North Raleigh News

Wake Forest takes larger role in economic development

The town is ready to take on a larger role when it comes to economic development.

The Wake Forest Board of Commissioners voted last week to create two new positions: economic development director and economic development coordinator.

The board also agreed that a representative from the town will have a seat on the advisory board of the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce.

In Wake Forest, the chamber operates independently and handles economic development efforts to recruit new businesses. The town pays the chamber about $100,000 a year for the service.

Now, the town will take over economic development. The economic development director will work full time to recruit businesses and oversee town policy that affects business and growth. The economic development coordinator will work part time help businesses that relocate to or open in Wake Forest.

“We thought it would be appropriate to bring that operation in-house since the town is growing rapidly,” said Deputy Town Manager Roe O’Donnell.

Town leaders have continued to look for ways to build a diverse economy as more people move in. Increasing the number of businesses in Wake Forest was a major talking point for most candidates running for seats on the town board this fall.

Another priority has been rejuvenating downtown. The town recently held a design workshop to envision the potential for empty lots and buildings in the area.

Downtown’s revitalization is an example of how local government involvement can lead to continued improvements, O’Donnell said. Wake Forest Downtown, an organization that leads revitalization efforts, was absorbed into the town’s operations years ago.

By joining the Chamber of Commerce, O’Donnell said the town will reap the benefits of membership, including having a spot at local business expos. Membership will cost the town $11,000 a year, he said.

The creation of the new positions show Wake Forest is committed to economic development, said Town Manager Kip Padgett. It also lends further support to the chamber, which has seen changes recently.

Marla Ackridge left her position as the chamber’s director last month to work for the Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation in western Virginia.

Ackridge did an “excellent” job recruiting businesses to the town and helping them settle in, O’Donnell said. But he said Wake Forest has grown so much that it’s time for the town to handle such duties.

Holly Springs, Apex and Fuquay-Varina – which are similar in size to Wake Forest – have economic development positions as part of town operations.

Mechelle Hankerson: 919-829-4802, @mechelleh