Click each section to see a close-up of each strategic priority report.
January 2022 Strategic Plan Report Out Letter
Over the past year New Hanover County employees have developed new strategies and business processes to effectively deal with the COVID-19 virus, the administration of vaccination efforts community-wide, the transition of the virus from pandemic to endemic and the economic, and mental health impacts associated from these experiences. Despite these challenges, New Hanover County has been able to make progress towards our board’s vision of a vibrant prosperous, diverse coastal community committed to building a sustainable future for the next generation and the strategies needed to meet our citizens’ overall wellbeing, including physical, emotional, and financial needs.
Our organization continues to lead our community with public health guidance and resources, new programs and initiatives tailored to the needs of our community through creative uses of federal funds established through the American Rescue Plan and facilitated discussions and strategic planning for community and school safety. During these unprecedented times, New Hanover County continues to make progress towards being a vibrant and prosperous community and I am confident this is only possible because of the commitment to public service demonstrated by our employees and leadership.
Intelligent Growth and Economic Development
Most of our economic indicators have grown including our tax base, our return on new public investments, our increase in jobs paying 6.5% above the living wage, and jobs in advanced manufacturing, knowledge sector, and skilled trades. Of important note, New Hanover County conducted a revaluation of tax values this past year which is not reflected in the data provided. Based on the revaluation of property values, we are anticipating an approximate increase of 30 percent in values, which continues to validate the attractiveness of our community to individuals across the country. This progress towards New Hanover County’s economic wellbeing is the result of many factors including an incentive package to Vantaca for 104 new jobs and 106 business grants to local companies totaling over $2.3 million to protect existing jobs and provide opportunities for new jobs.
In terms of complete communities, our community services have decreased due to the closure of many in-home childcare services and the increase in residential units constructed outside of existing service areas. This has resulted in a plateauing of our completeness measure that ensures residents have the facilities and services they need near their homes and will need to be monitored as citizens adjust to and change preferences for working from home practices. In terms of residential diversity, New Hanover County continues to prioritize assistance to our residents for rent and mortgage assistance through pilot programs created with new revenue streams.
Superior Education and Workforce
Education has been an important focus for New Hanover County and for the past five years, New Hanover County has prioritized early learning for 3 and 4-year-old children in our community by investing in new pre-k classrooms. Despite the setbacks in education performance from COVID-19, the number of children who are ready for kindergarten has increased, putting us close to meeting our goal and helping these children be on track for reading at grade level by the 3rd grade.
Currently we are seeing concerning trends with our 3rd grade reading proficiency scores. Moving forward, children who participated in the county’s first funded cohort of pre-k classes are now in the second grade and so we anticipate as these children move into third grade, we will begin to see test score improvements. This past fiscal year, our commissioners anticipated the continuation of these trends and made education a top priority in this year’s budget by providing a county supplement to ensure teachers in New Hanover County were the highest paid teachers in North Carolina. Additionally, commissioners funded a teacher incentive program aimed at recruiting and retaining teachers from kindergarten through third grade since these teachers provide the building blocks for students’ reading success.
New Hanover County continues to prioritize access to free wi-fi through public wi-fi access points as well as a new pilot program that provides internet service to homes with school age children and households who qualify for economic services through Social Services. As of December 31, 2021, this pilot is on track to provide direct service to approximately 400 homes.
Like other communities, New Hanover County is seeing a decrease in qualified candidates for high-wage jobs. Many communities are experiencing a labor shortage due to a higher rate of workers leaving the workforce due to early retirements, health related complications from COVID, or childcare concerns. New Hanover County launched a job training program with American Rescue Funds as well as an apprenticeship program to help grow our workforce.
Superior Public Health and Safety
As anticipated, New Hanover County experienced an increase in opioid related deaths and overdoses– indicating the mental health strain from the pandemic.
Moving forward, in partnership with Trillium, New Hanover County will open The Healing Place, a substance use disorder treatment facility in the fall of 2022 to provide residential services to 100 men and 100 women in our community.
We are making progress towards our goal of increasing access to programs that prevent and reduce obesity and have seen increases with our online interactions as well as our Senior Resource Center home delivered meals and our Women, Infants and Children programs – all of which are targeted at supporting a healthy weight and better nutrition.
We are continuing to see a decrease in emergency call volume across the county; however, due to our population being lower than Census projections we would have needed to see a higher reduction in calls to drop below last year’s call per capita. Overall, we are seeing the right trend of a reduction in calls; however, we will need to experience a higher rate of reduced calls to reduce our calls per capita.
Superior public health is a primary focus for New Hanover County and this year our new consolidated Health and Human Services agency created their first strategic plan focused on addressing social determinants of health and health equity. Our Senior Resource Center also completed its first five-year Master Aging Plan to support our aging population.
Focused on management, financial performance, business processes and organizational capacity, our organization has experienced many noteworthy accomplishments this year.
This past year, New Hanover County had a once in a lifetime opportunity to reinvest the proceeds from the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant into our community through a Community Endowment as well as two new county funds – a revenue stabilization fund and a mental health and substance use disorder fund. The dedicated county funds and associated investment strategy provide New Hanover County with long-term financial health and a way to provide needed funding for mental health and substance use disorders in perpetuity. In addition, the Community Endowment will improve the health, education, safety, and economic opportunity of every person in our community.
Additionally, recognizing the importance of diversity and equity in all that the county does to serve our citizens and community, the county updated language in our strategic plan to include elements of diversity and equity in direct and intentional ways and included a new shared value of equity.
This year, one of the county’s continuous improvement projects designed to improve the customer’s experience by improving efficiencies in the Health and Human Services mailroom was recognized as a best in category for County Administration and Management by the National Association of Counties – putting New Hanover County in the top 2% of the nation for innovation and best practices that are serving our community.
Our employees have been agile and innovative and have continued to provide superior public service through one of history’s most challenging times. Part of that commitment to public service is guaranteeing our services can be delivered without interruption, so when COVID-19 jeopardized the continuity of our operations this year, the county implemented a vaccine policy to require vaccine reporting and weekly testing for those not vaccinated. This policy resulted in more than 86% of our employees being vaccinated against COVID-19, helping ensure the county can continue to provide superior service to our community by maintaining a healthy work environment.
As we look forward to reporting out on the final year of our strategic plan, we know there is challenging work to be done to ensure our community recovers from the social, emotional, economic, and physical impacts from COVID 19. New Hanover County staff and leadership work tirelessly to ensure our community is safe, healthy, and secure and are committed to maintain a strong focus on the needs of our citizens. In the coming year, we will open a new Government Center that is specifically focused on our customer’s experience through a purpose-built facility, and we look forward to continuing to serve this vibrant community in innovative ways that ensure equity for all.