City moving toward top goal

Mayor Allen Joines

City moving toward top goal
September 28
05:00 2017

Poverty continues to be a challenge

Winston-Salem has made progress but is still a long way off from becoming a top 50 metro area by 2020.

In 2015, Mayor Allen Joines committed the city to the goal of becoming a top 50 metro area by 2020 and began a series of annual “State of the Community” presentations in which local leaders give updates on the progress toward that goal. The goal requires creating 27,000 net new jobs in five years or 5,400 jobs a year. So far, that’s proved to be a lofty aspiration.

“We hit about 40 percent of that goal this year,” said Joines. “So we’re a little slow on our job creation, but I hope you’ll see that we’re creating the infrastructure and network to hit the job goals we want to.”

Poverty continues to be a challenge, and this “State of the Community” added an update on efforts to reduce it.

“As you think about indicators of a community’s health and well-being, there are arguably few that are more important for communities to stay in tune with and try to address than poverty,” said Evan Raleigh, the city’s director of business inclusion.

Raleigh talked about the mayor’s Poverty Thought Force’s efforts to solicit suggestions to reduce poverty from the public and narrowing them narrow down to 56 recommendations to holistically address the problem through areas like transportation, health, food security, housing and jobs.

According to Joines, the Thought Force’s plan will have a director with two staff people devoted to programs and data respectively. It’ll be funded though public, private and nonprofit sources. Joines said he hoped to make an announcement on the details next month.

Poverty appears to be on the rise. During an update on local schools, Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory said that the poverty rate among students is up, with a 58 percent free and reduced lunch rate. There are 32 schools in the county with 100% free and reduced lunch.

“We’ve worked hard in the district, however, not to make that a mind set,” she said.  “All of our children are smart, they can all achieve.”

While meeting proficiency, particularly on third-grade reading, is still a challenge, local schools have an 86.5 percent graduation rate with a goal of achieving 90 percent next year. The amount of schools that exceeded growth is at a four-year high and the schools that are below growth are at four-year low. The district went from 32 low performing schools in the 2015-16 school year to 23 last school year.

There was other good news with unemployment falling to 4.2 percent, though Joines noted that “we know there are parts of the community that have higher unemployment rates than that.” There’s a slight increase in employers planning to hire in the third and fourth quarters from last year. In 2016, non-residential construction rose to a 10-year high of $359 million and overall construction was up 28 percent. Visitor spending was $846 million in 2016, which is an increase of 4.6 percent.  

During the presentation, Winston-Salem Business Inc. President Bob Leak gave an update on the capital improvements being done to improve Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and enable more businesses to locate here. Arts Council President Jim Sparrow gave an update on arts in the city, which can be important in attracting companies to the area.

Winston-Salem Chamber President Gayle Anderson talked about jobs and the economy. She said the city’s strengths included its strong medical research industry, low business cost, proximity to growth areas and the “high affordability of everything.” She said that the city needed to accelerate growth, diversify its economy and create more stable job opportunities for everyone.

“We have more work to do to reach our objectives,” said Anderson.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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