This is part one of a two part series on the 2016 State of our City Report. This part covers infrastructure improvement and economic development. You can read Part 2 HERE.
On May 17th, a particularly rainy, spring Tuesday, Mayor Allen Joines was joined by several local leaders in delivering a State of the Communityreport which provided an overview of where we are right now as a city. The Mayor was accompanied by Bob Leak, Gayle Anderson, Bobby Hickman, Jim Sparrow, and Dr. Beverly Emory, who gave those in attendance a picture of how Winston-Salem is fairing in 2016.
Mayor Joines began by reiterating a goal that he has articulated in the past. “By the end of the decade we would like for Winston-Salem to be one of the top 50 metro areas in the country. Last year we were ranked as 145 so that’s a big move up for us.”
What will reaching that goal require and look like? Winston-Salem will have to create just over 27,000 net new jobs over that time period, or about 5,400 jobs per year. He stated that this future economic development would be created by focusing on three of our major assets: the Wake Forest innovation Quarter, Whitaker Park, and fostering our entrepreneurial culture.
The Mayor went on to provide some data for context. In the past five years we have seen our population grow from 229,617 in 2010 to an estimated 239,629 in 2015- a 4.2% increase. He described our growth as “moderate” and “manageable”. The City’s workforce has grown from 306,400 to 320,500- a 4.6% increase. This is something we have done better when compared against other North Carolina cities. For comparison the state average was 3.4%, Greensboro was 4.5%, and Raleigh was 3.6%.
Joines pointed out that while sometimes the number of new people in the workforce can actually make the unemployment number rise, overall our unemployment number has been falling. In February 2014 the unemployment rate was at 6.6%. By February of 2015 is had fallen to 5.5%, and then saw a much slower decline until March of 2016 when we posted at 5.2%.
Mayor Joines kept to the good news pointing out that from 2010 until 2015 we had a net gain of 7,500 jobs. This is well below they 5,400 jobs a year required to reach the stated goal of 27,000 in 2020. The Mayor stated that a survey of local businesses indicated that 15% of Forsyth County’s employers plan to add jobs over the next year and none of them responded that they would be cutting jobs.
The Mayor gave an update of activities in the Innovation Quarter. He stated that the Bailey Power Plant Building project was underway. Construction of the new WFU medical building has begun. The building of the Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering is underway. The financing needed there for a parking deck has been secured at both the city and the county level. And the Mayor said that the Northern District of the Quarter, or Phase 2, is in the initial recruitment phase. Currently there are 3,200 jobs in the IQ. By the end of 2017, 400 new jobs are expected to be created. Currently there are 5,800 students in the IQ, by the end of 2017 they expect as many as 7,000. Sixty-one companies are operating in the IQ right now with a projected 66 to be in place by the end of 2017. Currently there is $563 million dollars invested in the Innovation Quarter. By the end of 2017 there will be an estimated $800 million.
Five key efforts to foster and encourage entrepreneurship were named by the Mayor. The Dioko Health Ventures Accelerator which has a goal of securing $25 million to use as seed money had an early stage funder in order to foster expansion and innovation in our “local health care entrepreneurial ecosystem.” The fund’s managers will work closely with Inmar Inc., the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, local universities, regional academic medical centers. The Flywheel Ventures Fund has $350,000. The Mayor indicated that planning was underway for a minority business accelerator, that a study of our strengths and weaknesses had been completed, and that a best practices study of St. Louis, Missouri was complete. He pointed out that the beltway is under construction and all segments have been funded and that 250 out of the 301 bond projects voters approved will be underway by June.
The podium was then turned over to Bob Leak, the President of Winston-Salem Business Inc. He reported on capital improvement projects that are already underway. Among those are:
- Benton Convention Center renovations.
- The Union Station renovation and make-over.
- Bailey Park & Power Plant renovations.
- Forsyth County Central Library renovations.
- Merschel Plaza installation.
- Several downtown residential projects.
Mr. Leak pointed out other projects which have been funded by the bond and total $139.2 million.
- Recreation – 15 total projects including:
- Quarry Park
- Winston-Salem Park
- Jamison Park
- Salem Lake Marina
- Three police stations.
- Three fire stations.
- Beaty public safety training and support center.
Streets & Sidewalks:
- Resurfacing roads
- building sidewalks
- adding bike and pedestrian lanes.
- Pepper Building
- 757 North Apartments
- Enterprise Drive at the Union Cross Business Park
- Possible Spec Building at Union Cross Business Park
Additional projects include:
- Happy Hill Park
- Hanes Park
- Park land acquisition
- Public Safety Center renovations
- Meadowlark Park
- Business 40 corridor improvements
- TURN (Transitioning Urban Neighborhoods)
As for upcoming transportation projects, Mr. Leak reviewed the following:
- The W-S Beltway (eastern portion)
- Idols Road Extension
- Salem Creek Connector
- Highway 52 improvements
- Business 40 improvements
Gayle Anderson, President of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce gave her presentation and had more challenging data for attendees. She jumped right into talking about jobs, pointing out that Moody’s Analytics job growth projection for Winston-Salem was 19,800 jobs added by 2020. Ms. Anderson reported that from September 2014 to September 2015 Forsyth County netted 2,715 jobs. That is only 1.5% net job growth over the year. She compared that number to Guilford County(6,310), Buncombe County(4,834), New Hanover County(3,452), Wake County(22,309), and Mecklenbeurg County(25,036). Winston-Salem/Forsyth County is only on pace to add half of the jobs needed to hit the 2020 targets.
Forsyth County ranked 46th out of 100 North Carolina Counties in people experiencing a change in employment. That places us right in the middle of the 100 counties. We are sixth overall in jobs added and number five in weekly wages.
Ms. Anderson reported that our positives right now outweigh our negatives and the trends are headed upward. She pointed out that our strengths are Medical Research, proximity to other high growth areas, low cost of living and low cost of doing business. Our weaknesses include soft growth in the financial industry and low industrial diversity.
This is part one of a two part series on the 2016 State of our City Report. This part covers infrastructure improvement and economic development. You can READ PART 2 HERE which focuses on poverty and income disparity, arts and innovation, and education.
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