Commentary: Mayor Joines on ‘The State of the Community’

Mayor Allen Joines

Commentary: Mayor Joines on ‘The State of the Community’
March 07
03:00 2019

By Mayor Allen Joines

Several years ago our community’s leadership adopted the bold goal of making Winston-Salem one of the top-50 metro areas in the country. Since then we have provided an annual State of the Community update to assess our progress and report on other important issues facing Winston-Salem. We provided our most recent update on Feb. 26. Although much remains to be done, there is also much to be encouraged about.

Job Growth:  In order for our metro area to be in the top 50, we must produce about 5,400 net new jobs each year for five years. For the past two years we have produced about half of that number. However, in 2018 we did much better. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that we created more than 5,300 new jobs. BLS also reports that since 2010, Winston Salem has added more than 28,000 jobs. This is a good indication of a strong and growing economy.

Our unemployment rate remains low at 3.6 percent, down from 4.2 percent a year ago. And our gross domestic product grew at 2.3 percent, exceeding the national average of 2.1 percent.

Other economic indicators were strong as well. Construction spending last year set a 10-year record high at $711 million. Visitor spending rose 6 percent, to more than $900 million. And Forbes magazine listed Winston-Salem as one of the 14 best places to visit in 2019.

East Winston Development: We have made significant investments in our East Winston community. More than $100 million has been invested in capital projects in the city’s predominantly African-American wards, including a new district police station, a renovated fire station, major new parks, and renovation of the historic Union Station. Also, the city has adopted the East End Master Plan and has committed more than $5 million to begin implementing the plan.

Poverty Reduction: Our efforts to reduce the poverty rate are starting to bear fruit. The number of people living in poverty in Winston Salem dropped to 21 percent from 27 percent, and among African-Americans the poverty rate dropped to 26 percent from 35 percent. This is almost a 25 percent reduction. The rate is still much too high and the city remains committed to implementing the recommendations of the Poverty Thought Force.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship: We are working diligently to create a strong innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem that will make us one of the best places in the country to start and grow a company. We are concentrating on four areas. (1) Creating venture capital funds. Thus far we have raised about $20 million; (2) Creating incubation space. We currently have more than 60,000 square feet available, with a new Minority and Women business incubator to open soon; (3) Creating a mentoring program; and (4) Securing Winston Salem’s participation with the international Venture Café program. We are one of seven cities worldwide in the program.   

Major Projects: Of the 300-plus bond projects approved in 2014, more than 85 percent are completed and the rest are nearing completion. These projects include fire stations, district police stations, new parks and park improvements, and road and street projects.

The redevelopment of Whitaker Park continues with Cook Medical committing to a $55 million expansion there.

Wake Forest Innovation Quarter continues to grow and now has 174 companies employing almost 3,800 people. There has been more than $800 million in new investment in Innovation Quarter, including an 800-space parking deck and 1,100 residential units – with 340 more apartments under construction.

All segments of the eastern section of the Beltway are now funded and three are under construction. The Business 40 rework is ahead of schedule. All told, $2 billion in transportation projects are underway or soon to be started.

Looking Ahead:  We are sad that BB&T will be relocating its corporate headquarters, but it is important to note that the relocation does not reflect dissatisfaction with Winston Salem. The merger agreement with Sun Trust required the headquarters to be in a neutral location.

But the merged banks’ Community Banking Division will be headquartered here and should offer good opportunities for job growth. Kelly King, BB&T’s CEO, has said that the merger will likely bring a gainful employment increase in Winston Salem. Another positive factor, BB&T has committed to increasing its amount of community investment.

In summary, most indicators show that Winston-Salem has a strong and thriving economy. We have work to do in the areas of educational achievement, affordable housing and poverty reduction. Most importantly, as we continue to make progress, we must ensure that all of our citizens share in our success.

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