Wilkes County is hampered by a lack of unity and clear goals, said Larry D. Stone, a Wilkes native and resident and former president and chief operating officer of Lowe’s Companies Inc.
“I think Wilkes has to decide what Wilkes wants to be. We’re at a point where we’ve got to make some decisions pretty quickly,” said Stone when he and his wife, Diane A. Stone, were interviewed in connection with being grand marshals for the Wilkes County Christmas Parade on Saturday,
“We’ve got to address things as a county and not say that’s a North Wilkesboro problem or a Wilkesboro problem. Like this water intake thing. It seems like we can’t agree on what is needed. Are we really thinking about future generations?” he said.
Larry and Diane Stone both said Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro should merge to eliminate duplicated costs.
Stone added, “You reach a point where you just really need to change…. It seems like we need to get all of the Wilkes County commissioners and the North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro leaders together in a room and figure out what is best for the county.”
He said he was impressed with the number of businesses on Main Street, West Jefferson, and how it was bustling while in that Ashe County town last week.
“You drive down our Main Street (North Wilkesboro) and you don’t have many businesses—maybe seven or eight. Can we redevelop downtown? I don’t know.”
Weighing in on the Wilkes County Farmers Market in downtown North Wilkesboro, Stone suggested not charging vendor fees and being open more than the current Tuesdays and Saturdays to boost participation. “Why not have farmers there each morning selling their fruits and vegetables. This would encourage more people to come to town.”
He said sinkholes on the Taco Bell property and related nearby excavated area along U.S. 421 in Wilkesboro are a big eyesore and work against the goal of encouraging young people, retirees and businesses to move to Wilkes.
With around 40,000-50,000 vehicles driving by the scene each day, said Stone, it’s a problem for the whole county. “It reflects on the lack of emphasis by our county. I put the blame on all of us to get it fixed…. It really bothers me a lot.”
Wilkesboro’s plan is to delay repairs until the state installs a drainage culvert under and along U.S. 421 as part of converting the highway to a “superstreet,” which Stone said may or may not happen. Mrs. Stone said she opposes the superstreet plans and Stone agreed. He said there should be a way to use existing side streets to help ease traffic problems on U.S. 421.
Stone said smart people are trying to move the county forward through the Wilkes Economic Development Corp., but economic development efforts in Wilkes should focus on smaller companies that Wilkes can support with workers and facilities rather than large companies.
He said a person familiar with the trend of working remotely at home told him this offers great opportunities for places like Wilkes. “Being a place that younger people want to live and maybe work remotely from home for a big company is certainly something the county should be looking at.”
He said Wilkes has adequate restaurants and online shopping makes lacking brick and mortar retail opportunities less of an issue, but “we need to work on affordable housing.”
Stone said Wilkes has abundant natural resources, beautiful scenery, a workforce that wants to work, good schools and a good community college. “I just think that somehow we have to get all this brain power thinking together and pushing the wagon in the same direction.”
Mrs. Stone said Wilkes is a good place to raise a family and added that people who moved here have affirmed this.