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While Wilson officials are still touting a perfect vision for the future of the community, the name Wilson 20/20 Community Vision just didn’t fit anymore. So on Thursday during the annual meeting, they announced a transition to a new name, Wilson Forward.
“Collaboration is still our core value, and our focus on education, health and wellness and workforce development has not changed,” said Wilson Forward’s executive director, Paula Benson. “We hope that our announcement to change the name from Wilson 20/20 to Wilson Forward provides clarity and confirmation to the community that we are here to stay.
“We are building on the momentum we have already established and affirming our commitment to work together for the future of Wilson.”
The group was created in 2007 with the goal of developing a vision for the future with collaboration from individuals, organizations, companies and local government. Since then, Benson and her staff have worked to be the string that ties stakeholders together around opportunities for improvement within the community.
At Thursday’s annual meeting, the keynote speakers included locals as well as state officials touching on all three areas, including Wilson native and Economic Development Partnership of NC Chairman Frank Emory Jr. and State Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson.
“As the community goes, so goes our schools, and as our schools go, so does our community,” said Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills. “We are not isolated, and we cannot stand alone. We have to work together to better our community.”
Emory said whether he is at his law practice in Charlotte, promoting economic development across the state or in his Washington, D.C., office, he promotes his hometown and the collaborative efforts that keep Wilson ahead of peer cities.
“One thing that has always distinguished this town is the progressive and engaged community leaders,” he said.
He admitted though that promoting economic development across North Carolina is a struggle right now in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
“Many people think that our state is shut down,” he said. “It is not that what happened on the coast is not important, but we’ve got to keep in mind the message across the country: North Carolina is open for business, we’re ready for you, and we’re ready to do great things.”
It is important to have a strong inventory of sites for new businesses and expansions, but he said focusing on quality of life issues such as education, job training and health are essential for economic development. Tilson stressed the need to address health disparities early on, highlighting a holistic approach.
“If you have a limited amount of money, let’s strategically inject it into areas of real need,” Tilson said. “I would identify where my need is and think about it holistically by bundling things like the domestic violence shelter with job training and health care. Let’s strategically invest in areas where we haven’t had investment.
“Poverty is the end game, but we have to think about the practical, day-by-day things to get there. We have to have family- and community-oriented investment.”
Barton College President Doug Searcy brought the program full circle.
“As I think of forward progress, it is not about the prosperity of those of us in this particular room,” he said, recalling visits with area elementary students. “Our progress is for their future. It is all for their benefit.”
Visit http://wilsonforward.org/ for more information on Wilson Forward. The annual meeting also kicked off Wilson Forward’s annual donor campaign and more information also is available online.