Upgrades add to quality of life for businesses and residents
Wilkes County is ideal for living and as a home base for travel, with numerous amenities that give it easy access for business and recreation.
“As far as infrastructure assets, Interstate 77 is only 20 minutes to our east while I-40 is only 40 minutes to the south,â€ says Eddie Barnes, Wilkes County planning director. “Wilkes also has U.S. highways and state highways along with an excellent general aviation airport.â€
Those highways are U.S. 21, U.S. 421 and North Carolina Highways 16, 18, 115 and 268, and new construction for a road with direct access to Wilkes County Airport is in the works. Adjacent to the airport is Wilkes County Business Airpark, which has a new construction pad and infrastructure in place to welcome new businesses.
“There are several road projects being planned in Wilkes County for the future,â€ Barnes says. “We offer good proximity for businesses as well as easy drive times for leisure travelers who want to enjoy beaches and the mountains.â€
Money Well Spent
Infrastructure also plays a key role in helping existing companies expand their operations in Wilkes County. Tyson Foods recently invested $14 million to renovate one of its existing chicken processing buildings, and the Town of Wilkesboro constructed a $1.9 million clarifier (a settling tank to continuously remove solids) at the Wilkesboro Wastewater Treatment Plant to support the expansion.
Another success story is the Wilkes Economic Development Corp.’s purchase of 4.1 acres at Stokes Street and Industrial Drive in Wilkesboro, with a goal of selling the property to Jenkins Millwork, which manufactures millwork products used for doors, windows and frames for the building supply industry.
“Jenkins Millwork had operated in an older Wilkesboro facility since 2012 and wanted to construct a new building, so we suggested the new site and they were pleased with everything about it,â€ says Dan Little, president of Wilkes Economic Development Corporation. “They might have moved out of Wilkes if this property wasn’t available, so we kept the company here along with their 52 retained jobs and 10 eventual new ones.â€
Little says another major infrastructure project was the recent expansion of Highway 268 East into four lanes.
“This is a heavily, heavily traveled road that has always been single-lane from North Wilkesboro all the way into Elkin, so making it four lanes is a huge upgrade,â€ he says. “We’re also looking into converting about 2.5 miles of U.S. 421 in western Wilkesboro into a ‘superstreet’ with widened areas and easier turning options for motorists.â€
Little adds that other significant area projects include North Wilkesboro extending sewer service to accommodate areas along NC Highway 115, and the county is in the process of installing sewer service to Mulberry Elementary School in North Wilkesboro.
Green Light for Greenway
Another construction effort in Wilkes is a Block 46 Project to redevelop a former 29-acre American-Drew furniture manufacturing complex in downtown North Wilkesboro. Yet another initiative is to continue development along the Yadkin River Greenway.
“The Greenway is now a 9.2-mile-long scenic trail from Kerr Scott Dam in Wilkesboro to Smoot Park in North Wilkesboro, and it’s perfect for walking and bicycling,â€ says R.G. Absher, Yadkin River Greenway executive director. “It is open year round from sunup to sundown, and there are always plans in the works to continue building the trail system.â€
One key part of the trail was completed in 2018 – a section connecting to Wilkes Community College and an existing Mulberry Creek trail.
“That is a high-use section because it connects from the Wilkes Family YMCA all the way to the community college, and it allows access to Lowe’s Park at River Edge,â€ Absher says. “We have studied the cities of Chattanooga and Little Rock that have great greenway systems in place, and that’s what we are trying to achieve here. We want a really fine trail system for the Wilkes County community.â€