Can city be a Top 50 metro area?

Mayor Joines

Can city be a Top 50 metro area?
May 19
09:45 2016

Winston-Salem is behind its job goal, faces poverty and education challenges



Winston-Salem is currently far short of its job growth goal of becoming one of the top 50 metropolitan areas in the country by 2020, according to a State of the Community presentation on Tuesday, May 17.

Community leaders, led by Mayor Allen Joines, made presentations showing the city’s progress and struggles in areas like jobs, poverty, infrastructure and education. The goal to be one of the top 50 metropolitan areas by 2020 was announced last year with a promise of annual progress updates.

“We’re going to come back to you every year and report how we’re doing,” said Joines. “We’re going to be totally transparent, we’re going to tell you the way it is.”

In order to reach the goal, Forsyth County will need to add 27,000 net new jobs by 2020, which is 5,400 jobs a year. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Forsyth County had net job growth of 2,715 between September 2014 and September 2015. This was below the growth of Guilford, Buncombe and New Hanover counties.

“Frankly, the growth is not as good as we’d like it to be,” Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce President Gayle Anderson told the audience.

Tommy Hickman, vice-chair of The Winston-Salem Foundation, made a presentation on poverty, showing that 20 percent of all Forsyth County residents lived in poverty in 2014. Among African-Americans the rate increases to 28 percent and is 47 percent among Hispanics or Latinos.

“Clearly breaking the cycle of poverty is difficult and a complex challenge,” said Hickman.

He said jobs that pay livable wages are vital to the wellbeing of the community.

“Households in the top 5 percent made almost nine times as much as the bottom 20 percent,” said Hickman. “Adjusting for inflation, incomes have generally decreased in Forsyth County house-holds, at all percentage levels, since before the Great Depression.”

Superintendent Beverly Emory talked about the challenges the school system faces. Though it’s getting closer to its goal of 90 percent graduation rate, schools have trouble with test scores. Forsyth County has 11 priority schools, but she said that the school system is working to make changes to turn them around. She said she’s had 124 highly qualified teachers apply for 25 positions at the reorganized Cook Elementary school.

“We are going to turn that school around, and then we’re going to show that we can do that with any other low performing school in this district,” she said.

Emory also said filling teaching positions has become a challenge. The school system currently has 73 teaching vacancies.

The presentations also showed areas of promise, with growth in both population and workforce size. Unemployment was down to only 5.3 percent in March. Chronic homelessness is down 40 percent since 2011, thanks to housing efforts and the Ten Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness.

Bob Leak of Winston-Salem Business, Inc. said there is a lot of infrastructure investment in the city, including the renovations on the Central Library, improvements to the Benton Convention Center and city bond projects like parks and new district police stations. He said transportation projects like the Winston-Salem belt-way will make the city more attractive for businesses. There’s also substantial private investment, including new residential housing, hotels and businesses downtown.

Leak added that the county’s “Achilles heel” is a lack of available land and lack of large, modern buildings that are ready for businesses to move into. He said Whitaker Park, which consists of 120 acres of land and buildings containing 1.7 million square feet that was donated for redevelopment by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, will be part of the solution.

Joines concluded by saying that it’s taken awhile for the city to recover from the loss of manufacturing jobs that often were replaced with lower paying jobs. He was confident Winston-Salem would continue to grow and attract businesses. He said Whitaker Park and the expansion of the Wake Forest Innovation Quaker could potentially bring 18,000-20,000 jobs by themselves.

Joines’ Poverty Thought Force, a committee of “critical thinkers” that have been holding “World Cafe” events to get poverty reducing ideas from the public, will have actionable proposals to significantly reduce poverty this summer.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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