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Innovation abounds in Winston-Salem 

by Jessica Wells, League Communications Specialist

The League’s annual conference, CityVision 2015: Ignition!, is known as the best event of the year for municipal networking and education, but it’s also a great opportunity for exploring other cities. When you attend the League’s conference, you have the key to the host city, which opens doors for private events and tours.

This year in Winston-Salem, you can take part in a mobile workshop to see how the city has transformed its economic base to support a new industry and brand: The City of Arts and Innovation.

"We’re very proud of our city and shifting our economic base from one of manufacturing to one of knowledge companies such as finance, medicine, technology and the arts," Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said. "We’re very excited about the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, one of the nation’s largest urban research parks and home to world-leading research in regenerative medicine."

The Quarter is located on 150 developable acres adjacent to downtown Winston-Salem and Wake Forest University. More than 50 businesses in biomedicine, information technology, materials sciences and clinical services fill 2.5 million square feet of redeveloped tobacco factories, manufacturing warehouses and new construction leaving no vacancies for more businesses.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Chief Innovation Officer and Innovation Quarter President Dr. Eric Tomlinson said there were about 700 employees working in the Quarter when he became president in 2012. Now there are 3,000 employees, and he said they plan to double the occupied space to accommodate more.

"It’s remarkable growth," Tomlinson said. "We’ve created a very vibrant place, which has led to community and certainly an increased likelihood of these companies growing and staying in Winston-Salem."

This $650-million project is a representation of public-private partnerships at every level. The Quarter was built from financial and political partnerships with city, county, state and federal governments that created a business friendly environment and provided Historic Preservation Tax Credits, which allowed investors to redeveloped unused factories and warehouses.

"I think the most important aspect of development was the availability of the Historic Preservation Tax Credits that enabled investors and developers to invest in the city," Tomlinson said. "Without those I don’t think that investment would’ve taken place."

Other support came from investors like Wexford Science and Technology that put hundreds of millions of dollars into the Quarter. Wexford is a real estate investment and development company that meets the growing and specialized facilities needs of for-profit and not-for-profit institutions, including universities, university-related research parks and healthcare systems to create vibrant, mixed-use, amenity-rich environments where innovation thrives.

For the Innovation Quarter, Wexford developed Biotech Place, a state-of-the-art research and lab facility; 525@Vine, a research facility giving start-up companies the collaborative resources including a café, fitness center, and rails-to-trails access; and the Inmar Headquarters that houses more than 900 employees.

"Wexford has been one of our most influential partners in economy shaping, placemaking and network building," Tomlinson said. "When Wake Forest began to develop the Quarter, we were working in a disused tobacco neighborhood, and nobody was interested. It’s been our responsibility to reach out to the community and respond to their needs."

According to Tomlinson, community is crucial. He estimated about 1,000 people live in or close to the Quarter, so having inspirational spaces to hold community events helps bring people in and connect them to their mission.

"You need to be able to create a space where a community will develop," Tomlinson said. "We’re at a stage where we’re ready to go to the next level, and that means companies coming in. We have a lot of residential and recreation activities, but we’re missing a lot of the support for residents like restaurants and stores, but that will happen."

And how does that happen?

"Invite them in. Show them what’s here. Activate the space and develop and publicly accessible park. Put on concerts, bicycle races, movies, food, wine, networking, educational lectures, TED Talks, it goes on and on," Tomlinson said.

As most community leaders do, he is frequently talking to community groups ranging from the chamber of commerce to the local gardening club and inviting them to participate in the rich programming the Quarter offers – and whether you’re building a $650-million facility or a community garden, it’s those relationships that make your space successful.

"We are embedded in the community, and it’s embedded in us, and that’s one of the strong points of Winston-Salem actually," Tomlinson said. "It’s not that big of a city, but it’s very aligned and very connected."

For more information about CityVision 2015: Ignition! and other events to look forward to in Winston-Salem, visit