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New site for business incubator: Innovation hub plans announced at Gig East tech conference

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The latest investment in downtown development was a part of the third Gig East gathering as City Manager Grant Goings announced the planned Wilson Innovation Hub would now be located at 127 Goldsboro St.

Earlier this year, officials said a $1.1 million grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation would be used in conjunction with $1.6 million from the city to renovate 121 Nash St. into the entrepreneurial epicenter. Rebecca Agner, Wilson communications and marketing director, said the renovation of the Upper Coastal Plain Business Development Center became cost-prohibitive and spurred officials to shift the plan to Goldsboro Street.

“One result of our strategic plan was the need to have a center for innovation. A place where people could come with like-minded entrepreneurs to gather, learn from each other, to have a co-working space and a home base that would represent the innovation economy in Wilson,” Goings said. “... We hope the hub will be a gathering space for events and interests in the technology sector.

“We believe that we are on the path for Wilson to become the epicenter of smart city technologies.”

Goings noted only eight North Carolina cities operate water, sewer, electric and gas utilities, but Wilson is the lone community that provides high-speed broadband and provides entrepreneurs a one-stop shop.

“We hope to take the infrastructure, the high-speed broadband capacity that we have and combine it with an environment that is very conducive for entrepreneurs and innovators to streamline the process,” he said. “And strive to be a place that has an easy path to explore and innovate with us in Wilson.”

The hub announcement was just one part of a half-day worth of presentations and discussions about the future, particularly on how evolving technologies will affect work. Keynote speaker Gary Bolles, chairman for the Future of Work at Singularity University, broke down the subject to the concept that every person has a super power that equates to work that they are good at and they enjoy.

“We’re going to have some really big changes coming,” he said. “If we make the commitment now to put all the processes in place that are going to allow us to continue to adapt in a world of exponential change and if we commit ourselves to try to help every single human be able to find great, meaningful work in the future, we’re going to be a lot better off.”

To do that, he emphasized the evolution of the education system as well as the mentality toward lifelong learning.

“Part of what we’re doing here today and what we’ve been doing for the last decade or so is trying to prepare Wilson to be a leader in the transition to the digital economy just as we have been in the agriculture and manufacturing economies,” Goings said.

One panel discussion focused on emerging technology while the second panel was moderated by Barton College Provost Gary Daynes and included Wilson Academy of Applied Technology Principal Krystal Cox. The duo, along with leaders from the public and private sector, discussed what is needed to recruit and retain talent as well as spur the creation of new businesses.

“If we want to lead the nation, we have to have the infrastructure, we have to have the policy that supports early-stage investment, we have to have long-term, patient economic development growth expectations and a willingness to say, ‘This is a public good,’” said Thom Ruhe, the CEO of N.C. Idea Foundation. “Ubiquitous broadband is a public good and a service, not something to be bartered along with states rights and economic arguments. This would be like arguing against safe roads or clean water. Until we figure that out, we’ll have subject matter experts on panels like this talking about awesome things that are happening in other states.

“We have to be instrumental in building the future we want.”

For more information on the topics discussed, the speakers and other events, visit www.gigeast.com/.

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