Winston-Salem, aka. “The Dash,” owes its nickname to the hyphen between Winston and Salem—a grammatical marriage of high-minded, artistic Salem and entrepreneurial, go get-em Winston.
The town whose names also became the brand of two of the 20th century’s best-known varieties of cigarettes, has a long and profitable relationship with the tobacco industry—indeed, it’s in 9th place for Prosperity, our measure of employment, household income and corporate head offices.
R.J. Reynolds made Winston-Salem a tobacco capital and made himself a fortune, one manifestation of which can be visited: the spectacular Reynolds family home, now re-baptized Reynolda House Museum of American Art, houses masterpieces by Georgia O’Keeffe, Frederic Church and many others. The downtown R.J Reynolds Building, an art deco gem on the National Register of Historic Places, is now home to a Kimpton boutique hotel, the city’s first.
Reynolds’ tobacco company, now Reynolds American, is now the property of British American Tobacco, which paid $49.4 billion for the company. Which is not to say that the Winston-Salem economy has gone up in smoke. The city, which has been a thriving textile and furniture center, is the headquarters of the Southern Community Bank and of BB&T, a financial service holding company that’s not only one of the biggest banks in the U.S. but also, through BB&T Insurance, one of the largest insurance brokers in the world. And did we mention that The Dash is also the birthplace and HQ of Krispy Kreme donuts and Texas Pete hot sauce? Tobacco, money, spice and saturated fats; could there be a more irresistible combination of sins? Fortunately, the city is now also a growing medical research hub, and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center—with its budget of $2.62 billion—is the largest employer in Winston-Salem.
In the game of city nicknames, The Dash is sometimes referred to, rather solemnly, as “The City of Arts and Innovation.” Winston-Salem is the birthplace of Maya Angelou and home to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and the National Black Theatre Festival, which averages 60,000 attendees to its 140 productions, and has an $8 million impact on the city’s economy. It’s not tobacco or biotech, but it contributes to the city’s 35th place rank for Programming. Winston-Salem was described by a local musician as a place that combines the open and progressive with the classic and Southern—a perfect mix for a city dashing toward the future.