Category Archives: Winston-Salem

Gown Towns Thrive

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.

Winston-Salem as a Case Study

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.

Our very own Jeff Smith, of Smitty’s Notes, provides the money quote:

“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.

Addressing Homelessness

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 Impact of Malgovernance

*Disclaimer – this piece is my opinion alone and does not reflect the beliefs of any other person or organization with which I’m affiliated.*

Last week I wrote about the way in which the North Carolina legislature enacted the controversial HB2. Since then the controversy and noise swirling around the new law has escalated greatly, with the supporters of the law squatting behind a defensive shield that focuses on the “shiny object” portion of the law; the part that focuses on the rollback of Charlotte’s ordinance regarding transgender bathroom usage. And if you ever doubted it was about politics, in the process of defending law they also attack attorney general Roy Cooper, who is running against incumbent Republican governor Pat McCrory. From Sen. Phil Berger’s Facebook page:

CLICK THE LINK AND SIGN YOUR NAME: I have never seen a campaign as vicious and dishonest as the radical left’s assault on Pat McCrory over the bathroom safety bill. Unlike Roy Cooper, Gov. McCrory courageously did his job and protected the people of North Carolina by signing this common sense law that keeps grown men out of the same bathroom and locker room as little girls. Will you please share StandwithMcCrory.com with your friends and ask them to sign their names in support of Governor McCrory to fight back against the left’s shameful smear campaign?

Now, this stuff is pretty predictable. Of course the backers of the new law are going to run a PR campaign that focuses on the titillating aspects of the bill, simplifies and sensationalizes it with the zero reality-based evidence that it will help protect anyone from anything except their own boogeyman fears, and gets their political base all hot and bothered. Fine, we knew that would happen, but we also knew that there would be an uproar from the rest of the “liberal” world and it was quick in coming, in ways large and small. Here’s just a sampling:

So how are the law’s backers reacting? One editorial in the Charlotte paper captured it perfectly: Republicans’ Schoolyard Reaction to PayPal. This kind of stuff works beautifully with the hard-right’s true believers, and it is definitely part of their strategy – as misguided as some of us might think it is – to give McCrory an issue to go after Cooper with and to distract from the other parts of the law that actually impact far more North Carolinians.

What, you ask, could impact us more than who gets to use the restroom? Well, the one part of the law that has gotten the least attention and yet could directly impact far more of us than anything, is the elimination of a person to sue for wrongful termination in state court if they are fired. That’s a big deal, as explained in this article:

By prohibiting the state Equal Employment Practices Act as the basis for civil action, Noble said, “this law has essentially eliminated state law sanctions for employers, who can now fire its employees … with no state law consequences.”

N.C. House and Senate Republican legislative leaders emphasized during debate over the bill that North Carolinians have a “far more robust” federal court option for filing discrimination lawsuits.

Noble disagrees with the “robust” suggestion, saying that filing a complaint in federal court is twice as costly as state court, more time-consuming in terms of logistical requirements, and likely to have a longer period before a decision…

Legislators say there is a state remedy in that complaints could be investigated and mediated by the N.C. Human Relations Commission.

However, Noble said that commission has focused “on resolving housing discrimination complaints for private persons and improving community relations.”

“The commission simply does not address employment discrimination complaints against private employers … because its authority is expressly limited to receiving, investigating and trying to mutually resolve such complaints,” she said.

The commission also does not receive reoccurring financing from the legislature.

Federal remedies for compensatory and punitive damages are capped according to employer size, ranging from a combined $50,000 to $200,000. In state court, Noble said, there is no cap on compensatory damages, and punitive damages can be worth up to three times the compensatory damage award.

Federal claims must be filed first with the EEOC, whose due diligence obligations often serve to weed out the majority of lawsuits before they reach federal court.

Noble and Rainey said the EEOC tends to take more than six months to recommend whether to pursue a federal court filing, in part because its three North Carolina offices typically are understaffed. By comparison, Kennedy said it is not uncommon for a discrimination case filed in state court to be completed within eight to 12 months.

Seriously, you have to admire the effectiveness of their campaign to this point because no one is talking about it and it directly affects every working person in the state. But, by all means, you go right ahead and focus on who’s using that bathroom and argue about whether or not the new law does any good in protecting someone while they’re taking a squat, while those in the economic development trenches try to figure out how break through all this noise when recruiting businesses and while our various convention and visitor bureaus try to figure out how to keep event organizers from running to more welcoming venues. Think that’s not an issue? Well, here’s a little tidbit I came across on an online network for association professionals:

Topic: Addressing concerns about having our meeting in North Carolina this year

Dear All:

We are having our annual meeting in 6 months in a state that recently passed a law that revokes certain local anti-discrimination ordinances. ($*&*#%!!!!) When we were contacted by the media, we re-iterated our stance on equality (see below). Today we received an inquiry from someone for whom we have no record in our any of our systems asking how we will protect the civil rights of attendees. We have no idea if they are truly a new potential attendee or exhibitor, from the media (though they should identify themselves as media), or from an advocacy group. This got me thinking that we could face protesters or other issues if the courts don’t resolve the situation before this fall.

Has anyone else faced a similar situation?  What should we do and what should we ask the CVB to do, proactively, to reassure our organization, our attendees and exhibitors, etc? 

Believe me when I tell you that there are so many places someone can take a conference or show that there’s no reason they even consider opening themselves up to this kind of hassle, no matter who is behind it. If you’re a supporter of the law, at least the part that’s getting all the noise, and are beating the drum for state leadership to stand strong in the face of “liberal media/activists” then please understand that while you’re more than welcome to your opinion you are also obligated to accept the consequences of that support. You can try to say that it’s the “liberals'” fault for losing that business, that they’re creating a false perception, but here’s the deal: peoples’ perception IS their reality and the perception that you have created is one of being unwelcoming, bigoted and small minded. In today’s business environment that’s a death notice.

Camel City’s Own Version of Making a Murderer

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 case has been covered extensively by the Winston-Salem Journal over the years, but it’s an article in the Raleigh News & Observer about how the NC State Bar handled a complaint filed against the prosecutors in the case that highlights just how flawed the system can be. From the article:

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.

Traffic

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.

ConvergeSouth Labs – Soooo Many Options

ConvergeHeaderLogo

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,
  • Formatting 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!