WILSON, N.C. — On Friday morning, Oct. 24, the Wilson/Barton Think Tank: Foundational Policy Research for the Future will convene on the campus of Barton College to introduce the new organization and to present its inaugural panel discussion for leaders in the Wilson community, focusing on the question “Will Wilson’s economy flourish in the future?” The distinguished presenters will include Enrico Moretti, author of “The New Geography of Jobs” and professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He will describe what communities will need to be successful in the future. Joining Moretti will be Ted Abernathy, managing partner of Economic Leadership, LLC, who will discuss the Southeast and North Carolina’s potential; and Bob Geolas, president and chief executive officer of the Research Triangle Foundation, who will describe the new RTP vision and how it relates to Wilson.
The Wilson/Barton Think Tank, a partnership between Barton College, the Wilson Economic Development Council, and Wilson on the Move, has been established for the purpose of connecting local, regional and national business leaders to provide a variety of perspectives on the United States, North Carolina, and Wilson County economies with an emphasis on future economic trends. “Wilson is fortunate to have the intellectual capital, a strong sense of partnership, and the will to confront the challenges facing our community,” noted Jennifer Lantz, executive director of the Wilson Economic Development Council. “The Wilson/Barton Think Tank will provide the synergy and research our community needs to make impactful decisions for our economy.”
This event, to be held from 7 a.m. – 9:45 a.m., will include breakfast on center campus and the panel presentation in the Kennedy Family Theatre at Barton College. Open to the public at $25 per person, reservations and payment are required by Thursday, Oct. 16. Seating is limited. For additional information about reservations, please contact Carol Bowen, Wilson on the Move, at 252-237-1115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Think Tank will provide policy research and information on key economic questions that impact the region. Activities will include: convening to develop key research questions, carrying out research that addresses and tests the viability of various economic policies, and sharing the findings with local, regional and national stakeholders as appropriate. Barton College’s students and faculty will work with community members to complete the research.
The Think Tank will build off of Wilson’s natural, financial, cultural, intellectual, and human capital. “Wilson has a long history of adapting and innovating in the face of economic change,” explained Dr. Gary Daynes, provost/vice president for academic affairs and interim vice president for external relations. “The Wilson/Barton Think Tank aims to continue that history by carrying out research that helps the community chart the future course of its economy. We believe that the Think Tank’s work will provide policy makers, business leaders, and the community with the ideas they need to continue Wilson’s positive economic trajectory. And, by involving students in the research, the Think Tank ensures that young people develop the analytical and communication skills necessary to become economic leaders themselves.”
An Advisory Council, made up of local, regional, and national leaders, will guide the work of the Wilson/Barton Think Tank. The Advisory Council will convene twice a year—once to identify the key questions that need to be investigated and once to discuss and assess the findings of these endeavors. In between, members of the Advisory Council members may be asked to collaborate with students, faculty, and the staff of the Think Tank to ensure the advancement of their efforts. The Advisory Council will also work with the staff of the Think Tank to raise its visibility and disseminate its findings.
The three presenters for the Wilson/Barton Think Tank’s inaugural panel discussion bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the program. As influential economists, they have been lauded regionally and nationally for their forward-thinking, innovative initiatives.
Moretti is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and the M. Peevey and D. Vial Career Development Chair in Labor Economics. He serves as the director of the Infrastructure and Urbanization Program at the International Growth Centre, London School of Economics. He was the first winner of the IZA Young Labor Economist Award, and received the Carlo Alberto Medal for his outstanding research contributions to the field of Economics.
His book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” is described as an arresting look at the drastic changes in employment and opportunity in America. It’s a presentation of what [Moretti] calls “The Great Divergence”: an ever-widening split between regions that flourish and regions that fail. This split has always existed. But it’s bigger now than it’s been in a century. As American manufacturing jobs shifted overseas, innovation and creativity became the drivers of American prosperity. But education and innovation cluster together more than any other industry. The handful of cities with the “right” industries, well-educated grads, and skilled workers attract more of the same; cities with the “wrong” industries and limited human capital are stuck with dead-end jobs and low average wages. Life gets better and better — or keeps on getting worse. This split shows up in life expectancy, divorce rates, crime rates, and political clout of communities. “The New Geography of Jobs” explains the forces that shape this trend and looks at how “The Great Divergence” will shape America’s long-term prosperity.
A native of North Carolina, Abernathy earned undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Johns Hopkins University, respectively. He is a graduate of the Economic Development Institute and is an Eisenhower Fellow for global economics. The focus of his 34-year economic development career has included work for cities, counties, regions and the private sector.
In 2013, he became the economic development policy advisor to the Southern Governors Association, where he is developing a new research policy agenda for southern states and leading a public input process for reimagining higher education. The same year, he also launched a new economic consultancy, Economic Leadership LLC, that focuses on information curation, and enthusiastically helps places, organizations, and leaders be more competitive, more collaborative, and more successful. His first major projects include developing new economic strategies for North Carolina, Arkansas, and Missouri, and developing regional economic and workforce plans in Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Economic Leadership is also involved in strategic plans for various organizations including airports, colleges, non-profits groups, and businesses.
For the past five years, he was the executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, a 42-year old public policy think tank that provides economic development research, strategy and marketing advice, to states and communities across the South. He coauthored Southern Growth’s most recent report titled “Reimagining Workforce.” Before coming to Southern Growth, Abernathy was a practicing economic developer for 28 years. Most recently, he served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Research Triangle Regional Partnership where he was in charge of developing economic and cluster strategies and implementing all marketing efforts.
As president and chief executive officer of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina since 2011, Geolas coordinates RTP initiatives and efforts to ensure the Park remains at the forefront of technology and applied science. He leads the Foundation in achieving its mission of creating opportunities for all of North Carolina by repositioning RTP to respond to new realities and re-inventing itself to meet the demands of the 21st Century.
Geolas brings more than 20 years of experience to RTP and has a proven track record of leveraging world-class education, research and business activities. Prior to being named president and CEO of the Foundation, he most recently served as executive director of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) and associate vice president for economic development at Clemson University. Joining CU-ICAR in 2004, he brought the concept for developing a research campus around a particular niche in the marketplace to reality. Under his direction, the 250-acre research park generated nearly $250 million in investments and $500 million in development, creating more than 2,300 new high-wage jobs and over 760,000 square feet on site, with another 332,000 square feet in process.
Prior to CU-ICAR, Geolas led North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus and Centennial Biomedical Campus. During his tenure there, he directed campus operations, integrated residential and a magnet middle school into the park, and coordinated development of over 1.48 million square feet of space (in 17 existing buildings and eight additional buildings in construction or design) that provided space to 60 private and government organizations employing more than 1,500 employees.