Area leaders look to future, growth

Published 12:10 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

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CLEMMONS — Various community leaders leaped headfirst into a series of economic discussions during a forum at the Historic Broyhill Office Suites last week.

The venue’s executive director, Kristin Johnson, moderated a panel that featured local officials, including Clemmons Mayor Mike Rogers, Lewisville Town Manager James Ayers, N.C. Rep. Jeff Zenger (R-Forysth) and N.C. Department of Transportation engineer Pat Ivey. Real estate executive Lou Baldwin and Davie County Economic Development Commission President Terry Bralley also sat in. 

Johnson put forth a directive to the panelists to explore three facets:

  • What is something positive?
  • What is something realistic?
  • What is the future, what is our hope, what are we going to take from this to make tomorrow a little bit better than today?

Taking the floor, Rogers said, “Clemmons is growing at a rapid pace because people want to live here,” but acknowledged that “with growth, come growing pains.”

Addressing that growth will require infrastructure to keep pace. As Ivey sees it, their willingness to work together poises municipalities in the Triad region for success.

“I see a lot of different ways things are done, but the Piedmont Triad region is the best, in my opinion, as far as collaboration goes,” Ivey said. 

One large project at the center of the discussion was the Western Beltway. While Ivey said that the budget recently passed in Raleigh included numerous appropriations for infrastructure improvements and installments, he said that it fell flat when it came to the Western Beltway. 

“The biggest unmet need is funding for the Western Beltway,” Ivey said. 

For many of the local leaders, preserving a homey and comfortable municipal atmosphere rose to the top of their priorities list. 

“Our community wants an unwavering commitment to preserving our small-town charm,” Ayers said. 

The Lewisville town manager pointed to census data showing Lewisville lagging behind Winston-Salem and Clemmons in population growth from 2010-2020. While Winston-Salem netted a growth rate of 8 percent and Clemmons saw growth of 13 percent, Lewisville’s population only grew 5 percent. 

Despite what towns may want to preserve, Zenger said the people are coming.

“In the last 10 years, we have had 1.5 million people move to NC,” Zenger said. “That is driving housing costs up.

“We need a strategic plan to deal with that if we want to preserve the small-town character. Fifteen years ago, there was a saying, ‘No urban sprawl.’ Now, it’s the reverse of that. We don’t want change in our town. That gives your urban sprawl.”

Looking towards the future, Rogers said he is excited about what 2024 might bring. 

“Our staff is working so hard to complete transportation, pedestrian and safety plans,” Rogers said. “We will be poised with projects ready to go when funding is available. The community is healthy and growing.”

The panelists also discussed how to keep arts and culture at the forefront of municipal planning, weaving that prioritization into entertainment avenues for folks in the area. 

“There are many ways that Lewisville has supported culture and the arts,” Ayers said. “Lewisville hosts over nine concerts at the Shallowford Square. Those events draw people from surrounding areas.

“The town recently established a public arts committee. It is underway already. The Mary Alice Warren Center has hosted hundreds of people for classes in art, writing and even theater.”

Rogers added, “Some of the ways that we support these initiatives include annual Lego contest, story walks around Village Point greenway, events featuring live music, Forsyth Creek Week activities, Kindness Rocks month — we have found some really great artists in the village with the simple request to paint rocks to place around town, and once a month the Clemmons Farmers Market also features local artisans and crafters. They are also welcome to attend the holiday pop-ups.”

Initiatives mentioned during the discussion hinge on developing an environment that keeps people in the region, allowing them to raise their families and build their lives in the Triad. 

That requires job opportunities that align with expectations for standards of living and quality of life.

“In full transparency, the Village of Clemmons is fortunate that we do not have to recruit businesses to the area,” Rogers said. 

The Clemmons mayor pointed to Miracles in Sight’s expansion to the village as the latest example. Formerly known as The Eye Bank of N.C., Miracles in Sight is locating its corporate offices at Commercial Park Court. 

“We are beyond thankful for a thriving chamber that assists and strengthens our business community, and we love partnering with them to support and promote the local business community,” Rogers said. 

New business opportunities mean a need for a local workforce. 

Zenger mentioned that trends implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have drastically shifted that landscape.

“We were able to do a lot more stuff electronically,” Zenger said. “We are seeing retraction in retail space.

“One thought we have been kicking around is to create incentives for vacant buildings to be converted to affordable housing, similar to mills that used to be around the state.”

With a booming demand for housing exerting market forces around the state, Johnson, the moderator, said, “You have to engage our young people. We want people to be able to get a job and stay in the community.”

The panelists agreed that keeping those residents and allowing individual growth in the community is the best way to ensure continued growth on a regional level.