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Chairman, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, 60
By Steve Cranford
Photo by Peter Taylor
Frank Emory is a veteran litigator who’s accustomed to convincing juries of his point of view. In a newer role, the Charlotte lawyer is applying his powers of persuasion to convince businesses to move to or expand in North Carolina. Emory was appointed chairman of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina in May by Gov. Roy Cooper, who asked the previous chair, Charlotte legal-staffing company owner John Lassiter, to step down. The partnership is starting its fourth year after former Gov. Pat McCrory split off the task of marketing North Carolina from the N.C. Department of Commerce.
Emory’s duties include raising $1.25 million annually from the private sector to help fund the 60-employee partnership, which receives about $21 million per year in state funding. Although the split from Commerce was a Republican idea, Emory, a Democrat, sees no need for reversing course. “In the short- to medium-term, the worst thing we could do is change how we do economic development,” he says. “Stability is critical.”
A native of Wilson, Emory earned a bachelor’s from Duke University and a law degree from UNC Chapel Hill. After serving as a law clerk for a state appellate court judge, he worked at the Ferguson & Stein and Robinson Bradshaw law firms. In 2001, he joined his current employer, Hunton & Williams, which has more than 750 lawyers. His clients have included large U.S. banks, Duke University and a U.S. automaker. Emory was chair of the Charlotte Chamber in 2012 and has served on Duke’s board of trustees.
Emory’s main agenda item is to spread the benefits of economic development beyond the state’s three big metro areas. One of his first steps was appointing a rural task force at the partnership. The rural slant plays well in the state legislature, where the leadership mostly lives in smaller N.C. cities. But Emory says it’s heartfelt. “I told the governor when he was running that if families don’t have wealth, they can’t be propelled forward. I’m not talking massive wealth; I’m talking about having something to pass down to the next generation.” That view helped make him the governor’s choice, while campaign contributions totaling $3,000 in 2015-16 didn’t hurt. If that money won him the job, he says, “I’m the best negotiator you’ve ever met.”
Former Commerce official Ernie Pearson, a partner at the Nexsen Pruet law firm in Raleigh, believes a focus on rural economic development can bear fruit, especially if the state expands its four-lane highway system and adds more fiber-optic infrastructure in rural areas. Effective broadband service could lure IT firms in need of back-office workers, he says.
Christopher Chung, the partnership’s chief executive officer, praises Emory for his Charlotte connections and public service efforts. Away from work, Emory calls himself a struggling golfer. He and his wife, Lisa, have two sons.
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