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Knox happily chooses work over retirement
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Martinsville Assistant City Manager/Director of Community Development Wayne Knox (right) discusses ongoing projects with Tony Rinaldi, the city’s former parks and recreation director. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Life is full steam ahead for Wayne Knox.

He has recovered well from a heart attack about 20 months ago.

So well, in fact, that at age 66, he has no plans to retire and is taking on additional job responsibilities.

Knox, Martinsville’s director of community development since 1995, now is also the assistant city manager. His promotion was effective Wednesday.

He will hold both job titles, as he will continue to oversee planning, zoning and housing programs. His new duties have not yet been decided — he and City Manager Leon Towarnicki will meet soon to figure that out.

Towarnicki has said, though, that Knox will take a major role in helping city departments seek grants for projects.

“It’s not so difficult to find funding” sources, Knox said.

Rather, it is getting the money that is hard, he said, because it often involves an extensive amount of paperwork to prove and document needs and show that progress is being made toward intended outcomes.

If no progress can be shown, localities receiving grant money may have to give it back, he added.

Over the years, Knox has become known for his friendliness along with his penchant for dressing well. Wearing an off-white suit, a brown shirt and a tie of both colors, and sporting a broad smile, he greeted visitors to his office Wednesday morning.

“I feel wonderful,” he said, adding that all of his recent medical check-ups “have been great.”

In May 2012, a heart attack sidelined Knox for several weeks following a 13-day hospital stay.

“I do what my doctors tell me,” such as watching his weight, he added.

Knox said that when the assistant city manager’s job became available, he prayed about it and discussed it with his family. He then decided to apply.

“I was thinking about my future,” he recalled, and “I thought, ‘What would I do if I retire? I have no real plans.’”

Besides, he enjoys working.

“It’s always a pleasure to get up in the morning and say, ‘I’m glad I’m going to work,’” Knox said.

What he enjoys most is “when I can see the smiles on people’s faces,” he said, referring to area residents whom his office has helped in some way.

That includes, he said, people living in neighborhoods that have undergone revitalization projects and ones who have gone “from homelessness to living in a safe, warm, affordable house” or apartment by participating in the city’s housing and rental assistance programs.

Knox said he also enjoys helping people develop plans to, for instance, get out of debt or put themselves in a better financial position to afford a home, even if it takes a few years.

“We can’t be all things to all people,” he said of city officials. Depending on people’s needs, sometimes the city is able to help them, sometimes they must be referred to other sources, and sometimes there may not be any assistance available.

But it is a local government’s responsibility to try to provide for the needs of its residents, he believes.

In most instances, “it’s not that they want the world. They just need some help,” Knox said.

And, when the city cannot help them, they appreciate “hearing the truth,” he said based on his experiences.

Asked what he thinks Martinsville’s biggest need is, Knox immediately said “more job opportunities.”

Henry County and Martinsville have lost thousands of jobs in recent decades as manufacturing plants closed. Knox said there still are opportunities to attract manufacturers, but the number of jobs they would create would be limited due to technology reducing companies’ need for employees.

He said the community must find “niche” work for unemployed workers with skills such as sewing or furniture-making.

However, to find work for themselves and encourage companies to locate here, people must be encouraged to undergo training for modern jobs, such as ones involving the use of computers to operate equipment, he said.

“Everybody learns differently,” Knox said, so creating training opportunities to fit everyone’s needs will be “a hard nut to crack.”

City residents can travel to jobs at companies locating in Henry County, Knox acknowledged. But it is important for Martinsville itself to attract companies to increase its tax base and encourage people to live in the city, which also would increase the tax base, he said.

Knox said the city also needs to upgrade its infrastructure, including water and sewer lines.

Officials have said older lines are deteriorating faster than the city can afford to replace them.

Replacing lines that are in bad shape “means money,” Knox said, so “that’s something we’re going to have to work on.”

As the New College Institute evolves and a medical school is established, Knox said he envisions the city’s population growing, which will help lure amenities such as restaurants and entertainment.

Martinsville will become “a place where more people want to be located,” Knox predicted.

But “it takes time,” he said. “Blacksburg (where Virginia Tech is located) didn’t become big time overnight.”

Knox had been making roughly $77,000 as director of community development, and he now will be making about $89,000, he said.

Kathy Vernon, the city’s human resource specialist, said there were about 50 applicants for the job, including several who were city employees.


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