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  • Writer's pictureCameron Cochran

Wilson Named Innovate NC City

Posted September 11, 2015

By Rochelle Moore

Times Staff Writer

5 Cities Part of Inaugural Program to Accelerate Growth of Innovative Economies

The Institute of Emerging Issues announced the city of Wilson’s selection to participate in InnovateNC, a new two-year, cross-city learning collaborative expected to boost innovation and economic development.

The city of Wilson was named along with Asheville, Greensboro, Pembroke and Wilmington during an event Friday in the Hunt Library at N.C. State University. Selected cities will receive tools and technical assistance valued at no less than $250,000 over the two-year period.

Eighteen communities across the state applied for the program, the first of its kind in the nation. The effort includes partnerships with leading organizations focused on innovation, entrepreneurial communities and boosting local and state economies.

The collaborative will support the communities, including Wilson, as experts seek ways to accelerate the growth of innovative economies.

“All 18 applicant communities had terrific ideas and vision,” said Anita Brown-Graham, Institute of Emerging Issues director. “The five InnovateNC communities were selected because each has the right mix of assets, is fully committed to collective impact and to making major gains in building and sustaining innovation, and is ready to engage in the collaborative. IEI and our partners look forward to working with these communities over the next two years.”

Randy Woodson, N.C. State University chancellor, said that InnovateNC is an effort to enhance the overall innovation capacity and economic competitiveness of the cities, as well as the state as a whole.

“Our list of leading innovation cities has to extend beyond Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and Chapel Hill,” Woodson said. “InnovateNC intends to do just that.”

Robert Geolas, president of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, said that innovation is a process of “taking something you’re already good at and just working really hard to make it better,”

“Transforming traditional models is really hard work, but it is so critical, especially today,” Geolas said.

Wilson’s involvement will focus on developing an inclusive entrepreneurial economy while retaining its rich community character. The effort involves building on local assets, including its community owned Greenlight gigabit network.

“I am very excited that Wilson has been chosen for the InnovateN C initiative,” said Rodger Lentz, Wilson chief planning and development officer. “Given the community’s focus on downtown and center city revitalization, investment in our community owned Greenlight gigabit network, and focus on improved educational opportunities, we have set the groundwork for an inclusive innovation-based economy.”

The city of Wilson submitted an application to the program, a process that involved collaboration between Lentz and Paula Benson, Wilson 20/20 executive director, Jennifer Lantz, Wilson Economic development director, and Gene Scott, Greenlight facilities services manager.

“As a community dedicated to progress and innovation, it is truly inspiring to have such a distinguished institution recognize the potential we already see in ourselves,” said Grant Goings, city manager.

“To understand how competitive this process was and to look at the other cities selected along with Wilson, should instill a sense of pride in our community and excitement that we are building a brighter future.”

Wilson’s application focused on many area assets including its diverse economy and workforce, proximity to major highways and Atlantic Ocean beaches, abundant resources, downtown development, educational opportunities and infrastructure, as well as its large network of community partnerships.

“The Wilson community has strong partnerships between the public, private, and nonprofit entities, and our relationships will allow us to realize the true potential of the resources provided by InnovateNC,” said Paula Benson, Wilson 20/20 executive director. “We are excited to be selected, and we look forward to working with Innovate NC’s team of experts to focus on innovative ways for strengthening our economy, improving our workforce, and creating a better place to work and live.”

The application also noted challenges, including the contradiction of significant poverty and a plethora of high-paying jobs. Mayor Bruce Rose views the effort, in part, as playing a role in improving the local economy and job market.

“We have always been forward-thinking in Wilson, and it’s great to be in this new partnership with others who are trying to prepare their communities for tomorrow,” Rose said. “I can’t wait to take part in the discussion over the next two years that will possibly help us for decades.”

Wilson leaders who traveled to N.C. State for the announcement included Rose, Lentz, Benson, Goings, and Kimberly VanDyk, planning and community revitalization director.

InnovateNC will provide Wilson with benefits that include preparation to take advantage of innovation programs at the state and national level, guided development of a strategic plan to accelerate inclusionary innovation, new relationships through cross-city events and a shared web platform, data-driven mapping of the existing innovation ecosystem and its progress, extensive technical assistance to advance local projects, and exposure through storytelling.

Thomas Lucas, Wilson County Board of Commissioners chairman, said that Wilson’s participation is a reflection of many successful partnerships at work in the area.

“Receiving InnovateNC confirms what we all know,” Lucas said. “The city and county of Wilson along with our businesses and educational partners are working together for a brighter future for all of our citizenry. This is a great recognition of our team spirit and another tool to help us realize our vision.”

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