State and local officials charged with attracting and retaining businesses have a strong story to tell, based on the 174 corporate relocation and expansions. 24,000 pledged jobs and $10 billion in capital investment announced last year. The totals surpassed the previous two years. Site Selection magazine has ranked the state’s business climate as tops in the nation for the last two years.
director | Pitt County Economic Development
The East Carolina University MBA joined the development group in 2006 and became director in 2020, when she was named one of the nation’s top 50 economic developers. She has helped promote the county’s fast-growing lifesciences industry, highlighted by Thermo Fisher Scientific’s plans for a $154 million expansion announced last September. She is a member of the N.C. Economic Development Association board of directors and the ECU Engineering Advisory Board. She earned a bachelor’s at UNC Chapel Hill.
Pre-workday motivation: Coffee.
Key to industry success: Developing genuine relationships.
Best advice: Think before you speak.
Proud family accomplishment: My hardworking eastern North Carolina family roots. Both sides of my family have been here for generations. I serve the county where I was born and raised.
Favorite hobby: Treasure hunting at antique stores and estate sales.
president, CEO | Greensboro Chamber of Commerce
Christensen joined the Chamber in 2015 after leadership positions at Mississippi Development Authority and Greater Gainesville Chamber in Florida. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida and Duke University.
Pre-workday motivation: The opportunity to better people’s lives through our work in job creation.
Key to industry success: Showing how our community can meet the needs of a business.
Best advice: Always be working to improve. When opportunity presents itself, it’s too late to prepare.
Three people to share a meal: Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey and Mike Krzyzewski.
Proud family accomplishment: We’re all living in the same state for the first time in years.
Favorite hobby: Golf.
Where to entertain a visitor: Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts.
CEO | Economic Development
Partnership of North Carolina
The Ohio State University graduate was named CEO of the state’s public-private economic development agency in 2015. He leads 40 employees tasked with recruiting businesses, supporting existing ones and promoting North Carolina exports and tourism. He has received national awards reflecting North Carolina’s strong record for attracting major corporate projects.
Pre-workday motivation: Both the ‘every day is different’ aspect that makes my job such a — mostly — fun one and the public service aspect of what we do at EDPNC to hopefully make a positive difference in North Carolinians’ lives.
Key to industry success: What makes for success in our efforts to recruit businesses to North Carolina, for example, is different from what makes us successful in promoting the state as a tourism destination. Having a great ‘product’ makes a big difference, and we’re very fortunate that our product — North Carolina — starts off in a much more advantaged position for business, tourism and overall quality of life than most states. If we do a good job of packaging and selling this product to our target audiences, then we ought to be achieving the results that are expected of us.
Best advice: Be humble. Never shy from asking questions if you don’t understand something. And look for patterns and common themes in what you observe.
Three people to share a meal: Warren Buffett, Jordan Peele and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts — though I’d settle for any of the justices.
Proud family accomplishment: How close we all are and have always been. There are sadly too many families divided by something much less important than the bonds of blood and kinship. I don’t take this closeness for granted.
Favorite hobby: Entertaining our 2-year-old daughter. I don’t have time or energy for anything else, and I can’t imagine anything else would be as fun.
Where to entertain a visitor: I love showing off the natural beauty across North Carolina — from mountains to coast. In Raleigh, I’m partial to sharing outdoor spaces such as the North Carolina Museum of Art grounds, Umstead State Park and Lake Johnson Park.
president, CEO | Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
Cole became the group’s first female CEO in 2017. She previously was executive director of the chamber’s Wake County Economic Development. She has a bachelor’s from Meredith College and a master’s in public affairs from Appalachian State University.
Pre-workday motivation: Working with incredible people and feeling that I’m making a positive difference in my community.
Key to industry success: Collaboration and problem-solving, being willing to work across business, academic, public and nonprofit sectors to get things done.
Best advice: Be partial to action. You don’t have to have all of the answers to begin working on a project or initiative. You can discover and adapt along the way.
Proud family accomplishment: Their uniqueness and the comfort they have in who they are.
Favorite hobby: Hiking in the North Carolina mountains.
Where to entertain a visitor: North Carolina Museum of Art.
president, CEO | Asheville Area
Chamber of Commerce
The University of Florida graduate worked at the Charlotte Chamber and International Downtown Association before heading to the mountain post in 2010. The Asheville group was named the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives’ 2019 Chamber of the Year
senior vice president for economic
development | Asheville Area
Chamber of Commerce
The Wake Forest University graduate joined the chamber in 2008 and took his current post in 2018. He has helped attract many employers, including brewer New Belgium and aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney
president, CEO | Greater Durham
Chamber of Commerce
A former leader of Downtown Durham Inc., Durham took the Chamber reins in 2016. He is a graduate of Randolph-Macon College in Virginia.
Pre-workday motivation: Like many of us, daily routines have been challenging to maintain over the past two years because of the pandemic. It has been helpful to start my day 90 minutes or so before the rest of the house comes to life. I rely on different things to jumpstart my day, depending on what lies ahead. Spending time outside, exercising, cooking breakfast or reading are all ways to level set before taking on the workday.
Key to industry success: Collaboration with our local and regional partners in both the public and private sectors is paramount.
Best advice: Just because some aren’t on the same path as you doesn’t mean they are lost.
Three people to share a meal: Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett, who host the Smartless podcast. It’s pretty funny.
Proud family accomplishment: They are loving, compassionate and funny. I learn from them and depend on them every day.
Favorite hobby: All things sports-related, whether it be watching, conversing, listening, reading or attempting to participate.
Where to entertain a visitor: Durham has an amazing dining scene. There is something for everyone’s taste. We also would visit one of Durham’s iconic sports or performance venues, such as Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Cameron Indoor Stadium, McDougald-McLendon Arena, Durham Performing Arts Center or the Carolina Theatre.
president, CEO | Wilmington
After more than a decade at the Charlotte Chamber, English became the leader in Wilmington in 2017. The N.C. State University graduate has helped the region navigate the effects of Hurricane Florence and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pre-workday motivation: A workout, a snuggle with my dogs and lots of coffee.
Key to industry success: The ability to think creatively and innovatively and engage the right partners to address opportunities and solve problems. There isn’t a how-to book for chamber leaders. Even if there were, every community is different.
Best advice: A mentor of mine told me to surround myself with people who think differently and have different gifts and skills from me. I am a better person and make significantly better decisions because I strive to follow that advice.
Three people to share a meal: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey.
Proud family accomplishment: My son, Rick, is a bright, energetic and funny young man with good manners who treats people with respect. He was recently accepted into the freshman class at UNC Charlotte. Go Niners!
Favorite hobby: Playing golf over long weekends with the Belles.
president, CEO | Golden LEAF
After leading the Appalachian Regional Commission for five years, the UNC Greensboro graduate joined the foundation in 2019. He oversees daily operations and solidifies grantmaking strategies. He is a past president of the N.C. Economic Development Association.
Pre-workday motivation: I’m almost always the first at the office in the morning. I enjoy the peace and quiet, using the time to consider the day ahead and read the headlines, so I’m up to date on the happenings in our region, state and nation.
Key to industry success: Collaboration — every successful project to move the economic needle in a rural region has many partners at the table working together toward a common goal.
Best advice: When I was in high school, a mentor of mine shared this core concept of relationship building: “You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.” This advice has been with me throughout my career, and my colleagues will tell you it’s often repeated. As technology evolves, from phone calls to email to Zoom, I am reminded of this advice and the importance of showing up.
Proud family accomplishment: My wife was one of the first 81 nationally certified teachers in the United States. My two daughters, who give unselfishly to others, my two awesome grandsons and third grandbaby — a girl — on the way later this summer.
Favorite hobby: My wife and I enjoy the outdoors, traveling, cooking, and time with family and friends.
Where to entertain a visitor: The breweries and restaurants at Rocky Mount Mills and outdoor activities throughout the region, including Medoc Mountain State Park.
director | Johnston County
Economic Development Office
The East Carolina University graduate was named to his post in 2013 after leading the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp., where he executed revitalization efforts. He works in one of the state’s fastest-growing counties with major employers including Grifols, Novo Nordisk and Caterpillar.
president, CEO | Charlotte Regional
LaBar left the top post at the Portland, Ore. chamber in 2019 to lead the group that promotes Charlotte and 15 nearby counties. She’s a graduate of the University of West Florida with a University of Phoenix MBA. She is a co-leader of the corporate response team for the city’s Racial Equity Initiative.
Pre-workday motivation: Coffee and being grounded in the work we do to make an impact for people across the Charlotte region.
Key to industry success: The quantity and variety of stakeholders involved in our work require the critical skill of listening.
Best advice: Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.
Proud family accomplishment: My husband, James, and I are both servant leaders, and our three kids are growing up with a healthy understanding of what we value: giving back to our community and taking care of others.
president, CEO | Research Triangle
Foundation of North Carolina
Levitan joined the group that oversees Research Triangle Park in 2017 after working at Forest City Realty Trust in Baltimore. Triangle Business Journal named him its 2021 CEO of the Year because of his efforts to revitalize RTP. He has a master’s in urban design from Harvard University.
Pre-workday motivation: Problem solving.
Key to industry success: Have empathy with the person on the other side of the table.
Best advice: The success of our organization owes to the genius of each of its associates. Everyone is an expert in his or her own field.
Proud family accomplishment: Our children made their own way in life. While not the direction we envisioned for them, they both are successful by their own measure. They were up to bat a few times but held out for the best partner.
Favorite hobby: Gardening or dancing.
Where to entertain a visitor: Boxyard RTP.
chair | Economic Development
Partnership of North Carolina
president | Quality Oil and Gas Co.
Gov. Roy Cooper tapped him to chair the EDPNC in 2021 because of his widespread experience. A longtime petroleum industry executive, he was Rockingham’s mayor from 1997 to 2013 and a state senator for one term. The UNC Charlotte graduate joined the EDPNC board in 2017.
Pre-workday motivation: I enjoy a cup of coffee and read the Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News & Observer, and Richmond County Daily Journal.
Key to industry success: In my 42 years in business, I have learned the key to success is to hire the very best people, ones who are always smarter than I am and give them the support, encouragement and flexibility to perform and adapt. Creating the right culture is key to success in any organization.
Best advice: My grandparents taught me to treat everyone with respect. No matter how educated, talented or wealthy you are, how you treat others ultimately tells it all.
Three people to share a meal: Barack Obama, Warren Buffett and Tom Hanks.
Proud family accomplishment: Donna and I were 18 and 19 when we got married, 47 years ago. I’m lucky she married me before she realized she could do better. We are truly blessed with three amazing adult children and soon-to-be six grandchildren. They all live in North Carolina, so we spend a lot of time together.
Favorite hobby: I enjoy playing golf, shooting hoops in the backyard and long walks with Donna in Montreat or at Wrightsville Beach.
Where to entertain a visitor: My last project as mayor was helping raise funds and creating partnerships to build the Discovery Place KIDS children’s museum. I love taking my grandchildren and visitors there, showing them what can be accomplished in a small rural community when everyone works together.
president | Catawba County
Economic Development Corp.
The University of Tennessee graduate has led the EDC since 1998. His tenure has included good times, led by a growing data center sector, and the difficult recession that slammed the region’s textile and furniture industries.
Pre-workday motivation: I’m a ridiculously early riser, so reading several newspapers and possibly a workout get my morning started.
Key to industry success: Win-win-wins, puzzle-solving and inventive responses.
Best advice: I can learn something from every person. It may be how to bait a hook, how to make a ping-pong ball spin a different way or something much more, but everybody is better than me at something.
Three people to share a meal: Ernest Shackleton, Sir Edmund Hillary and Thomas Edison.
Proud family accomplishment: Resilience.
Favorite hobby: Trail running.
Where to entertain a visitor: Trivium Corporate Center in Hickory.
senior economic development
manager | Duke Energy
Nelms has worked at the utility and its predecessor, Progress Energy, since 2005, while focusing on economic development work since 2012. He serves on the boards of N.C. Rural Center and N.C. Economic Development Association. He is a Campbell University and N.C. State University graduate.
Pre-workday motivation: Helping improve the economic well-being of North Carolina.
Key to industry success: Teamwork
Best advice: There are no problems, only opportunities.
Three people to share a meal: Warren Buffett, Jack Nicklaus and Roger Staubach.
Proud family accomplishment: My parents were public servants who taught me the value of working to improve my community
Favorite hobby: Golf.
Where to entertain a visitor: Carter Finley Stadium for an N.C. State football game.
president, CEO | Greater
Owens worked at the Greer, S.C., chamber for nine years before moving to the Triad in 2018. The Presbyterian College graduate serves on the Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina and Piedmont Triad Partnership boards.
Pre-workday motivation: Our four-year-old son, Luke. He is an early riser.
Key to industry success: Authenticity. When we are talking to a company about investing in our community, building trust is critical. The best way to do that is to be authentic in who you are as a person, as an organization and as a community.
Where to entertain a visitor: Innovation Quarter. It is a breathtaking view and is the intersection between the redevelopment of Winston-Salem’s past and future economic successes through research, entrepreneurship and innovation.
executive director | Monroe-Union
County Economic Development
The Clemson University graduate has promoted development in the state’s eighth most-populous county, and one of the fastest-growing, since 1999. He has helped build its aerospace industry cluster. Union is the sole area county that is not a member of the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.
CEO | Sanford Area Growth Alliance
Randolph was president of professional employer organization Payroll Edge for nearly eight years prior to joining the alliance. He served as its existing industry development manager for two years before being named CEO in 2020. He is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate.
Pre-workday motivation: Tackling the New York Times spelling bee word game over coffee with my wife, Julie, before we leave for work.
Key to industry success: Economic development is the ultimate team sport, and the alliance has harnessed the power of a true public-private partnership to achieve unprecedented economic development success for our community.
Best advice: Listen more, talk less.
Three people to share a meal: Jordan Peele, Roy Williams and Angela Merkel.
Proud family accomplishment: I am part of a family of professional educators, which I believe is one of life’s highest callings. My wife teaches high school science, instilling a love of learning in thousands of local young people, including my two amazing sons. Their intelligence, self-confidence and compassion are additional gifts bestowed by their mom.
Favorite hobby: Nature photography. Our North Carolina Sandhills harbor unique flora and fauna, and the camera allows me to know them better and share them with others.
Where to entertain a visitor: Built in 1872 by the Raleigh and Augusta Railroad, the Railroad House Museum in historic downtown Sanford is an iconic and well preserved architectural gem. It’s the perfect starting point for a broader exploration of our amazing city.
economic development, local
government manager |
Energy North America
Roper manages the energy supplier’s community engagement and communications with government officials, having worked in the utility industry for decades. She’s a U.S. Air Force veteran and a graduate of Belmont Abbey College and Appalachian State University.
president and CEO | North Carolina
After nearly two decades in the pharmaceutical industry, Salamido led the group’s lobbying efforts between 2011 and 2019, when he took his current post. He has a bachelor’s degree from New York’s Albany College of Pharmacy and a master’s from the University of Texas.
vice president, business recruitment and
Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina
Smith has been a business recruitment senior manager since 2014 after working for the N.C. Commerce Department. In 2020, she was named to her current post, leading the team tasked with attracting companies to North Carolina.
vice president, strategic development |
Teague has led the Cecil family-owned real estate development company’s strategic planning since 2018. Divisions include home building, hotels and commercial projects. The University of Mississippi MBA graduate previously led the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition.
president, CEO | Carolinas Gateway
The N.C. State graduate is a former state representative who later held top state positions, including secretary of the state’s Commerce, Revenue and Transportation departments. For seven years, he was N.C. Biotechnology Center president, exiting the post in 2014.
ROBERT VAN GEONS
president, CEO | Fayetteville
Since moving to Cumberland County in 2017, Van Geons has helped the region add more than 2,000 jobs and $225 million in investment. The Catawba College and University of Southern Mississippi graduate previously worked in economic development in Rowan and Stanly counties.
Pre-workday motivation: Knowing that while the work isn’t easy, I am helping my neighbor have a more prosperous future.
Key to industry success: In economic development, your greatest assets are your relationships and your credibility. To be successful, you must consciously invest time and energy into strengthening both.
Best advice: ‘Enjoy every sandwich,’ from Warren Zevon.
Three people to share a meal: William Shakespeare, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Friedman.
Proud family accomplishment: Our family bonds are based on love as opposed to blood. There is so much more than DNA that we share.
Favorite hobby: If there is music to be played or enjoyed, count me in, the more, the merrier.
Where to entertain a visitor: Downtown Fayetteville. Whether it is a restaurant, brewery, baseball game, independent movie or live music, there is always something to experience. You can feel a positive energy that is moving our community forward.
president | NC Rural Center
Woodie has helmed the Rural Center since 2013, leading it through a transition that includes more community engagement. He joined the group in 2006. He previously was the first executive director of the Alleghany County Chamber of Commerce and led a nonprofit business development center in Sparta. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from Wake Forest University.
Pre-workday motivation: Setting aside an hour of intentional early morning preparation time.
Key to industry success: Collaboration, communication and leadership.
Best advice: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ — Maya Angelou.
Three people to share a meal: Dolly Parton, Billie Jean King and the Dalai Lama.
Proud family accomplishment: Anything is possible when an individual has the unconditional love and support of just a single human being. I was blessed to have the unconditional love and support of two extraordinary parents, and that has made all the difference.
Favorite hobby: Reading, tennis and travel
Where to entertain a visitor: Canoeing or tubing on the New River.
president | North Carolina’s
A graduate of Appalachian State University and UNC Chapel Hill, Yost has led this regional economic development group since 2009. He previously worked as a senior developer and regional manager for the N.C. Department of Commerce’s southeast region. He’s a former N.C. Economic Development Association president.