Each year, the Chamber organizes this event, hosted by North Ridge Country Club, where we hear from Raleigh’s mayor and the chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners. They both deliver an address and then we bring in the city manager and county manager so all four can participate in a panel discussion.
The State of the County
Wake County Commission Chair Jessica Holmes delivered the first address, discussing how Wake County is a county of inclusion.
“We’re growing by 63 people a day,” she said. “They’re moving from Virginia, New York, California, and internationally as well from places such as India. We embrace diversity.”
Holmes said the number of new or expanding companies that want to call Wake County home “is a testament to our forward thinking and innovative leadership. Companies know that we’re open for business.”
Within Wake County government and operations, Holmes said there are more than four thousand employees. She discussed the importance of the county’s paid parental leave program and living wage policy.
“As of right now, every single Wake County employee makes enough to make ends meet with our living wage policy (at least $15 an hour),” said Holmes. “As companies move and expand to Wake County, they need to know that we support our business community to tout paid parental leave and living wage policy.”
She also discussed challenges she sees in the community, including the need for expanded pre-K and housing affordability. Holmes referenced the Chamber’s Inter-City Visit and Leadership Conference in Seattle, which took place in April.
“The average median price of a house in Seattle is about $820,000 – 830,000,” she said. “Each and every one of you should care because I don’t know many people in this community can afford a house like that right now.”
Holmes talked about the county’s $15 million funding commitment in the budget to address affordable housing needs. “The vast majority of those funds are going to creating housing stock,” she said. “We’re creating opportunities.”
She also encouraged Wake County residents to vote “yes” on bonds that will be on the ballot in November. The bonds include a $548 million Wake County Public Schools bond, a $349 million Wake Technical Community College bond, and a $120 Wake County Parks and Open Space bond.
Specific to the education bond, Holmes said, “We are birthing the equivalent of a new kindergarten class every day. We need to break ground and build schools at unprecedented levels.” She discussed how the bond will help the school system continue its success and remain a key economic driver for success in the county.
The State of the City
Then, we turned our attention to The State of the City, hearing from Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.
“The state of Raleigh’s economy is strong and growing,” she said. “In fiscal year 2018, 50 counties announced new or expanding operations.”
McFarlane talked about continued investments in road infrastructure and the recent opening of Raleigh’s new Union Station. “Union Station is a gateway to downtown, a doorway to downtown,” she said. “It’s going to be a very active part of the city. When the city does this kind of investment, the private economic development comes with it.”
She discussed our city’s thriving tourism industry and how there are 3.4 million visitors a year to downtown Raleigh.
On affordable housing, McFarlane said it is something the city must continue to address with its partners. “Just being able to live in the city is key,” she said. “We passed $22 million in support of affordable housing projects. If you hear someone say Raleigh is not addressing affordable housing, just look at them and say that’s not true.”
McFarlane also echoed the affordable housing challenges that must be met with continued growth in our region. “It’s supply and demand,” she said. “The more people who move here, it’s going to get more expensive.”
The mayor told audience members about Raleigh’s investments in resources for public utilities, including a $139 million investment in the next fiscal year.
Our event concluded with a panel discussion including Holmes and McFarlane, along with Wake County Manager David Ellis and Raleigh City Manager Ruffin Hall. Tisha Powell, anchor of ABC-11 Eyewitness News (WTVD), moderated the discussion.
McFarlane talked about how she was excited to see such an explosion of the arts and culture in the city in the last 10 years. There also was an audience question about the sunflowers that were planted at Dorothea Dix park.
“We had so many people come on Saturday, 15,000 people on Saturday,” said McFarlane. “We had people coming from all over the state.”
Part of the discussion also focused on workforce development. Ellis talked about it needing to be a continued focus for Wake County.
“We still have a number of folks who aren’t able to tap into this new economy,” he said.
Thanks for Making Our Event a Success
We are thrilled to be able to bring such an important event to the business community. As business leaders, it is critical to be able to stay informed about events taking place at the local government level as many of these policies and decisions impact the business community.
Thank you to our panelists and to our moderator for providing us their insight. Also, we want to thank all of our sponsors for making this event possible.
The State of the City and County got a lot of interest from the community. Several news crews were there to cover it and our official hashtag, #ChamberSOCC18, was the top trending topic on Twitter in Raleigh for much of the day.
We encourage you to join us on Aug. 14 at the Healthcare Forum for a key discussion with executives from Duke Raleigh Hospital, UNC REX Healthcare, and WakeMed Health & Hospitals about the future of healthcare in the Triangle.