State leaders invited to chamber to tour town's tech businesses.
by David Leone
WAKE FOREST — State legislators toured town businesses and hosted a Q&A with local leaders during the chamber of commerce’s elected officials reception Aug. 8.
After a meeting with chamber officials and other local leaders, Senators Neal Hunt and Chad Barefoot and Rep. Chris Malone toured 3Phoenix, which builds custom equipment for the U.S. Navy.
During a lunch at Shuckers, which Malone could not attend, the senators discussed the challenges of the office and how leaders must change with the times.
Referencing an economic development program she attended led by UNC professors, Chamber President Marla Akridge noted that a lot of counties are losing their visionary leaders. Few political leaders are still willing to “stick their necks out” for the common good, she said.
She also learned that it’s useless for communities to produce strategic plans. Tom O’Conner, the chamber’s board of directors chairman, agreed.
“By the time it’s implemented…” he said.
“…it’s out of date,” Akridge finished.
Barefoot, who has been reading up on the towns in his 200,000-person district, took the opportunity to point out that the state legislature in the past hasn’t clued in to the needs of the changing economy.
The new, Republican-led legislature, however, has not been afraid to take a modern view, Barefoot said, citing tax reform, altering the way education is controlled and funded, and other changes as proof.
The “Moral Mondays” demonstrations at the state capital protesting such changes and putting legislators on the defensive seemed to hang in the air during this discussion on reforms.
There have been a lot of times in the past where people making changes that were later proved successful weren’t very popular, O’Connor said, adding, “there are a lot of people being villainized right now.”
Bringing the conversation back to leadership, Akridge said one thing she’s found impressive in Wake Forest is the immense number of volunteers.
“I haven't had that in my past communities,” she said.
Hunt was quick to agree.
“Wake Forest is the most vibrant little community that I have ever known,” he said. “It’s quite remarkable.”
Hunt later toured the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina, located in a business district right behind Shuckers. The center, which is used to test wireless devices, is supported by millions of dollars in town and Gold Leaf Foundation funds, with the hope it will attract companies with wireless products to relocate to the area to be closer to the facility.
One person present for both the reception and luncheon was Wake Forest Commissioner Anne Hines. At a town board meeting Tuesday night, Hines referenced meeting the legislators and said they answered all the questions that were asked of them.
All but one.
During the lunch, Akridge said the symposium economists believe that Internet connectivity is as important of an infrastructure need as roads and schools.
Considering that a large swath of the state’s rural counties has little or sparse broadband web access, The Wake Weekly asked what the legislature could do to build up that part of the infrastructure.
It’s important, but not an easily solved goal, Hunt said, after taking a moment to consider it.
Citing a tight state budget mostly eaten up by education and Medicaid expenses, he added that not much is left over for any large project.
“There is limited money,” said Hunt.