The article rightly points out that a primary challenge for most smaller cities in the country is that they were largely built on the backs of manufacturing at a time when their less expensive labor pool made them attractive places for companies to locate their operations. When global trade happened in the latter part of the 20th century that advantage evaporated and, voila, seemingly every “non-elite” city in America was in the position of trying to reinvent itself for the new economy.
In Winston-Salem, that process started back in the ’80s and ’90s and the extended economic redevelopment work has begun to pay dividends. Fifteen years ago when my wife and I moved our family here the downtown was largely a ghost town after 5 p.m., but now it’s thriving. Hell, using the “Brewery Benchmark,” Winston-Salem is exploding. I can’t say there have been a whole lot of economic development home runs – things like Amazon’s second HQ – but there have been a whole bunch of singles and doubles. And honestly, I think that could be a good thing: growing slowly helps us avoid the boom town headaches of skyrocketing housing prices, traffic congestion, and overcrowded schools.
Probably my favorite part of the article, the part that I think really rings true when you look at Winston-Salem as compared to comparable cities, is this:
If any middling city can make a transition to a technology-centered future, however, Winston-Salem should. It is home to five universities, including Wake Forest, an institution that enrolls four out of its five students from out of state. Transplanted to Winston-Salem in the mid-1950s under the Reynolds family’s patronage from its original site near Raleigh, the university has a leading medical school, which it hopes will anchor a biotech ecosystem.
“The top talent is going to go to the coasts, no doubt about that,” said Graydon Pleasants, head of real estate development for the Innovation Quarter. “But there are plenty of smart people who will come here.”
The article points out what I see as Winston-Salem’s most pressing challenge as well: slow wage growth coupled with housing costs that are rising at a much faster rate. If as a community we can figure out how to fix that while continuing to grow then I think we’ll be in a much better place.
Yesterday I was in a meeting with several people involved with local real estate development and they were asked what the top business priority is for their county (Guilford, NC) going into 2017. Their response, as has been the case for every year in recent memory, was that job growth will continue to be the most critical issue for their businesses. In the course of answering the question quite a few of these people referenced other cities in North Carolina that seem to be thriving – Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte and “even Wilmington” – were the names I remembered. What stuck out, to me, was that no one mentioned Winston-Salem.
Now let me state up front that I’m not prepared to offer any statistics that compare the jobs situation in Winston-Salem to those in Guilford County’s two cities, Greensboro and High Point. But I will say that if you were to poll most people who pay attention to business in the region, they will tell you that Winston-Salem’s economic recovery from the nuclear annihilation that has befallen this region’s traditional economy is further along than its neighbors to the east. For some reason, though, leaders in Greensboro and High Point seem to ignore what’s going on just 30 miles to their west (and in all fairness the reverse is also true), and as a result no one seems to know why there’s a difference between these two very similar neighbors.
A personal theory is that there are a lot of complex and interwoven factors at play here, but one big one is the presence of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The university, and in particular it’s medical school, has been a partner with the city and local companies as the city moved away from it’s traditional tobacco manufacturing base toward a “knowledge economy” with a niche in the area of medical research. Starting over 20 years ago Winston-Salem’s civic and business leaders recognized the need to re-position the city’s economy and Wake Forest played a significant role in those plans. The results are plain to see in the city’s Innovation Quarter, which is booming and is primed for exponential growth over the next 10-15 years.
30 miles to the east Greensboro actually has more schools, including NC A&T and UNCG, but they don’t seem to have had the same effect on the city’s economy. Yet. We’re starting to see much more activity there, including the Union Square Campus that recently opened and is already bearing economic fruit for the city and there’s PLENTY of potential for even more growth. As long as the city’s leaders continue to keep their eye on the ball there’s a very good chance this will happen, as it has in other college towns.
This article in the Wall Street Journal has a lot of data showing how cities in the US that have strong colleges, especially those with research programs, have recovered from the decline in the manufacturing sector over the last two decades. Here’s an excerpt:
A nationwide study by the Brookings Institution for The Wall Street Journal found 16 geographic areas where overall job growth was strong, even though manufacturing employment fell more sharply in those places from 2000 to 2014 than in the U.S. as a whole…
“Better educated places with colleges tend to be more productive and more able to shift out of declining industries into growing ones,” says Mark Muro, a Brookings urban specialist. “Ultimately, cities survive by continually adapting their economies to new technologies, and colleges are central to that.”…
Universities boost more than just highly educated people, says Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. The incomes of high-school dropouts in college towns increase by a bigger percentage than those of college graduates over time because demand rises sharply for restaurant workers, construction crews and other less-skilled jobs, he says.
And here’s the money quote as it relates to local economic development efforts:
Places where academics work closely with local employers and development officials can especially benefit. “Universities produce knowledge, and if they have professors who are into patenting and research, it’s like having a ready base of entrepreneurs in the area,” says Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser.
Let’s hope our local leaders take full advantage of what our colleges have to offer, for all of our benefit.
Since moving here in 2004 I’ve found Winston-Salem to be a fascinating study in how to revive a city that had been hit by multiple economic tsunamis in recent decades. It seems that others have taken notice, including a writer who penned a piece for the Christian Science Monitor about how a few US cities can teach the country a little something about democracy (h/t to my Mom for sending me the article). You can find the full article here (second story down), but here’s the segment focused on Camel City:
Winston-Salem, N.C., lost 10,000 jobs in 18 months after R.J. Reynolds moved its headquarters to Atlanta and several other homegrown companies failed in the late 1980s. It was the first of several waves of job losses as the city’s manufacturing base collapsed. Civic leaders chipped in to create a $40 million fund to loan start-up capital to entrepreneurs, hire staff for a local development corporation, and fund signature projects. One of them was the renovation of a 1920s Art Deco office tower into downtown apartments.
This activity helped spur Wake Forest University’s medical school to undertake an ambitious project to create a research park in former R.J. Reynolds manufacturing buildings next to downtown. The school has filled 2 million square feet of empty factories with high-tech companies and world-class biomedical researchers. An adjacent African-American church has turned 15 acres in the area into lofts, senior housing, and businesses. Downtown has attracted $1.6 billion in investment since 2002.
Now people gather to sip coffee, attend concerts, or take yoga classes in a new park in the shadow of the looming chimneys of a former Reynolds power plant. The plant itself is being repurposed into a $40 million hub of restaurants, stores, laboratories, and office space. Students, researchers, and entrepreneurs mingle in the halls and atria of all the former factory buildings, creating the kind of synergetic environment the innovation industry now craves.
“It wasn’t one person or thing that made it all happen; it was everyone from the grass roots to the corporate leaders coming together,” says Jeffrey Smith, who runs Smitty’s Notes, an influential community news site. “We realized it would take all of us to get this hog out of the ditch.”
Much of the foundation for this renewal had been laid by the time I moved here with my family in 2004, but community leaders have continued to do what’s necessary to keep building upon it. For my job I get to spend a significant amount of time in neighboring Greensboro, a city that is slightly larger but quite comparable to Winston-Salem, and it’s been interesting to see how the two cities have proceeded from their respective economic crises. Winston-Salem has a lot of momentum, and it’s redevelopment seems to be benefiting from consistent collaboration among its community leaders, including elected officials as well as corporate and civic leaders. Greensboro, on the other hand, is making progress but it seems to be in more fits and starts; its progress seems to occur in spite of local leaders’ lack of cooperation and collaboration.
Sure, Winston-Salem has its problems and leaders sometimes disagree on how to proceed, but for the most part its leaders have shown how to lead a community out of the ditch and back on the road. Hopefully we keep it going for decades to come.
At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the apartment industry, thus the companies I work with are on the front lines of our nation’s housing situation. You may not be aware of it, but we do indeed have a housing situation that can be best summed up as this: we have too many people who don’t make enough money to pay for the housing that’s available, and/or we don’t have enough housing units that are affordable for people at the bottom of the income scale. Even worse, we have a LOT of people who, thanks to any number of life events, lose their housing and thus end up living in flop houses, cars, tents or under a bridge.
Because apartment owners and managers provide over a third of the housing in the U.S, and a majority of the rental housing, they are often looked to for a solution to the problem of affordability and homelessness. It would be great if they could snap their fingers and solve the problem, but due to the complexity of the issue (static income, increases in the costs of everything from health care to food, lack of housing inventory in general, etc.) this is not something housing providers can solve on their own. That’s not to say that people in the industry aren’t trying, and a perfect example is a woman named Lori Trainer who has been working for years down in Florida to address homelessness in her community. (Here’s a link to a video about some of her work, and I’ll embed it below as well). She just wrote an article for Multifamily Insiders titled The Story Behind the Sign that helps put homelessness in perspective. Here’s an excerpt:
We’ve all seen the homeless person with the sign on the side of the road and when we do, many people think these thoughts. What the people offering these judgments don’t realize is that the overwhelming majority of people don’t “choose” to be homeless. In fact, nearly 50% of the homeless in America are working. Why are they homeless then? Well, that is the “564,788 person question” (the number of homeless on the street each night according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness).
The causes of homelessness range from sad to tragic. Job loss, foreclosures, divorce and natural disasters such as the tragedies we are seeing in the Midwest and in Canada are a few examples. These storm victims certainly didn’t choose to be homeless or do anything wrong but they are indeed homeless now. If their insurance isn’t perfect, takes a year to work out the details or worse yet, doesn’t pay, what do those families do? They have lost everything; their homes, belongings and jobs. They are now homeless…
Another very prevalent and sad demographic in the homeless arena are families. Approximately 206,268 were identified in the last count. Divorce, domestic violence, death, single parents and low wage workers are all in this category. Children are resilient but often suffer irreparable damage when forced to live in vehicles, shelters or motels for weeks or months on end. 60 Minutes did a great job highlighting this epidemic:https://youtu.be/L2hzRPLVSm4 (Be sure to have tissues handy!)
Then Lori goes on to point out that there are many, many more people who are just a misstep away from becoming homeless themselves.
Many people think it could never happen to them. But the truth is that one out of three people are two paychecks away from being homeless. There are 12 million renters pay more than 50% of their annual income for housing and 37 million people living in poverty in America. Simple fact, a minimum wage worker cannot support a household and pay rent. There is a critical shortage of affordable housing in the US and, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition; approximately 200,000 units are destroyed annually. That combined with the “aging out” tax credit population and the mile long waiting lists for section 8 vouchers, we have the perfect storm.
One of the initiatives we are working on at the national level in the industry is to identify the programs that industry groups are participating in at the local level around the country. For instance, my employer is working with Partners Ending Homelessness to help match their clients with available apartment units in Guilford County. What we’ve found is that like many things in life, the concept is simple but the implementation is complex. Still, we’ve seen progress and we will continue working because this is an issue that will be with us for the foreseeable future.
That’s just one initiative in one community, but that’s the kind of effort we’re going to need in every community around the country to address homelessness, because quite frankly this is not an issue that can be solved from Washington. What our national leadership CAN do is address the big picture issues that underlie homelessness, including:
An economy that is not providing adequate income for average workers
A health care “system” that bankrupts some, and financially cripples many
A crumbling infrastructure that threatens all of us
A byzantine regulatory structure (think HUD & EPA) that makes affordable housing development a challenge
Another chief culprit is an under-performing, and some would say under-valued, education system, but that’s not just a Washington issue so let’s not throw it entirely on them. The point is that homelessness is the most severe symptom of an ailing nation. If we are truly measured by how we treat the least of us, then as a nation and a community we have a lot we need to do to heal ourselves.
Here’s the video about the effort in Florida that Lori’s been a big part of:
The Netflix series Making a Murderer, a documentary ten years in the making about a case in Wisconsin that exhibited some seriously flawed police work and downright shameful behavior by prosecutors, has shed light on some of the flaws of our criminal justice system. Here in Winston-Salem we have the Silk Plant Forest case, which began with a terrible assault in the 90s and resulted in the conviction of a man that many consider innocent, as our own example of a flawed justice system.
The path to Coleman’s complaint began in January 2008, 11 years after Smith’s conviction and as Smith’s lawyers were arguing for a hearing to examine evidence not heard at trial. Duke law professor Theresa Newman, who directs the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic along with Coleman, received an email from Arnita Miles, who identified herself as a former Winston-Salem police officer.
Miles said she was the first officer to interview Jill Marker at the store after the assault. According to Miles, Marker said her attacker was a black male. She also said Marker dictated a letter that night, as a last message to her husband, and asked Miles to give it to him. Miles said she passed it on that night to the lead detective…
Because of the push for a new hearing, the SBI assigned an agent to assist prosecutors. Following the emails between Newman and Hall, the agent interviewed Miles. The agent turned up problems which he shared in a report to the prosecutors.
Miles did file a report following the attack. In it, she wrote that she was not the first officer at the scene. She wrote that Marker was incoherent and did not describe her attacker. Miles told the SBI she could not explain the discrepancy between what she wrote in 1995 hours after the assault and her 2008 claims…
The Duke lawyers learned of the signed and sworn affidavit in June 2012, following a meeting between District Attorney Jim O’Neill and Swecker, the retired FBI agent with experience auditing criminal investigations, including a critical 2010 audit of the SBI crime lab.
Swecker came to the same conclusion as the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee: The investigation was deeply flawed and incomplete. Swecker did not conclude that Smith was innocent, but said he deserved a new trial.
At the meeting with Swecker and in a followup email, O’Neill cited the Miles affidavit as proof that Marker had identified her attacker as a black male.
“I am holding in my hand a sworn affidavit by Arnita Miles, who was one of the first officers at the scene and the person who spoke with Jill while she lay on the floor of Silk Plant Forest,” O’Neill wrote. “Despite this evidence, the Duke Innocence Project continued to parade the name of Kenneth Lamoureaux as the person who likely committed this crime, knowing full well that Jill Marker said her attacker was a black man.”
Definitely read the full article and see what you think. Personally this reaffirms my belief that in this case the prosecutors are less interested in truth and justice, and more interested in not losing a case. It’s also reaffirmed my belief that I need to research our current District Attorney Jim O’Neill, who is running for Attorney General, before I consider voting for him.
Until 11 years ago I’d lived my entire adult life in Northern Virginia and had spent my time commuting to work in some of the worst traffic the United States has to offer. When we moved to the Winston-Salem area it felt like I’d gone to traffic heaven because rush hour literally didn’t exist. We kind of have a “rush quarter hour” but even that doesn’t feature the gridlock you find in most metro areas. Still, it’s all relative and I would regularly hear locals complain about the busy highways and I’d just shake my head and mutter to myself, “You have no idea how good you have it.”
That’s why I felt vindicated by this article relaying the news that our area has the second-best traffic experience (behind only Phoenix) according to data from Google’s WAZE traffic app. Here’s an excerpt:
You’re not just getting there, Friend. You are having a world-class automotive experience — at least according to a newly released study that suggests Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point offer some of the best driving scenarios on the planet.
The metropolitan area finished second, just behind Phoenix, Ariz., in overall driving satisfaction in the study by analysts for Google’s WAZE travel app who compared driving experiences in 32 nations and 167 of the globe’s most mobile communities…
The Triad finished first among the various metros for minimal traffic delays.
Motorists in the region average less than a half hour on the road in a commute that averages about 26 miles, the WAZE study found. A pittance compared to some places in the United States where commuters average more than an hour each way,
Interesting that it ends up my commute is almost exactly the average.
So I’ve written the past couple of days about all the options that are available to ConvergeSouth attendees during the various session time slots. Well, I have to tell you that the “Labs” in the 1:45-3:45 slot are REALLY going to test my decision-making ability because I truly want to see all four. Once you read the descriptions below I think you’ll feel the same way:
Podcast Lab (Mike Dell of Podcast Help Desk) – An active podcaster and consultant for the past 10 years, Mike Dell, from Podcast Help Desk, helps people with the technical side of podcasting. For the last 6 years he has been the lead tech support for RawVoice Inc., parent company of the podcast services company Blubrry.com. He hosts a bi-weekly folk and bluegrass radio show on community radio station WNMC, and is the fill-in news announcer (and sometimes guest) on the morning rock radio show, Omelet and Friends on WKLT FM in Traverse City. In his spare time he enjoys Banjo Picking and Ham Radio.
In the podcasting lab, Mike will give you the best non-geeky explanation of how podcasting works and take you through the hardware you will need for recording. (Both good-enough and the best). We will also cover setting up the dreaded RSS feed, Website (adding podcasting to WordPress) and keeping iTunes and other podcast apps happy with your show. We will cover the best practices for podcasters. When you leave you will have a checklist of items you need to record your first episode and get it listed in iTunes and other directories. If there is time, we will do a Q & A about anything podcasting.
YouTube Lab (Stephanie Carls) – Named a “Twitter Powerhouse” by The Huffington Post, Stephanie Carls shares her passion for social media and technology online and focuses on the ways both are changing the way we live and share information. With her creativity in her videos, she has even landed features in The New York Times and NBC News.
Frequently asked to participate as a spokesperson or digital correspondent, Stephanie has enjoyed working with Cottonelle, Chevrolet (as video host for 2012 SXSW Interactive Festival, Marketwired, Nike Women, Hallmark, GoPro, Nexersys (appearing on CBS “The Doctors“) and more.
In the YouTube lab, Stephanie will give you the extra push and knowledge you need to start your own video presence. Whether that is for yourself, your business, or even both, she will cover how to set up your YouTube channel and begin your journey creating your videos. Equipment needs as well as best practices for publishing and creating your presence will be covered.
Tumblr Sites for Beginners (Ashley Hallenbeck of The Coraddi)– Ashley Hallenbeck is a designer and aspiring jack of all trades. She is the current Director of Promotions for The Coraddi, digital design and animation instructor at The Center for Visual Artists, and is a self-proclaimed sticker genius. She wholly believes that all small businesses can and should have a strong online presence, and that it’s much easier (and cheaper!) to achieve than they might think.
With $15, a little bit of sweat, and minimal tears, you can have a website up and running in a day. No short-codes, no monthly fees, no bologna; Tumblr is the perfect unlikely alternative to WordPress. Its interface is basic enough for beginners, while still being flexible enough for experienced webmasters!
What’s All the Fuss About Squarespace? (Melody Watson) – Few topics elicit more enthusiasm from Melody Watson than coaching Squarespace users to tell their stories online. Discovering this platform literally changed the course of her professional life; she left her community college webmaster position to freelance. Melody collaborates with small business owners, non-profits, and artistic professionals around the country.
Are you looking for a versatile, sophisticated tool that comes with 24/7 support and the canvas on which to create nearly any kind of site you can envision? Do yourself a favor and consider Squarespace. During this lab you will learn about:
Selecting the ideal template for specific site needs,
Choosing the appropriate kind of page for offering different types of content,
Adding photos and graphics,
Site-wide design vs. page-based layout and design,
Drafting blog posts,
Connecting social accounts,
Adding a form and collecting the gathered data.
Content that doesn’t fit into the session time-frame will be provided in supplemental resources.
Impressed? I thought you’d be. So if you STILL haven’t registered but would like to you can do so here. Hope to see you there!
So yesterday I wrote about a tough choice I have to make – which of four great sessions would I choose to attend during the 9:30 time slot at ConvergeSouth? Well my decision is made for me during the 10:45 slot, but if you attend you’ll have to make a choice. So here’s what you have to choose from:
How to Attract, Engage and Convert With Social Media Marketing (Angela Levine of Connect Marketing) – What if there was a system to help you identify a lot of the right people for your marketing message, find them online, get them to give you their email address and eventually convert a portion of them into customers? Many business owners would be happy with JUST getting an email address – let alone one of a pre-qualified lead. Angela will show you a system for using content creation and harnessing the power of two content delivery channels to attract, engage and ultimately convert your target audience.
Field of Dreams – Great movie, terrible content strategy (Ryan Neely of SFW) – “Content is king!” “Brands are publishers!” With all the buzz about content, how can you go wrong? Before you get busy blogging, join Ryan Neely as he walks through what goes into a successful content strategy, essential questions to ask before you get started and examples of different content strategies that have proven effective.
Design in the age of Dribbble (Nick Jones of Tiny Goat) – As designers, we’re living in a time of unprecedented access to inspiration. Sites like Behance and Dribbble provide us with a constant stream of styles to quote, and frameworks like Material Design give us endless shortcuts from blank screen to finished product. So has all that access watered down design? In this talk, Nick Jones will explore the nature of inspiration and try to answer that question. This talk should be part debate for design partisans, and part survey course for design fans.
Okay, this next one is being led by yours truly so you will be forgiven if you skip it – caveat emptor and all that.
Partnerships + Creativity + Social Tools = 150,000 Meals (Jon Lowder of PTAA) – How does a local trade association with a staff of three manage to raise enough money and collect enough food for a local food bank to provide 156,000 meals to the hungry and generate great PR in the process? With creativity, volunteer engagement, partnerships with local media and other organizations, Google docs, social media and a lot of sweat.
So, that’s just one hour of the day at ConvergeSouth and as you can see there’s a lot of “there” there. This really is a great event so if you haven’t already I do recommend you register and attend. Full registration details can be found here.
So we’re just a couple of days away from ConvergeSouth ’15 and there’s some serious deliberating to do before the clock strikes 9:30 a.m. Why? Because there are four killer sessions that I’d love to attend, but unless I learn how to clone myself before then I’m going to have to pick one. Here are the choices:
A Hot Recipe for Social Marketing Success (Dorien Morin van-Dam of More in Media LLC) – Local marketing starts with a solid base: you and your team, a strategic plan, your branding and a few innovative ideas! Once you create this base be ready to add in a generous helping of social media. Add a dash of Facebook, Google and Pinterest and then stir it up with some engagement in the form of contests and give-aways and you’ve got a hot recipe for marketing success!
Stories That Sell: The Importance of a Content Strategy (Andy Busam of Our State Magazine) – The best way to create compelling content is by understanding the story behind your brand. This philosophy helps brands continually grow their audience. In this session, you’ll learn how Our State does this in print and online, and how to translate these ideas to your company.
2015 Updates to the SEO “Rule Book” (Lauren Polinsky of Merkle) – “Back in the day,” SEO used to be all about the keywords – exactly match someone’s query with a page dedicated to that content, build some links to it and bam! you’re optimized. But in 2015 the rules have changed: it’s the webmaster’s job to get the right mix of UX and SEO for their audience. Learn about how the rules have changed and what your website needs to stay competitive.
Get Back to Work (Anita Cafiero of Tiny Goat) – You didn’t go into business because of your passion for email. No one starts a nonprofit because they love sitting in meetings. Yet nearly all small businesses and nonprofits are dealing with the same barriers between them and their mission. You can banish email, check status without meetings, and streamline collaboration. Projects can be more successful, timelines can be shortened. You can solve the easy problems of communication, collaboration and interruption – and use the time and money saved to concentrate on the real mission.
So here I sit wondering which one to attend. I guess the best approach will be to sketch out my current “hierarchy of needs” and decide which fits it best.
Let’s just make this short and sweet: you really should make time to attend ConvergeSouth next Friday at Wake Forest University. Why? It’s the best event in the Triad for learning about:
The ever evolving online social world and how it can impact your business
Search Engine Optimization
That’s just for starters. The afternoon features hands-on DIY labs dedicated to:
This is a fantastic venue for anyone interested in learning how to build their businesses/non-profit organizations or their careers using the tools of the trade in today’s world. If you’d like to attend I can set you up with a special 25% discount so just reach out to me via email or in the comments. Hope to see you there!