Relocating To Wilmington, NC
Why Move To Wilmington?
From its majestic beaches to its history-rich downtown, Wilmington is a magnet for newcomers. Since 1980, the city’s population has grown from a modest 44,000 to more than 122,607 in 2018. As late as 1990, the area was a little-known sleepy coastal town. But the extension of I-40 eastward meant residents of the Research Triangle set their sights on the sea, and its gateway, Wilmington.
Today Wilmington is roughly the same size as, Berkeley, California or Cambridge, Massachusetts. Like these similarly sized towns, Wilmington is also a college town, being the home of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The city, the eighth-largest in the state and the county seat of New Hanover County, is built on a seafaring tradition and is growing thanks to its ever-developing industry and economy—and an international airport.
Wilmington residents range from students and workers at the university to active retirees to young families drawn in by the friendly welcome and the laid-back lifestyle. However, don’t let its casual demeanor fool you. Wilmington means business.
“Best City” Designations
Wilmington appears on several “best city” lists thanks to its vibrant economy and superlative quality of living.
The Milken Institute recently ranked the Wilmington area #45 in its list of Best Performing Cities. Each year the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank, ranks major metropolitan areas based on factors of economic growth, including long-term and short-term measurements of employment and salary growth and indicators of hightech output.
Yet perhaps the most impressive is the metro area’s long-term job growth. The Milken Institute ranked Wilmington #48 in terms of five-year job growth from 2013-2018; and #28 in five-year wages and salary growth from 2012-2017.
Mainstream media has been jumping on the Wilmington wagon as well. CNNMoney magazine ranked Wilmington #7 of 10 on its Business 2.0: Top 10 Cities, Where to Move Now Listing for its 37% projected gain in home prices over five years.
Financial publication Kiplinger’s selected Wilmington as among 367 metropolitan areas to consider for its list of “Best Cities for the Next Decade.”
RelocateAmerica, a real estate website, ranked Wilmington among its “Top 100 Places to Relocate,” thanks to “warm temperatures, casual lifestyles and a touch of the ‘new south charm.’”
Outside Magazine included Wilmington on its 2012 “Best of the Best” cities list due in part to its “a renewed economy that has been fueled partly by an active filmmaking sector.”
Noting the area’s small town charm and big city amenities, Coastal Living magazine named Wilmington a “Coastal Dream Town.”
As the nation rebounds from the recent recession, so has Wilmington. This metro area managed to weather the financial storm well, and by many measures, it came out ahead.
In 2019, Forbes.com ranked the city #30 for Places for Business and Careers, and #12 in Cost of Doing Business.
Growth and Expansion
Wilmington was a relative secret until a couple of decades ago. But with the extension of Interstate 40 to the area, the path was paved, and people have been filing in. Certainly, the Research Triangle further north and west in North Carolina has received its due share of accolades, consistently ranking atop “Best Cities” lists. It’s perhaps due to a love of both North Carolina’s laid-back, friendly lifestyle and the beach that the word has gotten out on Wilmington.
Between 2010 and 2019, Wilmington’s population swelled 16 percent, due to an influx of both working-age adults as well as retirees.
The people keep coming to other parts of the Wilmington area metro as well. Brunswick County showed an increase of 33% of population from 2010 to 2019, according to U.S. Census estimates.
Wilmington has fared well throughout the financial crisis is seeing early successes during the country’s financial rebound. While home values have plunged some 20 percent elsewhere in the United States, throughout much of North Carolina, the real estate market has remained relatively stable. This is due in large part to the state’s continued job growth, population growth, and steady employment. That’s caught the attention of the media, and in Business Insider named Wilmington the #13th healthiest home market in the United States.
Wilmington-area homes sold for 6.4% more now than they did for the same period in 2019.
Employment and Business
Like other facets of its economy, Wilmington’s employment rates and workforce have remained largely buoyant during the past few years, despite overall conditions negatively affecting most other metro areas. Despite Wilmington’s relatively small size, it’s remained a strong contender in attracting and keeping a skilled, talented workforce.
Just let the major business news outlets tell you. Forbes.com ranked Wilmington #30 in the nation in its Best Places For Business and Careers,, thanks to the city's overall economy, lovely environment, ability to attract a workforce and its general affordability. It’s easy to see why. Some major employers in the area include General Electric, DEL Laboratories, International Paper, DuPont, Corning, Verizon Wireless and PPD, which recently built a multimillion dollar riverfront tower to serve as its global headquarters. Smaller firms in the area falling into this category include AAI and Pharmaceutical Product Development.
The U.S. Highway 421 corridor is developing into a nexus for new business as well, thanks to the transport infrastructure, cost of gas and ample rail service, reported Greater Wilmington Business Journal. The Cape Fear Future initiative, backed by the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, has also made major inroads into developing the area’s economy and ensuring its stability.
The Job Market and Business Development
- #30, Best Places for Careers and Business, Forbes.com
- #12, Cost of Business Rank, Forbes.com
- #48, Job Growth Rank, Forbes.com
Much of the Southeast is infamous for lengthy commutes. This is not the case in Wilmington. According to statistics from CNNMoney.com, the median commute time is 15 minutes, compared to the national average of 20.8 minutes. Only 6.1 percent of the population has a commute time of 45 minutes or longer, meaning more time at the beach and a better quality of life.
Wilmington is the home of UNC-Wilmington, and carries an educated air. The branch campus is consistently in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. In the 2012 guide, the university received its highest ranking ever: #5 among public master’s universities in the South. Out of the 118 institutions in the South that provide the full range of undergraduate and master’s programs, UNC-Wilmington ranked #14. It also got ranked #5 among the magazine’s “Up-and-Coming” colleges and universities in the South. U.S. News also gave the institution a nod in the Best Undergraduate Business Programs category. In 2019, UNC-Wilmington ranked #336 on Forbes.com Best Colleges in America rankings, and #187 in US News and World Report for Best National Universities.
Certainly the city’s ocean environment helps budding young students of the sea; and UNC-Wilmington’s marine biology program certainly holds its own, ranked among the world’s best by college ranking guide The Gourman Report. The city is also home to satellite campuses of Shaw University and Mount Olive College, as well as Cape Fear Community College.
The city as a whole is quite educated. According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2019, 27.3 percent of Wilmington’s population aged 25 or older had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 32.3 percent across the state.
In terms of K-12 education, public education in Wilmington are run by the New Hanover County Public Schools, which have gained notice and accolades for assigning students based on their parents’ income, ensuring diversity in student body. There are four public high schools, six middle schools and 23 elementary schools in the district. Three elementary schools are STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) magnets; five elementary schools and one middle school offer year-round education. The district is the only to have earned the North Carolina Quality Leadership Foundation’s Malcolm Baldridge Award.
College rankings, UNC-Wilmington:
- #136, Best Colleges for Veterans, U.S. News and World Report, 2021
- #179, Best Value Schools, U.S. News and World Report
- #187, National Universities, U.S. News and World Report, 2021
- #336, Best Colleges in America, Forbes.com
New Hanover County Public Schools:
- Winner of the North Carolina Quality Leadership Foundation’s Malcolm Baldridge Award
Lifestyle and Leisure
Wilmington is growing and with its new size comes diversity. Some may raise an eyebrow at the influx of newcomers from New York and New Jersey but in the end, all assimilate into the relaxed Southern seashore way of life. At the same time, “Wilmywood” is attracting an ever-quirkier filmmaking contingent. MovieMaker magazine in ranked Wilmington #9 on its list of Best Small Cities to Live and Work as a Moviemaker.
The reason for this? Those in the biz have citied lovely weather, low production costs, a cost of living that’s easy on the creative worker’s budget and a relaxed lifestyle. MovieMaker also ranked the city’s Cucalorus Film Festival as one of the 25 Coolest Film Festivals. A reason given was its “noncompetitive atmosphere,” which lends itself to filmmakers gaining a renewed appreciation of their craft. And how! The same publication ranked Wilmington #6 of 10 Best Places to Make a Movie.
In other artsy accolades for Wilmington: it was one of the cities featured in The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America. Magazine American Style categorized the city as among 10 Great Arts Places.
Sportier leisure pursuits certainly get their nod, thanks to its coastal location in the Southern United States. Triathlete magazine ranked Wilmington as one of 12 Best Places to Live. North Carolina hosts nearly as many triathlons as do California and Texas; among them Wilmington’s new Beach 2 Battleship extreme distance triathlon, held in November. As the magazine writes, “live here if you dream of an oceanfront home but the West Coast just isn’t right for you.”
If your athletic talents feature more graceful skill rather than endurance, you’re well served in Wilmington as well: Golf Digest has ranked the metro region amoung the Best Metro Golfing Area in the Country for Value, Accessibility and Quality. And of course, surf’s up—way up: Surfer Magazine has named local shore Wrightsville Beach a Top 10 Best Place to Surf.
- Featured in book 100 Best Small Art Towns in America
- One of 10 Great Arts Places, American Style
- #9 Best Places to Make a Movie, MovieMaker
- Home to one of 25 Coolest Film Festivals, MovieMaker
- Top 10 Best Place to Surf, Surfer Magazine
- One of Best Metro Golfing Area in the Country for Value, Accessibility and Quality, Golf Digest
- 12 Best Places to Live, Triathlete
Well-rounded living means that Wilmington-area residents are the portrait of health. According to data from CountyHealthRankings.org, out of North Carolina counties, New Hanover County ranks #17 in overall health, #28 in health behaviors such as smoking, obesity and STDs and #5 in clinical care in its 2020 Health Outcomes snapshot. Nearby Pender County ranked #37 and Brunswick County #36 in overall health in North Carolina.
- #17, New Hanover County, N.C. overall health, CountyHealthRankings.org
- #5,New Hanover County, N.C. clinical care, CountyHealthRankings.org
- #28, New Hanover County, N.C. health behaviors, CountyHealthRankings.org
- #37, Pender County, N.C. overall health, CountyHealthRankings.org
- #36, Brunswick County, N.C. overall health, CountyHealthRankings.org
A pleasant climate, ample access to health care and an easy way of living make Wilmington well-situated for spending the golden years. The history, arts and charm more than certainly help draw in residents of all ages. Modern Maturity has ranked Wilmington among The 50 Most Alive Places to Live. Where to Retire magazine also cited the city as one of its 100 Best Retirement Towns in the Country. And certainly not to be overlooked, the sassy Modern Maturity ranked Wilmington in the “Quirky” category for its uniqueness in terms of both filmmaking and historical attractions.
Retirement in Wilmington…
- One of 50 Most Alive Places to Live, Modern Maturity
- One of 100 Best Retirement Towns in the Country, Where to Retire
- “Quirky,” Modern Maturity
Lifestyle and Leisure
What better life could there be than always being on vacation? Wilmington’s balmy weather, gorgeous coastline, riverwalk along the Cape Fear River and historical and arts attractions make the area a prime spot for holidays as well as relocation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Wilmington one of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations.
The riverwalk is a prime attraction. Perhaps this was one reason why Frommer’s Budget Travel ranked Wilmington among the Nation’s Most Walkable Cities. And when it comes time for sun, head over to the shore to take in what AOL City Guide dubbed one of the Top 10 U.S. Beaches. Frommers.com agrees on the beach front: it ranked the city’s Wrightsville Beach one of the two best in North Carolina.
For Newcomers and Visitors…
- One of the Dozen Distinctive Destinations, The National Trust for Historic Preservation
- One of the Top 10 U.S. Beaches (“Cape Fear/Wilmington, N.C.”), AOL City Guide
- One of the Nation’s Most Walkable Cities, Frommer’s Budget Travel
- One of the Two Best Beaches in North Carolina (Wrightsville Beach), Frommers.com
- Top 20 Event, North Carolina Holiday Flotilla (Wrightsville Beach), Southeast Tourism Society