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First in Future: City of Wilson Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz, with IEI Policy Manager Sarah Langer Hall

Summary:  At the Emerging Issues Forum on Innovation a couple of years ago, one of the clear findings was that outside of the Triangle and Charlotte, there wasn’t a really a fully developed structure in other cities and towns in North Carolina, to nurture people who wanted to start new, innovative businesses – we hadn’t built an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

After the Forum, Anita Brown-Graham, the long-time head of the Institute for Emerging Issues, and Forward Communities CEO Christopher Gergen came up with an idea to jumpstart innovation nodes in other parts of the state. Eighteen communities applied to be part of the effort, and in the end, only five were selected.

For the past two years, those cities—Greensboro, Asheville, Wilmington/Carolina Coast, Wilson and Pembroke—have all formed local teams. They have been meeting together regularly to share ideas to figure out how to build off of local assets so that a more diversity of people in those communities are creating businesses, and so that once those businesses get launched, they can get the kind of support they need to be successful.

Each of the communities have developed a plan for going forward, and they want to help other communities. With the support of RTI International, the NC Department of Commerce’s Office of Science, Technology & Innovation, Forward Communities, and the Institute for Emerging Issues, they’ve applied some of their learnings to a tool that other communities can use to assess what they have, and begin the process of figuring out to get more innovative. Visit to download the tool, and put it to work in your town or community. This week, we talk with Rodger Lentz, City of Wilson’s Chief Planning and Development Officer who heads up the innovative work that Wilson is doing, and IEI Policy Manager Sarah Langer Hall who planned and designed the InnovateNC program for IEI.

Excerpt:  “I’m a big person for measurement. If you’re not measuring, you’re not doing. And so I think the Asset Map is that tool that can help us measure progress.”

Book Recommendations:  Boundary Spanning Leadership

The Most Important Issue North Carolina needs to Address in the Future:  Income equality and opportunity

Listen to the podcast:

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