WAKE FOREST — Two groups from Wake Forest and Youngsville are working together across town and county lines to figure out how best to boost economic development in their communities.
The Wake Forest group is led by the area’s Chamber of Commerce and is focused on figuring out whether a business incubator would be a good fit for the town, and what it might look like.
The second group, led by Youngsville and Franklin County officials, is developing plans to revitalize downtown Youngsville.
The two joined together after they each separately contacted Tom White, director of N.C. State University’s Economic Development Partnership, about how to move forward with their projects.
White pointed out the way their goals were complementary and suggested they team up. With support from others at NSCU, as well as at UNC-Chapel Hill, each group was able to hire two of graduate students for summer internships dedicated to the projects.
The groups meet regularly to discuss their work and identify common interests.
“It just seemed like there was a symmetry to their projects,” White said. “It’s great to see two communities working together.”
White said the partnership fits with a new economic development model that emphasizes collaboration across academia, business and government.
Marla Akridge, president of the Wake Forest-area chamber, said that for years business and government leaders in town have mulled the idea of starting an incubator that would help businesses grow. But they haven’t pinned down whether the incubator is necessary or feasible or what form it would take.
Those are the questions the graduate students will try to answer this summer by combing through data, interviewing local stakeholders and surveying the broader community.
The students’ early findings indicate Wake Forest may be best suited with a niche incubator, such as one that focuses on the defense industry, Akridge said.
To help guide their work in Youngsville, the graduate students there held a community meeting to find out what kinds of improvements residents would like to see in downtown. They’re also studying specific areas for improvement such as pedestrian access, traffic improvement and business development.
Sam Hardwick, the mayor of Youngsville, said the summer project is an important part of maintaining the momentum for improving downtown.
“I’m extremely pleased with the direction that they’re going,” he said.