and for data analytics.
Cape Fear Ocean Labs is all about the tools, enabling the toolmakers that support all of the other aspects of the Blue Economy.
On May 11 the U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will conduct an auction for the Wilmington East offshore wind tract. This will kick off a process that will progress in phases over 25-30 years. When completed, the Wilmington East area could generate more than 1.5 gigawatts of electricity, which Interior said is enough for more than 500,000 homes. In addition, at the peak of construction the project may employ as many as 1000 specialized construction workers, engineers, technicians and administrators. When construction is complete there will be several hundred permanent workers engaged in operations and maintenance for the life of the project.
By itself, the construction and operation of the wind field promises to provide a significant economic boost to Southeast NC. But in addition to the direct effects, with some foresight, the offshore wind project can catalyze the growth of the broader Blue Tech economic segment engaged in developing, manufacturing and operating the technological tools of the Blue Economy: Marine Robotics, High Tech Sensors, Data Processing and Analytics, Underwater Communication. Technologies to support offshore wind design, construction and operations but also applicable to sustainable shipping, aquaculture, coastal resilience, commercial and recreational fisheries, defense and other Blue Economy Industries.
Recently, Wilmington Biz Magazine published a letter by CFOL Board Chair Glenn Anderson describing the opportunities and challenges facing the Cape Fear Region. You can read more about the topic here.
Wilmington, due to it’s proximity to the ocean, has a strong Blue Economy. However, the region currently has no economic development programs focused on growing its Blue Economy. The UNCW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) has recently started a blue focused program, still in its formative stage. Cape Fear Ocean Labs grew out of the CIE program with a mission to focus on Blue Tech.
Many other regions around the US have well-developed Blue Economy development initiatives (business incubators, accelerators, makerspaces, and hubs). At CFOL we are looking to these leaders as models for our local efforts in Wilmington.
Much more information on the Blue Economy Ecosystem can be found at The Liquid Grid website.
Our research has led to the following observations regarding successful Blue Economy ecosystems:
- They are located in seaside Port cities that already have significant Blue Economy business sectors, primarily in maritime commerce.
- They are near a major university that has well developed Marine Science and Engineering programs.
- They have engaged major U.S. government stakeholders (e.g., NOAA, Navy EPA, USACE, EDA).
- They have active innovation and business incubators with strong collaborations with other regional innovation and business incubator organizations.
Depending on the location these factors are not equally well developed but all locations have at least some (most) of these significant characteristics. that are significant.
Wilmington shares many of the above characteristics, making it an ideal location for Blue Economy development initiatives. Additionally, Wilmington is a rising star for economic performance, ranking 37 in the Milken Institute’s 2021 analysis of the 200 top economic performing cities in the US. Finally, Wilmington offers many amenities that have led to it becoming a destination for a seaside life-style for tourists and relocating residents as well; it ranked number one in the Nation for inbound moves in United Van Lines’ 2020 analysis.
We believe all of these factors lead to Wilmington being an ideal location for establishing Blue Economy development initiatives for the southeastern US. . We are optimistic about the potential for theBlue Economy and BlueTech here in the Cape Fear Region.
CFOL Supports the Alliance for a Blue Economy "All Blue" Launch
In September CFOL was featured in several news events in support of the public launch of the Wilmington Alliance for a Blue Economy. The launch is to inform the general public about the current activities and plans for initiatives to grow the Blue Economy in Southeast North Carolina.