Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Officials say collaboration and cooperation have been a driving force behind Wilson’s growth over the last few years. And that united effort between city and county government as well as local businesses, private enterprise and the nonprofit sector remains a vital part in making Wilson stand out above the rest.
“What we have in Wilson doesn’t exist everywhere,” said Ryan Simmons, Wilson Chamber of Commerce president. “I think we can all be grateful and proud of the level of work that goes on ...”
On Tuesday, City Manager Grant Goings and County Manager Denise Stinagle discussed a host of local government issues that affect businesses during the Chamber of Commerce breakfast event. It was the second installment in the Public Policy Series with Goings and Stinagle.
Dozens of business leaders throughout Wilson attended the event, where officials discussed how government works, as well as current and future projects.
Goings primarily focused on the current momentum in the redevelopment of downtown. He said what used to be seven to 10 projects on average downtown has turned into more than two dozen currently.
“We have numerous examples of reinvestment,” he said.
The newest addition to downtown includes the headquarters of the Economic Development Council on Barnes Street, where there will be a ribbon-cutting and open house Wednesday. He also discussed the 95 units that will be available at the new Whirligig Station apartments.
Several years ago, officials looked closely into the demographics and future of Wilson. He said it was clear the area was losing young people. He said when staff went to several large employers here, they discovered a substantial number of employees were commuting. Those millennials were working here but not living here, he said.
They surveyed those employees and wanted to know why and what types of things they wanted to see in Wilson to make them permanent residents. Part of that survey included downtown redevelopment, an urban living environment and places to socialize with people their age. Goings believes the city is now on the right track.
Other projects include the Innovation Hub or the Gig East Exchange. He said Wilson is one of the first communities to receive a significant Golden Leaf fund grant for an innovation hub. The city was awarded $1.1 million for that innovation hub and is currently in the final running for an additional $750,000 federal grant which will be used for programming in the building.
“We need to prepare current and future entrepreneurs,” he said. “We need to be a leader in our innovation economy, and I don’t think size has anything to do with it.”
Goings said city staff members are excited about the Innovation Hub project and already have three Triangle area companies that want to have their offices at the facility.
“It’s put Wilson at a table that we use to not get invited to,” he said. “We want our facility here to be a test bed where people can come and apply those technologies.”
Goings also discussed how far the city has come in regards to annual investment downtown through public and private sectors.
This year and next fiscal year will put that investment at more than $60 million, which includes the new BB&T building.
He said while the Cherry Hotel project isn’t finalized yet, the city is hoping it will be an $18 million project to reopen the historic hotel.
Stinagle discussed the county’s role within the community as well as where tax dollars are spent and upcoming projects.
She also highlighted improvements made to several county departments including renovations at the county’s department of social services, newly purchased EMS trucks and stretchers and enhanced services at the library.
In 2017, county commissioners funded $5.9 million for public school improvements that included new roofs, HVAC systems, paving and security, she said. Part of that project also includes replacing gym floors at Beddingfield, Fike and Hunt high schools. That will happen over the summer.
She also gave the crowd an update on the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology initiative. The school board has sought funding from the state to construct a $20 million facility at the Wilson Community College Lee Technology Center campus, where it would be used for WAAT’s new home. The program is currently housed at Beddingfield.
“We should know by September if it’s granted,” Stinagle said. She said $15 million of the funding would come the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund from the state of North Carolina Public Schools, which can only be used for new school construction. The county’s matching piece would be $5 million, she said.
She said the WAAT program has been very successful for the Wilson community.
“And the students enjoy it,” she said. “Our businesses and industries like it a lot. It’s got great momentum.” She said there’s not enough room for growth at Beddingfield, and the potential new facility would provide that growth opportunity, all the while being connected to Wilson Community College.
She said there is a lot of work to do in regards to schools and facilities.
While the county is doing its part locally, it needs support from the state. She said county officials are excited to see Gov. Roy Cooper’s plans in the state budget for $3.9 billion education bond proposal.
“The last time we did any bond with the state of North Carolina was in 1996,” she said.