Youngest Greensboro city council member uses energy to drive change

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- “One district. One Community. One Greensboro.”  That’s Jamal Fox’s rallying cry for turning around what has traditionally been one of the Piedmont-Triad’s struggling areas.

Fox is the youngest person ever elected to the Greensboro City Council. At 28, he’s still the youngest person on that board. He’s using that youthful energy as a leader of a driving force behind some tangible change.

“For so long District 2 and Northeast Greensboro has been on the menu, we haven’t been on the table,” he said. “And so now it’s time for us to really reap the benefits of all the opportunities we’re seeing.”

And for the more than 55,000 people who live in this district, these opportunities have been a long-time coming.

Built around  what were some of the largest Cone Mills textile factories, this community has gone the way of that industry. Poverty, unemployment and crime have been constants and still are.

But inside Cone’s former Revolution Mill, you won’t hear much talk of the past from Fox. “It’s important because it actually makes this a destination for people to go,” he said referring to the $100 million investment and work currently underway to turn the mill complex into apartments, office space, art galleries, restaurants and shops.

“This is the anchor to a lot of things that are going to happen in this district and across the city.”

A few miles away, the Renaissance Plaza project is turning a dilapidated shopping center into a restaurant, health care center, community space and, in an area where the big commercial grocery  chains have avoided, a community-run grocery store.

“Now they’re going to have a co-op run by the community and individuals working there at the co-op are hired from our community which is so awesome—at $10, $11, $12 an hour,” he said.

The co-op is set to open by this fall. Also set to be fully operational by this fall, NFI Distribution, a logistics company that’s moving into what used to be the K-Mart Distribution Center off East Wendover. It could hire as many as 100 people.

When I asked him what it would take to bring more projects like these into the area, his answer was simple: “Faith. Hope. Coming  together. You know, our motto, ‘One District.’”

It will take a lot of that to address some of District 2’s big challenges. Violent and property crimes are up. Public transportation routes haven’t changed in years. There’s not enough affordable housing. But you can link much of this to one thing: economic development.

Fox says he’s spending a lot of time himself recruiting potential new businesses.

“If you’re looking for a place to live, work, play and invest, if you’re looking for a place to grow, this is the district to do it in,” he said. “These opportunities are just scratching the surface. We’re not even where we ought to be and where we can be.”

For more information on Jamal Fox’s priorities, visit http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx?page=103