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  • Writer's pictureCameron Cochran

20/20 Group Eyes Unemployment Solutions

Posted April 25, 2017

By Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Daily Times Staff Writer

The focus of the upcoming Wilson 20/20 Community Vision annual meeting will center around workforce development, including a research project by the inaugural Impact Initiative class that included interviews with unemployed residents.

James Johnson Jr., William Rand Kenan Jr. distinguished professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke at the Wilson 20/20 annual meeting at Barton College.

“The class members made the decision to actually go to the individuals who are unemployed and talk with them one-on-one, which is different from just pulling data. I think the work they did complements the data, but it was a chance to really understand the circumstances that brought people to where they are now,” said Paula Benson, executive director of Wilson 20/20. “I think some validated the numbers and data we’ve seen in the past, but certainly some stories made the issues surrounding employment a little more understandable.”

The annual meeting will serve as graduation for the 15 members of the class, which was designed specifically for Wilson to develop leaders through a collaboration of Wilson 20/20, the Wilson Chamber of Commerce and Wilson Economic Development Council.

“I’m hopeful that the Impact Initiative becomes the de facto leadership pipeline for our community,” said chamber President Ryan Simons. “When government and nonprofit leaders in Wilson are seeking nominees for elected or appointed service, I want their first consideration to be participants and alumni of the Impact Initiative. If our first crop of graduates is any indication, they won’t be disappointed.”

The theme of the meeting also will include a presentation by Ben David, the district attorney of the fifth judicial district who led a collaborative approach to reducing unemployment. David was integral in pulling together public and private sectors for the launch of Phoenix Hometown Hires in Wilmington, which helps people overcome obstacles to find work and improves employment opportunities in New Hanover and Pender counties.

The second keynote speaker will be Kip Blakey, who was a leader in pulling together resources and partners to grow the aviation industry in Guilford County.

“Education, the business community, employment programs, the chamber and economic development all rallied around making sure they had the pipeline to support growth of the aviation community,” Benson said. “Both speakers really led efforts that got the entire community to rally together and I’m hoping they will inspire attendees to have the same enthusiasm as we work on employment and workforce development in Wilson.”

Registration for the free meeting is required with limited space available for the public. A link is posted on, which Benson said will be taken down when the event fills up.

“What is really cool is that when we look at those who have registered, we’ve got from the highest levels of leadership to the boots on the ground,” Benson said. “We have people coming from every sector, so it will be a really diverse crowd brought together to reflect back on the local successes and work together about potential solutions to move forward as a community.”

Recent successes, such as the opening earlier this month of the first Wilson Area Student Health Center at Forest Hills Middle School, will highlight initiatives implemented from the Youth Master Plan, especially in the field of improving the health and wellness of area youth. Benson said the meeting also will launch the start of a strategic planning process for Wilson 20/20.

“As an organization, we’ve grown tremendously over the past three or four years and we’re at a point where we need to develop a strategy for the next three to five years,” she said. “When we look at all the work and progress that has been made in the health and wellness area, the focus on workforce development and unemployment, we are constantly seeing new opportunities and ideas we can consider for Wilson.”

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