The Wilkes Economic Development Corp.’s mission statement is to “facilitate the creation of new jobs and capital investment in Wilkes County through the recruitment of new businesses and the retention and expansion of existing businesses.”
Toward this goal, Wilkes EDC monthly board meetings on the second Friday morning of each month provide a forum for direct communication between local government, Wilkes County Schools, Wilkes Community College, business and other leaders.
Face to face dialogue promotes understanding and cooperation, which too often is lacking among public and private sector leaders. EDC board meetings help remedy this, but definitive steps toward the ultimate goal of job creation and capital investment are still lacking.
The governments of Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro, Ronda and the county appropriate money to the EDC for operational expenses and each has an elected official on the EDC board. These four appoint nine at-large private sector members.
The county and town managers are non-voting EDC board members. Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd; Dr. Jeff Cox, WCC president; and other public school and WCC officials often attend.
Terry Bumgarner enhanced the exchange of information and opinions last year after becoming EDC chairman when he started including a time in each board meeting for those present to give an update on some of the things they’ve been involved with that are pertinent to the EDC’s purpose.
With 15 or so people sitting around the table at the EDC office on Ninth Street, North Wilkesboro, Bumgarner starts with the person to his left and goes around the table clockwise having each person speak in turn. This results in updates on various local government, public school and WCC initiatives and a variety of other matters. People in the audience are also given an opportunity to speak.
However, the EDC board’s lack of diversity is apparent during this time of sharing information. There are no women and no minorities on the board, plus millennial interests need to be better represented.
Comments during EDC board meetings sometimes indicate where the county is lacking on the economic development front.
During Friday’s meeting, EDC President LeeAnn Nixon said three companies considering establishing a new facility recently dropped Wilkes from their lists of prospects due to the lack of buildings of adequate square footage and ceiling height here.
Nixon has shared similar reports in the past, underscoring a need in Wilkes that could to some extent be addressed with construction of speculative shell buildings.
Keith Elmore, chairman of the Wilkes County commissioners, asked Friday if there was a plan to address this. It was an appropriate question, especially since the $255,000 that the EDC receives annually from county government is about two-thirds of its operational funding.
EDC board member Bill Warden said that was a topic for a closed session later in the meeting. We understand little was said about this in the closed session.
Earlier this year, the EDC board supposedly was exploring the possibility of constructing a spec building to help address the county’s lack of buildings of adequate square footage and ceiling height. Nothing was ever made public about the results of this.
The EDC has accomplished much, including most recently its key role in the “Working in Wilkes” program that brought educators and employers together for a day-long discussion of workforce needs for companies that rely on trade skills.
Likewise, the EDC is helping to facilitate entrepreneurialism in Wilkes as stories in this issue indicate.
Still, there is a need for something more concrete from the EDC to “facilitate the creation of new jobs and capital investment in Wilkes County through the recruitment of new businesses and the retention and expansion of existing businesses.”