Officials boost innovation economy

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During a Thursday morning work session, the Wilson City Council heard about a five-part plan to grow an innovative culture in Wilson as part of multi-year initiative.

“Wilson is more important to our state to expand entrepreneurship and innovation success than others because if it is going to work on a broader state basis, Wilson is a petri dish,” said City Manager Grant Goings. “Wilson is the place where we’ve got to make it work.”

Wilson was selected with four other communities to participate in Innovate NC, an effort led by the Institute for Emerging Issues to foster collaboration and determine the best practices to spur entrepreneurship. Stakeholders from Wilson participated in events across the state and hosted events centered around technology and Greenlight Community Broadband.

WRAL TechWire helped put together the first Gig East conference last November, filling a bus of computer-centric entrepreneurs from the Triangle for a discussion about growing a technologically advanced infrastructure.

The success of the event and several Gig East meetups since has spurred the second Gig East conference at 8 a.m. Nov. 1 at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center in downtown Wilson.

“The purpose of the timing is to wrap around the (N.C.) Whirligig Festival and all the energy swirling with that,” said city spokeswoman Rebecca Agner. “The eventual goal is to have a full-day summit, but the theme this year is the evolution of a smarter city. We don’t want to just talk about smart cities, though, but what is the next step and where is the technology going?”

Hosting events like Gig East is one of the five components to the strategic plan put together through the Innovate NC initiative. Other aspects include cultivating and attracting talent, providing support for existing and emerging enterprises, instilling a creative culture through placemaking and marketing the city as a place for business and entrepreneurship.

“Greenlight is a commodity and infrastructure that other cities don’t have,” said Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz. “How can we leverage that to show people the opportunities that this technology provides them?”

Lentz pointed out that efforts such as the planned revitalization of the U.S. 301 corridor, downtown redevelopment and the whirligig park also help set Wilson apart from other communities.

“All cities our size have a Target, but what makes us unique is our neighborhoods and our downtown,” he said. “If someone wants a Target, there are 50 other communities they can go to, but there is only one Wilson.”

No vote was needed on the 16-page strategic plan. Goings said the staff is working on several grant applications that could help bring some of the plan components to life.