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Zach Blizard: Research keeps this millennial in Winston-Salem

Zach Blizard: Research keeps this millennial in Winston-Salem

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For years, Winston-Salem leaders have talked about the need to keep native millennials here while also attracting new ones. I’m nearly 30 years old, with most of those years spent right here in Forsyth County. I’ve chosen to stay here, even though an hour or so east is a major hub for innovative social science research, the Research Triangle.

For sure, the opportunities there are attractive and alluring. Many of my classmates from graduate school are working there now. However, the reason I stay is that, here in Winston-Salem, many people and organizations are dedicating substantial resources to understanding the challenges facing this community, while offering and researching innovative solutions to them. Hence, Winston-Salem offers a lot for millennials like me, especially those with a data research background: the opportunity to tackle real challenges using quantitative methods and the opportunity to potentially solve real-world challenges affecting our own community.

No county, city or community in the United States is without challenges. Often times, certain challenges are commonly felt regardless of where in the country one looks. Winston-Salem is no exception. Like so many other cities in the U.S., Winston-Salem is facing challenges related to poverty, education outcomes and student performance and transportation. That being said, Winston-Salem and Forsyth County sorely stand out regarding one particular challenge, that being its very low upward economic mobility rates. According to some relevant estimates, escaping poverty here is harder than nearly anywhere else in the country. This is obviously a huge challenge, because it cuts at the heart of the American Dream.

However, there are reasons to be hopeful, because many companies, organizations and members of local government are working to understand and address this issue using innovative approaches, with Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) helping to lead the charge.

As the CSEM research manager, I have had the opportunity to research the public transportation system, with our work contributing to The Winston-Salem Foundation’s decision to set up an ongoing series of grants to local groups tackling transportation challenges. Moreover, we have worked with Forsyth Technical Community College on research that may well lead to improved public transportation for its students, which will hopefully improve education outcomes among them. We also have measured the outcomes associated with Forsyth County’s decadeslong-running first-time homeownership program, confirming its significant economic benefits to the county as it helps its clients become homeowners for the first time. These are just a few of the projects we have completed or are working on, which have all involved the analyses of data and the promotion of innovative solutions to some specific issues currently faced by residents in our own county.

As a young analyst and resident, it has been exciting to see so many members of the community focus on solving problems directly or indirectly related to economic mobility. Understanding why upward mobility is so low here is difficult, because there are innumerable factors undoubtedly contributing to it, such as those related to the public transportation system, education and homeownership. Indeed, it is a daunting task. There are many reasons for optimism, however, because so many people and organizations throughout the community are dedicated to taking on the challenge, or at least a part of it.

These are just a few reasons why this native millennial is happy to be here, working on complex problems, toward solutions that could beneficially impact my community.

Zach Blizard can be reached at blizardzd@wssu.edu. For more information about CSEM, visit www.wssu.edu/csem.

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