The 2016 election season will not be the first time Elkin resident John Worth Wiles has had his name on the ballot, but it will be the first time he’s run for Elkin town commissioner.
In 2014, the now-36-year-old who serves at the Surry County Democratic Party chairman ran for the North Carolina House of Representatives against Sarah Stevens, the Republican who won the seat.
“I think most people realize I was born and raised here. A lot of people know my family,” said Wiles. “I was alive long enough to remember the end of the boon times when Chatham was letting out and it would fill downtown.”
He said the textile and manufacturers leaving Elkin has left “nothing in the way of steady, reliable jobs anymore” in town.
Through his “varied experiences,” Wiles said he’s worked as his own boss, run his own company, worked in large and small companies, for for-profit and nonprofit operations, he’s “done a fair bit of traveling and seen towns keep moving no matter what has happened.”
“It makes me said our biggest export right now are our kids. Most of my graduating class moved away,” he said of the ongoing trend of youth leaving to find education and employment. “I’m the standout, because I have a pretty good career and because I can do my job anywhere I have internet access.
“I made a conscientious effort to stay in Elkin, to raise my kids here. I ensured to set up a life for them so they know they don’t have to stay here after they graduate,” Wiles said.
One reason he chose to put his hat in the ring for one of the two commissioners seats up for grabs this election year is, “something I’m not seeing from any of the boards is an effort to bring new residents here who bring capital here.”
Wiles said, “Not retirees, but people who can work remotely or live here and travel. We need to bring in capital to weather the storms because tourism is extremely susceptible to market changes and turns.”
The area is attractive and should draw people in. “In my own experience, what makes Elkin great is the small-town atmosphere with a great school system and people with lots of different viewpoints,” he said.
Politics is a topic Wiles said he has been interested in for many years. “I got interested when I was 20, and the company I worked for went down to lobby in Raleigh. The legislators don’t write bills, corporate attorneys write bills.
“I’ve wanted to be a voice for everyone. These companies have money to have attorneys fight for them, but the normal Joe is too worried about everyday bills and needs to afford that,” he said.
As far as his focus on Elkin, Wiles said, “The town board is not that controversial, but we need people who care and people with knowledge of institutions outside of Elkin and can bring growth to the area.”
Wiles, who is employed as an integration engineer, making sure all software and computer systems are working together, for IntegraMed Fertility America, has volunteered with the Yadkin Valley Wine Festival for the past 10 years and has been serving on the committee for the last three or four years, he said. “That’s something I have a soft spot for, because it brings people in. We get to show people how great Elkin is and bring in that economic opportunity,” said Wiles. “I want Elkin to thrive as it has in the past.”
Other community involvement includes being a member of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce for 15 years.
Wiles reiterated he has no points of major controversy with the sitting board of commissioners, but “what I’m focus on is wanting to see a long-term growth strategy.”
He also said he’d like to see the town take a concierge’s approach to customer service, similar to that which his company uses with its stakeholders. “In our town, if you want to do any renovations to a business, open a new one, there is so much paperwork involved it’s a slow process and drain on you. It is both the town and county. The town can’t control or manage the county permit department, but it could take what is the town’s and streamline the process, to make it easier on people trying to engage in positive economic development in this town.
“That’s not a hot-button issue, but I think it’s something that could be improved.”
“Also the way the town is spending money on various functions, I’m always looking for efficiency,” Wiles said. “I’m not running because there’s one particular thing that upset me or motivated me. I want to see Elkin run well and grow in a reasonable and steady manner.”
Wiles, who lives in Elkin with his wife, Christi, and his two daughters, Morgan, 17, and Katherine, 11, said, “I think we’ve got four people running for two seats who are well-intentioned. I think it’s time for some young blood and a new outlook.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.