City of Winston-Salem, NC
As an old manufacturing town, Winston-Salem (pop 250k) wanted to retool for a new economy, keeping and attracting young people and creating more vibrancy for downtown.
Created the Innovation District, which (at 140 acres tied to downtown) he believes may be the country’s largest urban research area, already attracting $800 million in investment and creating 3,500 jobs, with the potential of 5,000 to 7,000 more.
Beginning with 12 acres in the late 90s, Allen helped the area burgeon five years later by supporting the involvement of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, then a donation from RJ Reynolds of 1.8mm SF of old tobacco warehouses and rehabbed power generating plants. Today the neighborhood is home to the Wake Forest Medical Center; new biomedical engineering, info tech, and other startups; and a panoply of restaurants and entertainment.
Particularly helpful in generating development was $100 million of state and federal historic tax credits that equated to a 40% equity contribution to new building. So far, just one-third of the area has been built up, so great greenfield opportunities remain, such as the intersection of Interstate 40 and US 52, which Allen says would be perfect for a corporation seeking high visibility.
Millennials and businesses have been particularly attracted to the downtown area by dining venues (50 new ones over the past 10 years, spurred by a loan program in which restaurateurs put in 10% and the city loans 40%, deferring repayment for up to a year); jazz and dance clubs; and cool residential offerings (kicking off with rehab of an 18-story office building into 140 units a decade ago, with the city providing the second mortgage), and since then 3000 units with 800 more in development and only 5% vacancy.
Practically no business space remains available.
Be “self-critical” and make sure you have all the ingredients, eg, workforce training, availability of sites, venture capital for start-ups, incubation space, tech transfer potential, the right public policy, a solid team, and the ability to carry it off. Allen says he’s amused sometimes in travels across country on seeing signs in a corn field that say something like, “big innovation district coming soon.” It takes more than a sign.
Grew up in North Wilkesboro, NC, undergrad at Appalachian State, masters in public administration University of Georgia, 29 years on the Winston-Salem city staff, running budget and evaluation, with a short stint in recreation, and ultimately deputy assistant city manager. Recruited in 2000 to start city business alliance, and the next year ran successfully for mayor. Re-elected four times since.
Just got back from a 6-day solo hike (his first) on Appalachian Trail. 65 miles, carried 35 lbs of supplies, including tent in which he slept every night. Loved it.