This week Cape Fear Collective looked at unemployment. Anyone following the impact of COVID-19 on the economy won’t be surprised to see the trend on the charts below resembling Mount Everest. 
Unemployment is the highest in decades with more than 23 million Americans out of work. The impacts were evident in our region. All six counties we analyzed experienced spikes in unemployment claims, with New Hanover and Pender hit the hardest. Seventy-seven out of 100 North Carolina counties posted an April jobless rate of 10% or more, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce.
The hardest hit industry in the Cape Fear Region was hospitality (see the table below). Dr. Adam Jones, a regional economist who works at UNCW, told the Wilmington Business Journal earlier this month he wasn’t surprised to see the steep downturn.
"The New Hanover County labor force shrank by nearly 10%, three times the national figure,” he told the paper in an email. “The labor forces in Brunswick and Pender county shrank by even more. This dramatic difference between the nation and the region reflects the lack of seasonal workers this year and suggests that our labor market is in even worse shape than our approximately 15% unemployment rate makes it look. There’s no doubt, a lot of people are hurting in the region, but the lack of seasonal workers suggests many are hurting elsewhere because the jobs aren’t available here."
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many of the issues facing our region, but none more than the fragile foundation of our economy. Relying on seasonal employment and the hospitality industry isn’t sustainable. This downturn was the result of a pandemic. Will the next one be caused by a hurricane?
That’s why workforce development is one of the most pressing issues in our region. In New Hanover County’s 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, superior education and workforce development was one of three focus areas. The county's goal is for businesses to "stay, start, or expand because the talent exists here or is developed quickly.”
Cape Fear Collective has made workforce development a priority. We teamed with the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce and RTI International to survey local business in our six county region to identify areas of highest growth and skills. The data serves as a guide to a better workforce that can build a regional economy insulated against a downturn.
If you haven’t taken the survey, please take a minute to fill it out. It is a tool we can use to build a stronger workforce and in turn a better tomorrow.
This week, we wanted to focus on unemployment in the Cape Fear region. Through much of 2019, North Carolina’s unemployment rate sat slightly above the national rate, though this gap had closed by the beginning of 2020.

-The unemployment rates in most Cape Fear counties closely follow the US and NC trends, with a few exceptions (notably Bladen and Brunswick).

-It is interesting to note that the counties with consistently low unemployment rates in the past are the ones that are most affected in the last two months. For example, among the Cape Fear counties, New Hanover has the lowest unemployment rate in the past year, yet in March and April of this year, it has the highest unemployment rate surpassing even the national rate.

-Since March 2020, there is a giant leap in the unemployment rates and a flip in the trend. For example, New Hanover and Pender jumped from first and second lowest to first and second highest. Similarly, Brunswick and Bladen went from first and second highest to first and second lowest.

-In April of this year, COVID-19 had a significant impact on unemployment in the Cape Fear region, accounting for 72%-81% of initial unemployment insurance claims at the county level.

-New Hanover county was hit the hardest in April, with almost 13,000 initial claims filed in the county.

-Among the region’s six top industry sectors, there is some clear variation at the county level:

-A few coastal counties (Brunswick, New Hanover, and Onslow) are experiencing high unemployment in the Leisure and Hospitality sector, presumably due to the anticipation of fewer tourists in the area.

-Two categories (Educational & Health Services and Trade, Transportation, & Utilities) make up consistently large portions of the county-level unemployment.

-Bladen, Columbus, and Pender all have relatively high levels of unemployment in the manufacturing sector.
 For more information on the census, check out Visit to fill out the census today!

To learn more about the Cape Fear Collective’s data and analytics work, click here. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions on data sets or analysis send us an email at or look us up on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
On this episode, we’re talking to Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear River Keeper. We talk about how the pandemic is impacting the river, how the byproducts of commercial farming is one of the biggest threats to our drinking water and how being out on the river gives Kemp some perspective on the pandemic.

Listen here and check out the rest of our content here.
Cape Fear Collective and the Wilmington Chamber partnered with RTI International to bring a comprehensive skills analysis to our six-county region. Only a couple weeks left to have your organization included. The data will be used to inform economic recovery efforts in our region. Take 10-minutes today to shape tomorrow's workforce. Click here to complete the survey.
Coaching Institute Prepares Educators & Community Leaders to Work in Diverse Teams and Solve Complex Programs

Cape Fear Collective is excited to invite you to a virtual Pitch Event on Friday, June 19 at 2:00. Educators and community leaders will be pitching solutions to WAVE Transit and Cape Fear Collective on the real-world problem they were provided on Monday. This event marks the end of the week-long District C Coaching Institute. Thanks to partnership with New Hanover County Schools Career & Technical Education the experience provided educators with firsthand experience in working in diverse teams to solve complex, real-world business problems. A model they'll go on to implement across New Hanover County Schools with students and/or in community programs they represent. Please register to attend here


UNCW’s Dr. Rachel Carroll, assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, and Dr. Mark Lammers, professor and director of UNCW’s Data Science Program, have developed two tools that track COVID-19 cases in the Cape Fear region.
Carroll created a spatial-temporal tool that maps COVID-19 in the United States, North Carolina, and the Cape Fear Region. Lammers developed a visualization tool that tracks COVID-19 cases by county in North Carolina, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Both tools update daily using data from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
SHARE Cape Fear provides an online portal for nonprofit organizations, including faith-based groups and churches with 501(c)3 status, to build a profile, set up a wish list, and call for volunteers. Neighbors to the site are able to connect with those organizations and sign up to help either through monetary or goods donation or volunteering. Registration for SHARE Cape Fear is free. For more information, visit
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