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Everything that Audrey Speicher once knew about web development and coding she had learned on the fly through endless Google searches. “I had no foundation,” she said in an interview on Tech Talent South’s graduate blog. Then in 2015, Speicher, who is partnership manager on the product-development team at CastleBranch in Wilmington, NC, enrolled in a coding crash course offered by the Charlotte-based bootcamp Tech Talent South. Speicher’s story is an example of why coding bootcamps are so critically needed: because fast-growing tech towns like Wilmington have a greater need for coding talent than can be found locally.

tekMountain, along with its InnovateNC partners, is committed to building the three pillars needed to support Southeast North Carolina’s innovation capacity, one of them being a highly educated and skilled work force.

Wilmington, the state’s eighth largest city, outwardly resembles the epitome of the New South. It’s home to global corporations like GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Corning, Verizon Wireless, and homegrown PPD, as well as local tech & commercial startups like NextGlass, nCino, and Live Oak Bank. It’s top 10 industry employers include medicine, education, retail and government. (CastleBranch, tekMountain’s parent company, ranks 19th.)

But as Audrey Speicher knows, Wilmington, a beach town heavily reliant on tourism, sorely lacks the tech skills needed to evolve fully into a vibrant innovation ecosystem.

The numbers say it all:

Take Charlotte and Raleigh as baselines. The estimated numbers of people employed in all computer and mathematical operations occupations (which includes web developers, programmers and software developers) are as follow:

Wilmington 2,150

Charlotte 41,040

Raleigh 29,410

(as of May 2015)

 

Now compare these two tables:

Table 1: Leisure & Hospitality as Percentage of Population

 

Leisure & Hospitality

Population

Pct of Pop

 

(Feb 2016)

(July 2014)

 

Wilmington 

16,300

113,657

14.3%

Charlotte 

119,900

809,958

14.8%

Raleigh

64,400

439,896

14.6%

 

Table 2: Computer & Math Operations as Percentage of Population

 

Computer &

Math Operations

Population

Pct of Pop

 

(May 2015)

(July 2014)

 

Wilmington 

2,150

113,657

1.9%

Charlotte

41,040

809,958

5.1%

Raleigh

29,410

439,896

6.7%

 

As a percentage of population, the number of people working in leisure and hospitality (tourism) in Wilmington is essentially equal to that of Charlotte and Raleigh – the latter two cities being far larger than Wilmington (and important tech hubs).

But when it comes to highly skilled computer-tech workers, Raleigh has more than 3.5 times the number that Wilmington has; Charlotte, nearly 2.7 times more.

Even with a respected local university, Wilmington lags behind Raleigh by 7.8 percentage points for the portion of its population with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Wilmington’s labor force is smaller than that of Raleigh or Charlotte (by 5.8 and 7.2 percentage points respectively). Yet, Wilmington has a much higher percentage of its work force employed in retail than either of those other two cities has.

This explains part of tekMountain’s reason for being.

Coders are to the tech industry what skilled carpenters are to new-home construction: they are the framers upon whom the entire edifice depends. One way of building the coder base in Wilmington is to assume responsibility for training a skilled, talented, state-of-the-art work force.

To achieve this goal, tekMountain is working to match up-and-coming coders with coding bootcamps. For example, tekMountain is currently in contractual negotiations to bring Charlotte-based coding bootcamp Tech Talent South, praised as one of the best coding bootcamps in the South, even one of the best coding bootcamps in the world, to Wilmington.

Wilmington has a lot going for it, including a steeply reduced corporate income tax rate in 2016, robustly growing population and infrastructure, and a gorgeous seaside environment filled with recreational possibility. Its cost of living is comparable to that of Charlotte & Asheville, all being below the national average.

Framing in the coding infrastructure is the crucial next pillar to be built in Wilmington’s tech infrastructure. Students of coding are almost never too young to get started – the earlier the better. CIOs of major local innovators like nCino, Live Oak Bank, and PPD should keep this on their radar. Their own demand for coding – and that of uncounted startups to come — must be met. tekMountain is here to help.

 

10 Largest Employers in Wilmington, NC

  1. New Hanover Regional Medical Center/Cape Fear Hospital (Hospitals) – 6,462
  2. New Hanover County Schools (Education) – 3,700
  3. GE Wilmington (GE Hitachi and GE Aviation) – 3,000
  4. Wal-Mart Stores (Retail) – 2,306
  5. University of NC Wilmington (Higher Education) – 1,891
  6. Brunswick County Schools (Education) – 1,828
  7. New Hanover County (County Government) – 1,609
  8. Verizon Wireless Call Center (Communications) – 1,514
  9. PPD, Inc. (Discovery & Development Services to Pharmaceutical & Biotech) – 1,500
  10. Duke Energy – Southport & Wilmington (Electricity) – 1,350

 

This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumMike PattonRod WhisnerAmanda SipesZach Cioffi and Alexa Doran with lead writer Bill DiNome.

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