2020 State of the Town
The Wake Forest Rotary Club presented the 12th Annual State of the Town Address & Dinner on Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre.
Andi Curtis served as the evening's emcee and the Heritage High School Jazz Ensemble provided the dinner entertainment. Prior to the Mayor's remarks, Rotary Club President Rich Perkins provided an overview of the club's mission and highlighted several of its recent initiatives, including Launch Wake Forest.
During her address, Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones provided Wake Forest citizens an opportunity to reflect on an impressive list of accomplishments in 2019. She also discussed a number of goals Wake Forest will strive towards in 2020.
Full Text of 2020 State of the Town Address
2020 --- A new decade!!
At the Town Board retreat last month I shared some thoughts about this new decade we have entered. In a conversation with Chamber President Ann Welton a couple of months ago, she talked about the fact that we are entering another ‘20’s decade.
I looked up the Roaring 20’s as the 1920’s was known to find out exactly why it was given that designation. What I learned was interesting—the 1920’s was a time of widespread social and economic change.
There was new mass production and labor- saving devices; there was easy credit and a rising consumer society. The culture of self, thrived.
It was a time of the “new woman”—women had just earned the right to vote and they wore short skirts and bobbed hair—they had unprecedented freedom with new appliances that took away some of the drudgery of housekeeping and they smoked and drank with the best of them!
The more I looked at the 1920’s, the more I realized that we have come full circle. We are certainly in a time now of unprecedented social change.
There is very little objectivity now, and traditional social pillars are cast aside as unnecessary and unwanted.
I believe Henry Ford would be amazed to see how far mass production has come and robots have reinvented labor saving methods.
I think we have actually passed the 1920’s in becoming a self-centered society. Social media has allowed us to spout off ugly comments nonstop and we seem to love complaining and accusing the other fellow.
I think maybe the world just needs a Snickers bar!
Despite all of that, I just want to assure you this evening that your Town Board and Staff are concentrating on our Strategic Plan and we are looking for this to be a wonderful decade of going forward and keeping our community vibrant and resilient.
2019 was a year of construction. It was sometimes hard to get around town because of the streets being worked on. And, now we can see the results were worth the wait-- what a difference it has made on South White Street. Festival Street is beautiful and we had so much fun with the snow slide at the Lighting of Wake Forest.
Stadium Drive is much easier to manage and much safer for our high school students.
We are excited about all the residential additions to downtown and look forward to the positive impact on our downtown businesses. We must continue to improve the walkability for our downtown residents.
With 22% of our downtown undeveloped, we have the opportunity to seamlessly incorporate new development, both residential and commercial, into our historic downtown keeping it the centerpiece of activity in our community.
We are so excited to have the Joyner Park Community Center completed. If you remember, we promised we would build a facility that reflects the character of the park and we did. Everyone comments on how beautiful it fits into the park. We are having record use of the facility—I was told that we have had over 1000 non-residents sign up to use the center.
Ruben Wall told me that one gentleman told him that he did not mind paying the $25 for the card but he thinks we owe him $50 a month for gas because his wife makes him drive over there from Wakefield four times a week.
Of course, you know, stuff happens and the center will be closed for a couple of weeks to redo the lines on the gym floor. The finish has such a strong odor that we cannot have people in the building during this time. I am sorry but it will be open again shortly.
Having Holding Park Aquatics Center open for a full year of enjoyment was greatly anticipated last summer and it certainly fulfilled that anticipation. We had over 20,000 visits to the Center in the first year. I am sure this year will be even busier.
The Senior Center opened earlier this month after a year and a half of renovation. Our seniors have been patient but they were so excited to finally get back and the new facility is absolutely beautiful! I walked in the door and was astounded. The lobby is open and airy and welcoming. All of the classrooms are cheerful colors with lots of natural light and plenty of room. I understand there was a waiting line when they opened the first day! We will be having a grand opening in March.
It is important for me to mention how wonderful our community has been during this renovation. We had so many partners that allowed our programs to continue.
Churches and senior living facilities as well as town facilities were used to keep every program from the senior center going on. I am sure there is not another town anywhere that would be able to sustain a program for almost two years without a facility.
There just are not words to describe the commitment to our community that we find from organizations like The Lodge of Wake Forest, Wake Forest Presbyterian Church, Brookdale Senior Living, Cadence at Wake Forest (formerly Carillon).
I’d like for our Senior Advisory Board members to stand. These folks worked so hard to keep everyone informed and involved under the direction of their chair, Jetske Insinger.
Thank you to everyone for your commitment to our seniors.
I want to talk a minute about Launch Wake Forest. This is a program started two years ago by the then Rotary Club president Brad Walker in partnership with Wake Tech, the Chamber and the Town. It is a program to encourage people who have an idea for a business or are already in business and want to take the next step up.
The program offers training and a mentor to follow you for a while and help you get started. We have had over 30 businesses go through the training. It has been valuable to them. If you have an idea and need some help let us know.
This is just one more way that The Rotary Club invests in our town.
We believe in the value of entrepreneurs. Small business is the backbone of our community. We spend so much time pursuing large companies and they do make a difference but they sometimes also cost us.
I like to believe that the time and effort spent helping small businesses to thrive is well worth it in the benefit to our community. The world is changing and the world of business is also changing.
In 1990 the three largest companies in the U.S. were in Detroit. They were worth about $250 billion and employed about 1,200,000 people. Today, in Silicon Valley we have a total value of companies at $247 billion but they have 137,000 employees!
Entrepreneurs are essential to creating a vibrant, equitable and sustainable community. We will continue to do everything we can to help and encourage entrepreneurs in Wake Forest.
Continuing with that theme, I wanted to share some of the things going on at the Wireless Research Center of North Carolina. The Wireless Center is a non-profit organization supporting clients globally with engineering services and testing communication technologies. It began a few years ago with a small grant and a loan from the Town of Wake Forest and a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation.
They have made a tremendous footprint in the technology space all over the world and they are pioneers in working on advanced mobility.
The Triangle is arguably the center in the nation of excellence for drones—think of the delivery of medicines by Wake Med and the difference that is making—the first such program in the United States.
The Wireless Center is leading the operation of the advanced wireless research platform at NC State which is supported by a $24 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The Wireless Center has become a birthplace for entrepreneurs. They have assisted over 20 businesses to get started in Wake Forest and over 60 throughout the Triangle.
The economic development program called RIoT they began a few years ago to facilitate entrepreneurship in the Internet of Things has grown to include over 8000 members and over 80 company sponsors.
The RioT Program supports startups, mentors them and connects them with capital investors.
We would like to offer you an opportunity to learn more about the Advanced Mobility space. On your table is a paper on which you can write your name and contact information if you would be interested in attending a meeting to learn more about a network of leaders who are working to develop infrastructure, governance, business support, etc. in the Advanced Mobility space. We would like to include you in our discussions about this program if you are interested.
IoT is now about 20 years old and it is estimated that 20-27 billion devices were operating at the close of 2019. Data from these devices and the analytics capability that can be applied to this data is transforming every industry. This is especially true in the transportation industry.
I had the opportunity to attend the NCDOT Transportation Summit in January. Wow! I was blown away by the statistics I kept hearing! I want to share just a couple of things I heard that I believe will affect us particularly.
We are going to have to address infrastructure changes that will be needed for autonomous vehicles. They are coming and infrastructure, regulations, policies must be put in place over the next couple of years for us to be safe. Electric vehicles are coming in spades. NC presently has over 12,000 registered EV’s. By 2030, 60% of fleet vehicles will be electric and 40% of individual vehicles will be EV’s.
Before you know it, a lot of us will be buying transportation as a service instead of buying a car. For example, paying a company a yearly fee to pick us up and deliver us wherever and whenever we want to go somewhere. People will be able to save a lot of money by buying transportation instead of owning a car.
But, we are going to have to decide how to pay for our roads to be built and maintained. The gas tax system will have to change. We need to be encouraging our legislators to get to a mileage based user fee system in place.
We know that changes young people want will impact transportation planning and allocation of resources. Young people want less parking and more transit for example. But, we have to look at all the demographics and all the data to determine what we need to do in the future.
Now I want to share something about a program I am very proud our Town Board has embraced and supports. That is the Capital Area Food Network.
We asked Drew Brown, our Customer Service Supervisor, to head up our involvement. He worked to establish a team of experts known as the Northern Community Food Security Team and they have been working now for a couple of years. They are focusing on food access and a sustainable food supply among other things.
The Town has supported this work with employees volunteering, donating laptops to local food pantries, working with waste mitigation and composting, supporting Tri-Area Ministries, donating a truck to help with food delivery and distribution, and in many other ways.
I also want to highlight two of our residents who have worked in this space for the past three or four years—Tilda Caudle and Joy Shillingsburg.
These two women have been the leaders in establishing a summer nutrition program and they carried it further by making sure meals are provided throughout the year, not just in the summer.
Tilda and Joy were named Good Neighbor of the Year the past two years. It is wonderful to have women like this in our community.
The Food Security Team has amazing goals for this year including helping with Monday community meals every month, providing space for the summer nutrition program, food drives, and working with the team that wants to bring a “pay what you can” restaurant to Wake Forest. We are very proud to support the work of this group and thank Drew for his commitment.
2019 was certainly a busy year but it looks like 2020 is going to be the year of reorganizing and it will be just as busy!
In the transportation area, we are pleased that as a part of the Wake Transit Plan we now have a second bus on the Wake Forest Loop which goes counter-clockwise around town.
This gives us better access in a more timely manner. We will be updating the route and making it accessible to more residents this year.
Also, GoTriangle now offers a free GoPass to seniors and teens. This allows them to ride any bus system throughout the Triangle for free. Wake Tech will be announcing this week that they now offer a free GoPass for all of their students and professors.
The Ligon Mill Road bridge replacement will begin this year giving us the pedestrian crossing underneath to help when we begin the next phase of the Smith Creek Greenway.
This year we are going to concentrate on smaller transportation projects such as road connections, intersection improvements, and access management—we have learned that just making more lanes and wider streets is not the only answer and, in fact, sometimes it is not even the best answer.
NCDOT is working on the fiber infrastructure necessary for us to have all smart traffic signals around town which allows for remote access and real-time active traffic monitoring.
We are working with NCDOT with their plans to purchase the S-Line which could result in commuter rail for us. You will hear more about this.
This year we adopted our first Comprehensive Transportation Plan. Prior to that we had several plans related to transportation including roadways, greenways, sidewalks, etc. But, in the Comprehensive Plan we combined all modes of transportation because all modes work together and we must plan them as a woven palette if we want to have the most impact.
We were so pleased that our residents came out and gave us input during this process. In fact, our consultants expressed amazement at the participation we had from our residents.
This spring we are beginning another very important process. We will update our Community Plan. The Community Plan establishes the vision of how Wake Forest will grow over the next 10-20 years.
It is very important for citizens to participate in developing this vision since it is one of the primary resources for establishing policies for our future growth. Specifically, the Community Plan is a guide to development regulations and the policies a developer must adhere to.
We also will be updating the Northeast Area Community Plan. This plan is the blueprint for the future of this historic area.
Now is the time to participate in order to help shape our future growth.
Due to changes made by the State legislature to planning regulations, we will be making changes in our planning and zoning processes and to the Unified Development Ordinance. These changes will hopefully make it easier for our residents to understand the process.
And, we are changing our Planning Board Academy to a Citizens Planning Academy which is designed to educate citizens about planning processes and procedures.
Since Wake Forest downtown is an ever-changing place with new residential development and the vibrancy of our businesses, we will also look at possible changes to downtown regulations and the municipal service district.
We are talking about affordable housing and how we might have an influence in the development of it. We have begun this through an agreement with Focus Design Builders who is developing a small affordable housing project off Allen Road. We expect to be able to work with other builders in the future.
The biggest elephant in the room is, of course, the Fire Department! As you know, last year the formal decision was made to merge the Wake Forest Fire Department with the Town of Wake Forest.
Staff has been working diligently all year to prepare for this merger by addressing operations, facilities, capital assets, and human resource issues just to name a few. The Town staff and the Fire Department staff are working together to make this a seamless integration to take place on July 1.
We look forward to having the Fire Department as a Town Department and working with them in this new way.
Just in passing, I want to say that you will probably be hearing quite a bit about sustainability and resiliency this year. When storms or other events occur, we need to be able to go through them and bounce back quickly providing services and infrastructure for our residents.
For example, we have a good track record for resiliency in our Electric Department. The Town of Wake Forest began providing power to our residents in 1909. We still distribute power to approximately one-half of our residents.
How many of you are Wake Forest Power customers?
Well, all of you are going to want to be after I share what Chris Terrell, our Electric Systems Manager shared with us at our retreat.
Wake Forest Power has a 99.9% reliability rating. That means the power is on 99.9% of the time. In average outages per year, they outperform everyone. Duke Energy comes in at 1.09 outages per customer per year. The Coops average 1.3. Wake Forest Power is at .68.
They also outperform everyone in getting your power back on. For the average length of an outage per customer, Duke Energy is 205 minutes-that’s 3-1/2 hours, the Coops are at 142 minutes. Wake Forest Power average outage per customer is 34.1 minutes. I am sorry all of our residents cannot be customers of Wake Forest Power!
In December we did something different. Some people said it had been over 70 years. I am not sure, I have only been here 38 years. But, anyway, for the first time in a very long time, we did not have a Christmas parade.
Suffice it to say, some received the news of the cancellation better than others. The eyes of not just our area, but the eyes of the world were on us and not for good reasons. I heard from CBS, ABC, CNN plus several other state and national media along with even residents of California and Kansas and other places inquiring about why we cancelled our parade.
We can’t do anything about the past, but we can move forward and set an example for other communities, for our region and for our state to follow.
Now we have the opportunity to reframe the narrative. Let’s talk about how we can do that.
Two weeks ago I attended the Kingdom Diversity Luncheon at Southeastern Seminary. I enjoy this event every year; they always have a great speaker. This year the speaker was a dynamic young man who is an accomplished historian of Christianity. He shared that over the years different cultures have sometimes found it difficult to understand Christianity because they speak different languages or say things in a different manner.
It strikes me that this is a challenge we all have.
We don’t always take the time to think about HOW what we say or post on social media is going to impact others.
Instead, we sometimes say the first thing that comes to mind. Even though we may speak the same language, we come from different places and have different perspectives.
But, reframing the narrative is simply a new way of seeing and describing the problem. We need to learn something from this. If we don’t learn something new, we have wasted a great opportunity to grow.
So, as Wake Forest Downtown, Inc. and the Town work to put together a plan for this year, I want you to know that we are trying very hard to understand and consider the needs and concerns of all our residents.
We need your help and the help of everyone in our community to continue being a community that cares about each other and embraces and honors the wonderful diversity of our residents.
Please join me in recognizing that we may not always agree but, at the very least, we can respect each other. If we all do that, think about the impact we can have on our community.
I challenge each and every one of you to be agents of positive change this year.
How many times can you post something positive about a person or an event or a business.
How many times can you “like” something good that you see on social media.
Let’s all make a concerted effort to make our interactions positive this year and to demonstrate our care and concern for everyone in our community.
Thank you to everyone for being here tonight. Especially, once again, I want to thank the Rotary Club for your support and sponsorship. You help us be able to share with the community what we have been able to accomplish in the past year and our plans for the future. Our citizens and we thank you for your dedication to our community.
I also want to thank :
BETTY JO SHEPHEARD and
REPRESENTATIVE JOE JOHN
REPRESENTATIVE TERENCE EVERITT
COUNTY COMMISSIONER MATT CALABRIA
COUNTY COMMISSIONER SIG HUTCHINSON
I appreciate so much your support of our community.
One of the things that makes our community so special is how our citizens are so involved. We have great civic clubs that do wonderful things to help others.
Almost all of the civic clubs have a program to work with youth which teaches them the value of community involvement.
We also have hundreds of people who don’t want to be members of clubs but want to do work to benefit others and to make our community better.
A couple of weeks ago I was at a gathering of some of our volunteers and I shared with them something I read recently about volunteerism. I want to share it this evening because every person who is here is part of that army of volunteers in our community—none of you have ever learned to say “no!”
This is what I read: Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in. Thank you for wanting to live in a great community and for helping to make our community great!