Wilmington has made great strides in the last 18 months to grow its startup community, and plenty of activity has come as a result.

But so far, these efforts have been spread around various parts of town—fast-growing Next Glass, ncino and the newly public Live Oak Bank have been in Midtown, Cloudwyze in Leland, tekMountain in the Mayfaire area, and the UNCW Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE) near the college.

Soon, both Next Glass and Cloudwyze will move to downtown Wilmington. They will join Elite Innovations’ new downtown space and the monthly startup events that Jim Roberts has been holding at Ironclad Brewery. All this activity begs the questions, will downtown Wilmington become our coastal region’s tech hub?  Why are these companies focusing on downtown? 

While many city leaders may not want to talk about it, up until the 1970s, downtown Wilmington was an area of ill-repute, with drugs, prostitution and other crime. In more recent years, downtown has been known by the locals as an area with too many bars, and crime issues related to those bars. But those issues have been addressed with investments and time, and downtown has shifted into a nice, historic area that serves as a tourist magnet. Now businesses seem to want to locate there as well, giving the area a strong combination of business, history and nightlife.

To get a feel for the startup movement downtown, I talked with local business leaders—Ed Wolver of Wilmington Downtown Inc., real estate developer John Hinnant with Maus Warwick Matthews as well as representatives of Next Glass and Cloudwyze. Commonly cited themes are that it’s a vibrant area with a diversity of restaurants and entertainment options that people can walk to and from all their activities. The growth of Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) has added energy to the area and the 1,500 seat CFCC theater (think, a smaller DPAC) opening this fall adds to downtown’s cultural offerings.

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