More than 150 leaders from various agencies, groups, churches, governments and schools met Thursday for the annual Wilson 20/20 meeting held at Barton College’s Hardy Alumni Hall.
The united effort among various people has seen not only tremendous growth but positive results after implementing various programs and champion programs that speak to the needs of the people, organizers said.
“It’s all about collaboration … and letting the stakeholders come up with the solutions,” Eliot Smith, Wilson 20/20 Community Vision chair, told the crowd. “It’s really important we take the banner forward.”
Wilson 20/20 Community Vision represents the combined efforts of city and county government, businesses and neighborhoods, schools and colleges, civic organizations and churches to work together for the purpose of creating, supporting and promoting positive developments.
Anita Brown-Graham, Institute for Emerging Issues executive director at N.C. State University, was the keynote speaker Thursday. Brown plays a key role in working with InnovateNC communities, including Wilson.
Wilson was one of five cities named as an InnovateNC community in the fall. The Institute for Emerging Issues program is an intensive two-year, cross-city learning collaborative and an effort to spark innovation-centered economic development. The program seeks to stimulate economic growth in North Carolina.
“Wilson has come along with us for the ride,” Brown-Graham said.
Brown-Graham, who was instrumental in helping local leaders structure and design Wilson 20/20 from its inception, said Thursday she was filled with hope because of the level of commitment Wilson has in creating a better place for people to grow in all aspects of their lives.
Brown-Graham’s program entitled, “When We InnovateNC for Future Work,” encompassed a variety of topics including the importance of workforce diversity, ensuring an education system equity, an increase in project-based learning and enhancing career pathways.
What sets Wilson apart is stakeholders’ willingness to wrestle with trends and demographic changes. She said there are several ways to ensure communities like Wilson bring in not only the talent, but opportunities.
“Local government has to look outside the typical economic development tool kit,” she said, adding that one key is to figure out how to engage a diverse talent pool.
She said a deep conversation in harnessing full workforce potential in the community is also vital.
She said 66 percent of North Carolina’s innovation economy originated out of only three counties — Durham, Wake and Mecklenburg. And within that sector there wasn’t a lot of demographic diversity, which is a trend nationally. That area is predominantly white and male.
Brown-Graham said that’s why you see large companies like Apple and Intel spending money on how to diversify their companies. That’s why a demographically diverse talent pool is key to the future.
‘SPARKS OF INNOVATION’
Henry Rock, executive director of City Startup Labs in Charlotte, also spoke at the meeting. Rock said while science, math and technology are important, folks can also get derailed if they narrowly think about innovation in that way.
He said the bigger issue is the socioeconomic mobility gap. Those who don’t have bachelor’s or master’s degrees are essentially on the outside looking in when it comes to opportunity.
And one way of addressing that gap is changing the perception of innovators. Communities should also cultivate a broader pool of innovators. He said there are personal, practical and real-life solutions that a new phone app can’t address.
“This where the sparks of innovation can be found,” he said. “Everyday people are armed with a new way of thinking about the world.
Rock said investing in the innovators instead of innovation will go along way to bridge the gap. City Startup Labs in Charlotte continues to work a new class of entrepreneurs, which includes the black male millennials, ages 18 to 34. He said focusing on this specific group is important to get communities contributing to closing the socioeconomic gap.
The Youth Master Plan, a collaborative effort between Wilson 20/20 and Wilson County Schools, provides goals and actions to improve the outcomes of all area youth. Updates on those efforts included substantial improvements to school safety, improved connections between youth and out-of-school programs, numerous collaborations to improve the health of Wilson youth and the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology.
Sean Bulson, superintendent of Wilson County Schools, who co-chairs the Youth Master Plan, said as folks continue to connect, it continues to enhance all the current work that’s happening.
“We have started to see things jump,” he said.
Successes this year included connecting mentors to students, parent advocacy training, job shadowing programs and help with starting college.
The plan’s architects are currently working on a phone app for youth that will show them things to do within the community.
“It represents such a tremendous amount of work,” Bulson said, adding that it shows that the community is willing to do this for the success of its youth.
The Beyond 21 plan will focus on strengthening the leadership pipeline, providing innovative ways to tackle food insecurity for the elderly and health and wellness as well as assisting the underemployed and unemployed in Wilson. This plan is for adults 21 and older.
The group said all five focus groups said while transportation wasn’t on the list, members quickly identified it as an area of need. They said they will continue to look into that focusing on what the transportation needs are and how to make it affordable and widely used.
The Youth Master Plan and Beyond 21 Plan are complementary, with the Beyond 21 Plan continuing work beyond the initiatives of the youth plan.
Mayor Bruce Rose also honored Bulson, who will be leaving his post on June 30. Rose said Bulson has done tremendous work in ensuring that youth have every opportunity to have a future.
“This man here has had a hand in that,” he said.
Bulson was given a plaque for his “fierce and courageous leadership,” within the Wilson community.