Winston-Salem cannot recognize its full potential as a city of arts and innovation until it becomes a city of arts, innovation, and equality. Winston-Salem once thrived because its citizens had the ability to participate in the economy at large. There was abundant labor for all skill levels, and people prospered. It is a fantasy to think that we can fight poverty in Winston-Salem by resuscitating the low skill labor market, nor should we. Technological progress is both inevitable and good, and we can no more restore last century’s economy than we can bring back yesterday’s sunset. If globalization and automation represent a growing discomfort to the middle class, they are a looming juggernaut for the poor.
If we as a city desire to help our neighbors, then we must do it with the resources we have at hand. Our city is no longer a national leader in manufacturing and textiles, but it is a growing leader in the industries of the modern economy. The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter represents close to a billion dollars of investment in a state of the art research park advancing biotech, information technology, digital media, medical research, and higher education.1 Winston-Salem stands poised to take its place as an economic leader in the 21st century as it did in the 20th, and it is within our power to insure that the resultant prosperity is inclusive one. There will be thousands of new jobs in emerging, high skill industries over the coming decades which will require qualified workers with advanced skills. In the present, Winston-Salem is home to thousands of young people being raised in poverty who are currently on track to miss the education necessary to fill these new positions. As the poor in this city seem destined to continue missing out on meaningful participation in the workforce, Winston-Salem is facing the prospect of a large portion of its population remaining unable to contribute to its economic prosperity. There is, however, a way for Winston-Salem’s emerging industries to bring prosperity to the communities that need it most. We may not be able to lower the level of education required to participate in the high skill workforce, but we can lift the young people of our city to that required level of education. Through education, we can seize the moment and equip Winston-Salem’s new economy with qualified workers from the city’s disenfranchised neighborhoods. We must make a concerted effort to prepare the marginalized youth of our city for the higher education that they desperately need to compete. We must be relentless in our efforts to equip the least fortunate students of today to fill the most rewarding jobs of tomorrow. This is possible, and it is the work of the Piedmont Renewal Network.
1 “About,” Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, accessed November 9th, 2017. https://www.innovationquarter.com/about/vision/