Tag Archives: wake forest university

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.

In Support of Coach Grobe

Some folks in Demon Deacon land have been grumbling about Wake Forest's football coach Jim Grobe. His teams haven't had a winning record since the 2008 season and he has a .500 record as Wake's coach since 2001.  Personally I love having the guy lead Wake's football team and here are just a few reasons why:

  • His record is the best since "Peahead" Walker had a 77-51-6 record from 1937-50.
  • He's coaching one of the smallest  FBS schools in the country.
  • As the coach has said himself, it's a challenge coaching an "academic" school.
  • His team plays in a tiny stadium relative to other schools in the ACC/FBS.
  • Those last three items combined make Wake a tough place to recruit.
  • He runs a clean program.
  • He holds his players accountable.

That last point is a big one, and the following quote from a recent piece about Grobe's handling of a couple of players who aren't living up to behavioral expectations is a perfect example of his approach:

"I try to tell our football team – and they don’t always listen – talented people are a dime a dozen, people with really good talent,'' Grobe said. "And the last thing in the world that you want to have happen is 10 or 15 years from now, everybody is still talking about your talent but not talking about what you did. There’s a lot of kids that before they can blink their college careers are over.

"Of course, honestly, football is not really as important as ultimately being a good dad, being a good father, being a good worker, having a meaningful career and helping others – all those kinds of things that we know are more important than football.

"But you hate to see guys have all the talent in the world to play football and not use it. We’ll see going forward. The key word in all of this is hope.''

Personally I'll take this and a .500 record over a winning record and a program running amok any day.

Another note: I suspect fans might be a little less anxious about the football program if the basketball team hadn't been so atrocious the last few years.  In other words he's getting sucked into the "Fire Wellman/Bzdelik" vortex, which will hopefully start to disappear after this upcoming basketball season. It better or there could be a serious housecleaning afoot in Winston-Salem.

Class Act

The first time I saw CJ Harris play was in the Frank Spencer Holiday Classic his senior year at Mt. Tabor High School. He was easily the best player on the court and it was encouraging to know that he was staying in town to play at Wake Forest. Unfortunately (for him) his tenure coincided with one of the most challenging times in the history of Wake Forest basketball. Fortunately (for us) he stuck it out and didn't transfer to another more stable program. He, along with Travis McKie, have been the players who have been most responsible for keeping the program from totally flaming out. They've shown tremendous character in fulfilling their roles for the Wake hoops program so it should not come as a surpise that Harris would write this thank you letter to the Wake Forest community. Here's an excerpt:

Thank you so much for the kind words and love that you have shown me and my family over the past four years. That is more precious to me than any victory on the court, as your words have truly help define who I am today.

While I am sad that my career at Wake Forest has come to an end, I see nothing but a bright future for the Deacs. I know that I have helped lay the foundation for this program to achieve the success we can all be proud of. My teammates and the coaching staff are working hard to get there, and they deserve your continued support and enthusiasm. 

Thank you again for making these past four years truly special.

Always a Deac!

CJ

“The time has come for us all to act like we’ve got some sense.”

Winston-Salem Journal sports reporter Dan Collins, who covers the Wake Forest beat, wrote the sentence that is the headline for this post. He wrote it as part of a piece on what he thinks we need to see from Wake fans who are at odds over the direction the school's basketball program is heading. He also wrote:

What does rankle me, however, is to see the utter lack of respect some have for opinions other than their own. And it rankles me to see what lengths some go to discredit and even vilify those who decline to walk lockstep in any direction they feel the argument should — no, must — go. 

It's very important here that I repeat, I'm talking about voices from both sides of the divide…

The worst moments, though, have come with the ridicule and vilest of rhetoric that has been tossed back and forth. Such hate and vitriol should be denounced by any fair-minded individual.

The unfortunate incident at the end of the Wake-Maryland game left a bitter taste I've yet to get out of my mouth. I've heard some say that what the person did was unacceptable, but they understand his frustration.

No, that's wrong. Unacceptable is unacceptable. To qualify it with the word but is to mitigate how wrong it was.

Collins is being very politic in his choice of words. There's a phrase that could be used to describe the fans' behavior and would be both succinct and accurate if not politic: Many Wake fans have been showing their butts and they need to just stop.

Krzyzewski, Izzo, Williams, Larranaga

Winston-Salem Journal sportswriter Dan Collins had a sit down with Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman to discuss the tough (to say the least) season that WFU's basketball program is enduring.  Collins used his blog to share a bunch of the Q&A that couldn't be squeezed into the article that appeared in the paper, and I particularly liked Wellman's answer to the question, "You're well-versed in college basketball. Do you see parallel among cultures of successful programs? In other words, do the teams that keep getting to the Final Four, are there parts of their culture that you see as consistent?…What are those?"

Wellman: 

 First of all they have a great coach. If you look at the Final Four teams for the last six years, and they all do certain things very similar. Mike Krzyzewksi, Brad Stevens, Bob Huggins, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, Jim Calhoun, Jay Wright, Bill Self, John Calipari, Ben Howland, Billy Donovan, Thad Matta, John Thompson, Jim Larranaga, Bruce Weber, Rick Pitino at Louisville. They’re all really outstanding coaches who have great coaching ability and have great relationships with their players. They’re different relationships with their players. If you look at Bob Huggins and compare him to Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams, it’s totally different. But it’s a relationship that gets those players to play their hearts out for those coaches. Their attention to detail is beyond anything that you could imagine, to the point where maybe the greatest coach in the history of college basketball – I think we’ve got a couple of great ones in this conference, but I think everyone looks at John Wooden and it would be difficult to argue with that. Remember what he used to do in his first practice? He had the players sit down and he showed them how to put their socks on. My goodness. You talk about attention to detail. Jeff is doing a good job with those types of details. You look at our team today, there’s a certain way he wants them to wear their uniform. How important can that be? It’s very important, because that’s what he believes in. How important is it for us to conduct ourselves in a certain way on the floor? Remember J.T. the first three he made in one of the first games? And there was quite a celebration by J.T. when he did. J.T. isn’t doing that anymore. Jeff’s idea, and strong suggestion to the players, to get out of yourself and into the team, or into your teammates is becoming evident. It’s more and more evident every practice and every game. So those types of details are going to be the building blocks of this program. They’re important. To some they might be `That’s incidental. That isn’t important.’ But we think it’s important. Jeff thinks it’s important. That’s why those details are being covered on a daily basis. (Emphasis mine).

I think Wellman makes a great point with the quote, but I also think wanted to highlight that one of the coaches he mentions is George Mason's Jim Larranaga.  Mason's only made one Final Four but I'd argue that Larranaga's built one of the better programs you'll find at a "mid-major" school and I think it's high praise for him to be included in Wellman's list of coaches who have built a great culture.  

Also for what it's worth, and that ain't much, I'm much less pessimistic about Wake's medium and distant future than other fans seem to be. The next couple of years probably won't be great, but I do think that if they can keep the current crop of kids around through graduation and add one or two strong recruits the program could be back in the top half of the ACC in three or four years.

Here's a fun fact for you: the season that Mason made the Final Four (beating Michigan State and UNC on the way) they lost in overtime at Wake Forest.  

What do Wake Forest University and a nightclub in Greensboro have in common?

If my parents, proud alums of Wake Forest University, have any idea what the hell Jersey Shore is then they'll be mortified by this announcement:

Nicole Polizzi, aka "Snooki," will soon make an appearance at Wake Forest University.

Snooki is scheduled to appear at the school's Wait Chapel at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 28, said a spokesperson with the school in a news release.

It's one thing for a nightclub in Greensboro to welcome the latest village idiot who's gained a few minutes of fame in this country, but for a school trying to be mentioned in the same breath as Duke or Rice I think this is a little suspect.  Don't believe me?  Well hell, you'll just have to watch a part of one episode (it won't take long, believe me) because I can't possibly write a paragraph that adequately describes the depravity of the show.

I know it's the school's Student Union that's invited her to appear, and when I was in school my taste ran towards stupid crap like this too, but I just can't fathom why the school is putting out a news release promoting this whole thing.  If I was an administrator I'd be trying to bury this story as deep as I could dig.