This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.

The unique infrastructure of resources, access, opportunity, and people within the Town of Wake Forest is shaping its identity and fueling an ecosystem of innovation.

For municipalities, infrastructure plays an important role not only in practical application, but also for its ability to give geographic areas a distinct sense of place and personality. Infrastructure is not just buildings and roads — it’s also telecommunication, power supply, commodities and services that sustain or enhance municipal living conditions, and an environment that lends itself to a distinct business culture and way of life. Put simply, infrastructure is a major reason why the various towns and cities within the Triangle “feel” different from each other.

“Roads and power lines and pipes are obvious necessities for any community’s infrastructure,” said Jason Cannon, president of the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership. “For a thriving, opportunistic community like Wake Forest, however, something more is demanded. Those places that stand out and empower their people are characterized by top-tier local culture and quality of life amenities, entrepreneurial and business networks, abundant high-speed fiber access, hubs for unique research and development like the Wireless Research Center, and the list goes on. In Wake Forest, given the diversity of growth happening here, I see those elements plus more — what we refer to as our ‘innovation infrastructure.'”

In recent years, Wake Forest has made strategic efforts to maintain its integrity by preserving its small-town charm while simultaneously implementing economic development initiatives that position the Town for further growth and success.

This “innovation infrastructure” is a key element to Wake Forest’s strategy. It includes the Town developing its own high-speed fiber optic network, implementation of downtown Smart City initiatives, expansion of its greenway system, cultivating a system of business mentorship, working towards greater regional accessibility, empowering the highly-educated human capital found in the community, and more.

“These seen and unseen elements of Wake Forest’s ‘innovation infrastructure’ are providing an ecosystem where businesses of all sizes can find direct pathways to success through an abundance of tangible and cultural resources for growth, access, and success,” said Cannon. “We’ve realized the marketability of this unique infrastructure as we’ve grown to understand the benefits of being a business in Wake Forest. As a result, we’re now making this ecosystem a significant part of our own marketing efforts.”

One exciting infrastructural undertaking of the Town is its creation and implementation of a high-speed fiber optic network, which has become a necessity for companies based in Wake Forest as the tech community grows. With the fiber network and partnerships with private partners like Ting Internet, businesses and residents will have access to high-speed internet that’s become expected to sustain such a thriving tech environment.

“We’ve recently kicked off our fiber infrastructure project laying approximately 20 to 25 miles of fiber around our corporate limits to connect all of our remote locations. This addition will dramatically help improve our core services that we provide to these locations,” said Tom LaBarge, the recently retired chief information officer for the Town of Wake Forest who led much of the initial development of the Town’s fiber expansion.

Adam Oates, the current CIO for the Town, said a fiber optic network is the “backbone of any smart city” and will open the Town up to opportunities like smart lighting, more traffic cameras and sensors, and other smart city initiatives.

“Prior to this fiber network we already had some smart city initiatives going such as smart trash cans in park locations and smart electric meters that we use for real time metering for our power customers. Additionally we have electric field charging stations around town already,” said LaBarge. “With the fiber infrastructure, this will serve to increase speeds and capabilities.”

In Wake Forest, greenways are a big deal and these are another element of the town’s evolving infrastructure that lends itself to innovation. Yes, they’re beautiful and a great way to get your steps in, but they’re also an essential part of Wake Forest’s landscape.

“Local navigability and regional access is a necessity for a community with a population boom of more than 232 percent in the past two decades,” states “In addition to strategic roadway design, Wake Forest uniquely merges the need for navigability with quality of life through an ever expanding greenway network. With over 50 miles of greenways, it is commonplace for residents to use these unique forms of connectivity to get around Wake Forest for living, working, and playing. Greenway corridors planned for the future are prioritized to meet economic and transportation objectives of the Town, welcoming greater quality of life experience into local commutes.”

Resident David McWilliams, CEO and founder of Sugar Maple Interactive, a custom software development company based in Wake Forest, is a frequent user of the greenway system.

Prior to moving his business out of downtown Wake Forest, McWilliams was commuting to work via the greenway system almost daily. Walking took about 30 minutes and biking took him roughly 10 minutes.

“It all comes down to quality of life. Living in Wake Forest, driving into Raleigh every morning is not something that I would enjoy doing. I’ve got kids. I want to see them instead of sitting in a car between here and downtown Raleigh,” said McWilliams. “I see Wake Forest trying to put in infrastructure to upkeep the quality of life where residents can enjoy the town, but also focusing on things like being able to work and live in the same community.”

McWilliams is also part of what is arguably Wake Forest’s strongest asset — its highly educated population, which lends itself to a sophisticated workforce. More than 54 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher and the percentage of Wake Forest residents working in professional, scientific, management, and administrative services is significantly higher than most municipalities.

“The capabilities of the workforce here gives powerful credence to the success to be discovered by new businesses starting or relocating to the community,” states

As the town continues to see a population and culture that is pivoting from bedroom community to a booming center of opportunity, its innovation infrastructure is providing Wake Forest a unique edge. Looking ahead, plans are afoot for more economic development and expansion, including a state-of-the-art, 200-acre tech park that will be the first of its kind in northern Wake County.

“The town is extending the streetscapes in downtown Wake Forest so there’s more of an urban core, ” said McWilliams. “They’re definitely laying the groundwork for more development at the core of the town, which hopefully should spur more business. The groundwork is also being laid so that the town will have the kind of commercial office space available to keep (and attract) businesses in Wake Forest where we live and where our kids go to school.”

“I’m excited to see what great ideas and innovations grow from this community in the future,” said Cannon. “We don’t just have an expanding, innovative resource base to help businesses start, grow, and thrive, but we also have the types of people here who seem to couple opportunity and great ideas and turn them into beautiful success stories. There’s so much potential in this place.”

This story was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership.