by Brian Clarey, Eric Ginsburg, Jordan Green and Daniel Wirtheim
It’s a simple fact: Small cities like ours, with populations below 300,000, are invisible. Plano, Texas. Fort Wayne, Ind. Gilbert, Ariz. This is the company we keep in terms of population.
But more than 1.6 million souls call the Piedmont Triad home, the 33rd largest metro area in the country, sandwiched by the Jacksonville, Fla. area and Virginia Beach, and just a few hundred thou behind the Triangle.
That most of the world thinks the word “Triad” refers to a transnational Asian criminal operation — drugs, counterfeiting, trafficking, extortion, a little white-collar fraud, the whole deal — is another matter entirely.
The point is that our cities are tied together by more than geography, that our fates are entwined. Winston-Salem wouldn’t be Winston-Salem without Greensboro just a piece down the road. And the biannual furniture markets in High Point, the Third City, are the two most important events in the state in terms of economic activity and longevity. It may not be enough to entice people to live there, but the Furniture City brings a lot of heft to the table.
Strange, then, that we are not all citizens of the Triad. But for now, the mantle goes out only to a select few: those who make their home in more than one of our big cities, able to leap Business 40 in a single bound.
And this much is true: There are more of us every year.
Lina Fleihan Urmos: Food-truck traveler
Lives in: Greensboro
Travels to: Winston-Salem and High Point
Owning a food truck changed everything.
Lina Fleihan Urmos spent a chunk of time — about 15 years — living in DC, New York and LA, far away from her hometown Greensboro, but she moved back around 2005. She could see the city changing on visits to see her family, and Urmos was growing tired of getting lost in huge cities. She thought that maybe here she could make a difference.
She didn’t immediately jump into the family business running Ghassan’s, but made the transition over time. And when the restaurant launched a food truck in August, she started traveling to Winston-Salem for various events, including Wake Forest football.
Urmos had some familiarity with Winston-Salem already — she attended Bishop McGuinness High School in Kernersville, among other things. And Ghassan’s already traveled to High Point for the biannual Furniture Market. But now, Urmos’ time in Winston-Salem has risen sharply thanks to the truck.
“I think we’re really lucky to have the Triad here because we’re not only having to focus on Greensboro,” she said. “We can tap into High Point and Winston-Salem and I don’t think a lot of other cities have that ability.”
But it isn’t just convenient for business; Urmos said she’s started spending more time in downtown Winston-Salem, frequenting places like Tate’s, Single Brothers and Ziggy’s.
“It’s nice to get a change,” she said.
Kendall Doub: Itinerant muralist
Lives in: Winston-Salem
Travels to: Greensboro and High Point
Muralist Kendall Doub wants to spread his “artistic fairy dust” as far as he can. Lately, that’s meant increasingly frequent trips from Winston-Salem to Greensboro.
Doub kicked off 2016 by beginning a new mural in downtown Greensboro, one that picks up a visual thread he started with a painting of a cardinal in High Point in mid-2014. He’s been working with Jeff Beck, one of the folks behind the new Urban Grinders coffee shop and art gallery, and idea man Ryan Saunders on the duo’s No Blank Walls project. The one Doub began this week will be his third in Greensboro, including an installation inside Urban Grinders that Beck originally planned to be temporary but that everyone liked too much to scrap.
Doub is actively involved in the arts scene in Winston-Salem, leaving his mark on numerous walls including a section along the edge of the new Artivity on the Green art park downtown.
“Winston seems to be really leading the way in that regard, but Greensboro is starting to catch up and there’s a lot of kinetic energy there,” Doub said.
He’s hopeful that High Point — which he described as more conservative and cautious — will start to see the benefit of public art and murals once it’s demonstrated in both other Triad cities.
Artists, Doub said, are the most likely to bridge divides between the area’s urban centers, recognizing the potential of nascent cities that can be molded “like a pile of wet clay.” He just hopes that others follow that lead.
Joy Cook: Inter-city strategist
Lives in: Greensboro
Travels to: wherever
Since launching her public relations firm in 2010, Joy Cook has looked beyond Greensboro to build her client base.
Doing business in each city in the Triad means navigating unique social and professional networks that are sometimes difficult for an outsider to break into.
Building from her home base, Cook volunteered on the UNCG Alumni Association Board of Directors and helped found the Spartan Legislative Network, while also serving on the Guilford College Board of Visitors.
She expanded her client base in Winston-Salem and High Point around 2012 and 2013. Joining the North Carolina chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, which held its yearly kickoff meeting in Winston-Salem, and attending graduate school at High Point University were critical steps. Cook managed Bernita Sims’ successful mayoral candidacy in High Point in 2012, following suit with DD Adams’ successful reelection campaign to Winston-Salem City Council in 2013.
“Once I started working with Bernita and DD, it definitely opened up more opportunities,” she said. Cook also worked on LaWana Mayfield’s successful campaign for Charlotte City Council, and is managing Adams’ reelection campaign in Winston-Salem again this year.
Expanding her public relations practice into politics is a natural move for Cook, who graduated from the NC Institute of Political Leadership in 2012. Her interest in politics also manifested in organizing candidate forums through the Spartan Legislative Network in 2011 and 2013.
“In my public-relations work I’m organically transformed into a strategist,” Cook said. “It takes real strategy to work. In DD’s case, she was up against pretty solid tea party opposition. There’s a very thin line between public relations and political strategy. It was telling the stories of DD’s work; her story is much bigger than what is going on with Herbalife. It’s about making sure their social media reflected who [the candidates] are. And it’s also about making sure they’re accessible to their constituents.”
Working with Adams, an inveterate networker who is active in her sorority and who enjoys a statewide political profile thanks to attending the 2012 Democratic National Convention as a delegate, opened a lot of doors for Cook.
“DD introduced me to her network,” Cook recalled. “It was smooth sailing after that.”
Cook wound up facilitating a training session for the Alliance of North Carolina Black Elected Officials, thanks for Adams’ introduction.
“She has been instrumental in helping some other politicians understand social media strategies for constituent engagement,” Cook said. “She has connected me with these organizations that have supported my business and become customers.”
Much of the Cook’s front-end work with clients takes place online, but at some point she usually ends up meeting them face to face. She either commutes to see them or they come to her office. The geographical distance is the least significant of the barriers between the three cities.
“I’ve been fortunate: My whole career at UNCG I commuted from Mebane,” Cook said. “Being in Greensboro is exciting; everything’s 30 minutes away, so it’s not a big deal.”