This article was written for our sponsor, Gig East

Every year, Wilson’s Gig East Exchange hosts its annual summit. The event brings innovators and thought leaders from across central and eastern North Carolina to host panels, pitches, presentations and more.

2022’s summit takes place on May 20th at the newly built Wilson Arts Center and is a much-anticipated return after COVID-induced delays affected last year’s event.

The unofficial Gig East Summit started around 2016, with small meetups at the former 217 Brewworks. Now, the event draws people from across the state.

“The point of having the summit is being able to bring people in and show them what Wilson has to offer. We’re only 45 minutes away from the Triangle, so by having this day-long event, we can attract people that are very close to our region to come in and have an opportunity to see what we have going on,” said Brittany Smith, Greenlight customer support manager.

This year’s summit kicks off with music and food trucks in Wilson’s famous Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park. The following day, the summit opens with keynote speaker Kenia Thompson, as well as a pitch competition featuring participants in the RIoT program, a 12-week accelerator for startups and businesses. The day closes out with a panel and breakout sessions.

For Thompson, the keynote will help set the tone for the rest of the summit — and Wilson itself has played a leading role in her inspiration.

“It’s an important opportunity to be in front of folks that have maybe never felt like their stories mattered, and be able to communicate that all stories matter and stories are a great way to bridge gaps and build community,” said Thompson. “Wilson is so amazing — it’s having this boom in a small city, and no one ever really expected it to move in the way that it has. It’s a reminder not to overlook people and also be reminded of what inclusivity really looks like.”

Thompson has spent the bulk of her career helping people and businesses find and tell their stories. While she started off in television news — even doing a stint at WRAL — she is now primarily focused on video storytelling and teaching, with classes in public speaking, communications and more.

Her keynote address is yet another chance for her to emphasize the importance of individual stories, and she hopes to see a wide variety of people attend the summit.

“Anytime there’s someone missing as a representative of their group or their people, then the story is never going to be whole. If you’re not there, then no one knows who you are and what you do, or the space that you cover and are an expert in,” said Thompson. “When we think about inclusivity, diversity and the true meaning of what that looks like, it’s not just black and white: it’s everything. Even if you don’t feel like you have a space, you have to create your space, and you can’t do that if you’re not there.”

The Gig East Summit recognizes the importance of bringing all backgrounds and ideas together and is hosting a panel and breakout sessions that reflect that goal. Attendees can learn about the arts from filmmaker Cat Brewer, entrepreneurship from Miles Wright of Averix Bio, technology from Raoul Chinang of Collins Aerospace and more from the many others who will be in attendance.

For Smith, the summit offers a chance to shine a spotlight on people making big changes around the community.

“It’s amazing to me how many people actually live in the city and have grown up here, but are not aware of all of the success stories happening. It’s also an opportunity for those who are not familiar with Wilson, those in the Triangle area, to come and listen to what’s going on here,” said Smith. “This year, we’re talking about a cool project with stormwater distribution downtown, we have a filmmaker from the West Coast who lives in Wilson now, we have a phytocannabinoid manufacturer, we have a session on Wilson’s RIDE micro-transit. We want to show people that we may not be a metro area, but we actually have just as much innovation and activity.”

Since the summit takes place at the Wilson Arts Center, it gives attendees and participants the chance to take advantage of all that historic Downtown Wilson has to offer.

Thompson recommends checking out the innovative space at the Gig East Exchange — which she sees as indicative of Wilson’s overall story.

“The building itself is a representation of possibilities, and it’s impressive to see the fruition of plans that may have seemed very lofty to some. Now, people are able to use the space to network and interact with one another. To me, the definition of growth is not only when we build spaces for people to come to, but when people actually come, utilize them, learn from one another and become open to meeting people whom they may have never crossed paths with before,” said Thompson. “I love being able to do what I do and educate others on the importance of awareness of their community and how their stories play a role in the bigger picture. I’m excited to be able to share my words, my thoughts and interactions with people that are really invested in the City of Wilson and the growth that’s happening.”

This article was written for our sponsor, Gig East