Promoting growth in North Carolina is a big industry in itself. This section cites key state and local officials responsible for attracting and retaining businesses. The state ranked No. 3 nationally for business climate, according to 326 site-selection experts surveyed by Development Counsellors International, a New York-based marketing firm. Last year was the strongest year in more than a decade, with 147 corporate relocation and expansion deals expected to create more than 20,000 jobs and $6.3 billion in capital investment, state officials say.
executive director | Pitt County Development Commission
Andrews, who has worked with the commission since 2006 as the assistant director, was promoted to executive director in October. She has an MBA from East Carolina University and previously worked with the N.C. Department of Labor.
MURCHINSON “BO” BIGGS
secretary-treasurer | K.M. Biggs
Murchison, 66, is the fourth generation of his family to help lead K.M. Biggs, a holding company. The N.C. State University graduate and CPA is active in many statewide groups, including chairing the Rocky Mount-based Golden LEAF Foundation.
Employer’s distinction: Starting in the 1930s as a general store, the business transitioned to agriculture and then real estate property. Today, it manages commercial retail, office, industrial buildings and farmland statewide, including Lumberton’s Biggs Park Mall.
Best advice: My mom and dad always gave me some lead on the leash. They wanted me to be part of the family business, but they let me drift around and have some self-determination.
Proud family accomplishment: Community involvement and the survival of the family business
Favorite passions: Playing trombone with community bands and muscle cars
Person you admire: Raleigh retailer Art Pope for helping grow the state’s economy and serving as N.C. budget director while getting unfairly maligned by the media
Favorite recent book: On the Road in Trump’s America by Daniel Allott
Favorite music: Beach and big-band
president, CEO | Greensboro Chamber of Commerce
Christensen, 51, is a Duke University and University of South Florida graduate. He joined the chamber in 2015 after serving as executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority.
First job: Grocery bagger
Employer’s distinction: Our strength is rallying to the business community’s needs, making sure the economy is hitting on all cylinders.
Best advice: “You don’t park in front. We save the best spaces for our customers.” (my first boss)
Something surprising: I fell in love with North Carolina at summer camp in Black Mountain. After college, it took me almost 35 years to return.
CEO | Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina
Chung, 44, is responsible for 60 professionals and an annual operating budget of more than $24 million. The Ohio State University graduate took on the CEO role in 2015 after leading a similar group in Missouri.
Employer’s distinction: EDPNC’s mission is to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for the 10.5 million people who call North Carolina home.
North Carolina’s challenge: Economic development is about creating the proverbial rising tide that lifts all boats. But too many communities — geographic or demographic — are missing out on the prosperity that other parts of the state are seeing in abundance.
Best advice: It’s from my dad: Be humble, and remember that good timing and luck are often just as attributable for what you accomplish as your own skill and hard work.
Proud family accomplishment: My wife and I welcomed our first child in late 2019.
Favorite passion: Learning the ukulele
Something surprising: I aspire to write for The Atlantic magazine, Saturday Night Live or The Onion.
president, CEO | Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
A Meredith College and Appalachian State University graduate, Cole, 49, became the chamber’s first female CEO in 2017. It has been a year of growth for the region, which welcomed hundreds of jobs at startup Pendo and an Amazon distribution center.
First job: Horseback riding instructor
Employer’s distinction: We assemble diverse partners to tackle challenges and seize opportunities.
Best advice: You can fake sincerity, but you can’t fake showing up.
Proud family accomplishment: Our closeness
Person you admire: Kevin Howell, N.C. State University vice chancellor for external affairs, partnerships and economic development
president, CEO | Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce
Cramer, 60, is a University of Florida graduate who came to the mountains in 2010. She had previously worked for 16 years at the Charlotte Chamber and one year at the International Downtown Association. Her group was named 2019 Chamber of the Year by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.
First job: Dairy Queen
Employer’s distinction: Our catchphrase — “Together, we’re more” — embodies our collaborative spirit and the strength of the business community when its members unite.
North Carolina’s challenge: Expanding early childhood education and day care. Without it, we’re hurting parents, our future workforce and educators.
Proud family accomplishment: I’m thankful that we genuinely like each other.
Favorite passion: Creative pursuits such as painting
manager of economic development | ElectriCities
Daniel joined ElectriCities — a not-for-profit service organization representing 70 public power communities in the Carolinas and Virginia — as an executive assistant in 1986. She was named to her current position 25 years ago.
senior vice president for economic development | Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce
A Wake Forest University graduate, Duncan, 49, oversees company retention, Venture Asheville, and other growth initiatives. Asheville’s largest new jobs announcement, a $650 million Pratt & Whitney plant that will employ 800, came last year.
Employer’s distinction: Our coalition is a 25-year partnership of the Asheville Chamber, Buncombe County Commission and Asheville City Council.
Best advice: “It’s not the deal of the cards, but how you play the hand.” A favorite saying of my grandfather, it keeps me focused and moving forward.
Favorite passion: Trail running
president, CEO | Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
The Randolph-Macon College graduate was named CEO in 2016. He had been the head of the Downtown Durham booster group for the three previous years after serving as director of economic development for the city of Fairfax, Va.
CEO | Wilmington Chamber of Commerce
English, 53, was named CEO in March 2017 after working at the Charlotte Chamber for 11 years. She has helped the region weather the effects of Hurricane Florence and the pandemic. She is an N.C. State University graduate.
North Carolina’s challenge: The increasing economic opportunity gap. We must identify pathways to prosperity for more of the state’s residents.
Best advice: Always be open to compromise. (my dad)
Proud family accomplishment: My son, Rick, who has a heart for people who need things
Favorite passion: Wine — collecting it, drinking it and learning how it’s made
Person you admire: My twin sister, who is kind-hearted and loving to almost everyone she meets
Favorite recent book: Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard
Something surprising: I love singing, dancing and acting.
CEO | Golden LEAF Foundation
The UNC Greensboro graduate joined the foundation in 2019 after leading the Appalachian Regional Commission for five years.
Employer’s distinction: We develop economic opportunity in rural, economically distressed and tobacco-dependent regions statewide.
North Carolina’s challenge: Ensuring that rural communities are not left behind as urban centers grow. North Carolina relies on them for products, labor and agriculture.
Best advice: “You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.” Shared by a mentor, it has stayed with me, especially as technology has evolved.
Favorite music: Bluegrass and classic rock
executive director | Johnston County Economic Development
Johnson, 55, has been executive director since 2013. The East Carolina University graduate has set lofty goals for this year that include finding the county’s next big job creator in the life-sciences sector.
First job: Working on my grandmother’s family tobacco farm
Employer’s distinction: Johnston County’s leadership is composed of businesspeople, whose approach to economic development is “green tape and not red tape.” That pro-business philosophy has led to more than $3 billion in project investment over the past five years.
North Carolina’s challenge: Meeting the educational and broadband needs of the state’s rural regions
Proud family accomplishment: My wife and the small retail business that she has owned for more than 30 years
Favorite passion: Road cycling on 40- to 100- mile rides
Favorite recent book: The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham
Favorite music: Old school R&B — I’ve seen Earth, Wind & Fire perform live more than 20 times.
CEO | Cary Chamber of Commerce
A UNC Chapel Hill graduate, Johnson has been CEO since 1986. During that period the city’s population has increased from 30,000 to 166,000. Big recent news includes a revitalized downtown and Epic Games’ new headquarters at the Cary Towne Center property.
senior director, business retention and expansion | Sanford
An East Carolina University graduate, Joyce was named 2019 North Carolina Economic Developer of the Year by the N.C. Economic Development Association. He was president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce from 2007-15.
CEO | Piedmont Triad Partnership
Kelly, 63, is an N.C. State University graduate who was a veteran executive at Wachovia and Wells Fargo before joining the partnership in 2015.
Favorite music: Easy listeningFirst job: Bill collector and auto repossessor
Best advice: Team-over-self culture at Wachovia that started with CEOs John Medlin and Bud Baker
Proud family accomplishment: My immediate and extended family are close, and we have vacationed with both for more than 40 years.
Favorite passion: Time at Wrightsville Beach
People you admire: My in-laws, who are awesome role models
Favorite book: Factfulness by Hans Rosling
CEO | Charlotte Regional Business Alliance
Queen City leaders recruited LaBar in 2019 to lead the organization formed by the merger of the Charlotte Chamber and Charlotte Regional Partnership. A graduate of the University of West Florida and the University of Phoenix, she previously led the Portland, Ore., chamber.
CEO | Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina
Levitan, 66, has degrees from Louisiana State University, Harvard University and the University of York. He’s been CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation since 2017. Biogen recently announced a
$200 million factory and Longfellow Real Estate Partners unveiled a $150 million lab project at RTP.
North Carolina’s challenge: North Carolina and the Triangle need to plan as a region instead of within the confines of municipal jurisdictions.
Favorite passion: Gardening
Something surprising: I was a competitive ballroom and Latin dancer.
president | Catawba County Economic Development Corp.
Millar, 60, was named EDC president in 1998. He led the county through a manufacturing recession and a pandemic. The EDC and Hickory City Council in January approved $2.5 million in incentives for manufacturer American Fuji Seal, which is creating 101 jobs.
First job: Butcher
Employer’s distinction: Helping our communities fight back from challenges. They are enjoying a development boom that is a result of good planning, good placement and resilience.
Decision you would change: The bad decisions I made early led to many challenges, which I later realized were gifts.
director of economic development | North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives
The UNC Chapel Hill graduate, 40, joined the cooperatives’ group in 2019 after working for the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
Favorite passion: Organizing excursions into North Carolina’s great outdoors
Person you admire: Tom White of N.C. State University’s Office of External Affairs
Favorite recent book: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
senior economic development manager | Duke Energy
A staffer at Duke and predecessor Progress Energy since 2005, Nelms is a board member for the N.C. Rural Center and the N.C. Economic Development Association. He has a bachelor’s degree from N.C. State University and is a Campbell University MBA graduate.
president, CEO | Greater Winston-Salem Inc.
Owens, 35, has been CEO since 2018. The Presbyterian College graduate came to Winston-Salem in 2017 after leading the Greer, S.C., chamber for four years.
First job: Financial adviser
Employer’s distinction: We operate as a chamber of commerce that also leads economic development and business recruitment for Forsyth County.
North Carolina’s challenge: Office space needs post-pandemic
Proud family accomplishment: I am proud to be a husband to my wife, Melody, and father to our 3-year-old, Luke.
executive director | Monroe-Union County Economic Development
Since 1999, the Clemson University graduate has been an economic develop-ment leader in Union County involving several roles for the city of Monroe. Over that period, Union has been among the state’s fastest-growing regions and developed a major aerospace industry cluster.
economic development, local government manager | Dominion Energy North America
Roper, 54, manages the natural gas supplier’s community engagement and communications with local government officials. She has a bachelor’s degree from Belmont Abbey College and a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University.
Employer’s distinction: Our focus on innovation and sustainability
North Carolina’s challenge: Creating a highly skilled workforce that responds to the needs of expanding and relocating businesses that are considering North Carolina
Best advice: Dogs don’t chase parked cars. Just be you yourself and continue to move forward.
Favorite passion: Anything involving water
CEO | NC Chamber
After working for the business advocacy group since 2011, Salamido, 58, was named president and CEO in 2019. A former director of government affairs for GlaxoSmithKline, he holds a pharmacy degree from Albany College of Pharmacy and an MBA from the University of Texas.
North Carolina’s challenge: The supply of talented workers for current jobs and the talent pipeline for future ones. North Carolina is exceptionally competitive for in-state expansions and extremely attractive for out-of-state relocations. The key to sustaining its competitive advantage will be the availability of talent and a clear system for workforce training and continuing education.
People you admire: My middle school football coach and wrestling coach taught me to never quit, not to feel sorry for myself and to work hard to achieve what others thought I could not.
vice president, strategic development | Biltmore Farms
Teague, 42, is a University of Mississippi graduate and former executive director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition.
First job: Construction worker
Employer’s distinction: A commitment to making the state and region better
North Carolina’s challenge: Helping residents see a brighter future and driving career opportunities to make it a reality
Best advice: “Satisfaction with who you are and where you are is extraordinarily powerful.” (Phil Hanberry)
Proud family accomplishment: Watching our boys grow into Godly, compassionate men who dream big and pursue passions
Something surprising: I grew up in Mississippi.
Favorite passion: Anything involving water
CEO, president | Carolinas Gateway Partnership
An N.C. State University graduate, Tolson, 81, served in the N.C. House and was secretary of the state’s Commerce, Transportation and Revenue departments. He was N.C. Biotechnology Center president from 2007 to 2014.
First job: Crop science technician
Employer’s distinction: We create better life opportunities through better jobs and a bigger tax base.
North Carolina’s challenge: Better education opportunities and more technology interconnection
Best advice: “Work hard; be honest and fair to everybody.” (my father and mother)
Favorite passion: Antiques
Person you admire: Gov. Jim Hunt, for his passion and integrity
ROBERT VAN GEONS
president | Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp.
Van Geons, 45, has helped the region add $225 million in investment and 2,000 jobs since joining the group in 2017. He previously worked in economic development jobs for Rowan and Stanly counties. He has a bachelor’s degree from Catawba College and a doctoral degree in international development from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Employer’s distinction: It brings together public, private and community partners to attract businesses and create jobs. It markets and promotes the community but does not own land, provide incentives or approve projects.
North Carolina’s challenge: As the state makes economic and technological gains, economic and digital divides among its residents and communities will widen. Proactive and aggressive action are needed.
Best advice: When my wife and I were just starting out, our car broke down in a rural area. Short on cash, we had it towed to the only repair shop within miles. The owner presented a bill that was less than 20% of the going rate. “There’s a fine line between staying in business and taking advantage of people,” he said. You can make smart business decisions, be profitable and grow, while helping others along the way.
Favorite passion: Working on my yet-to-be-discovered career as a songwriter and aging rock star.
president | NC Rural Center
Woodie, 56, has led the center through a transition, encouraging more community engagement. He has bachelor’s and law degrees from Wake Forest University.
North Carolina’s challenge: Rural communities have felt a disproportionate share of COVID’s burden. Many lack broadband internet access.
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 make them feel.” (Dr. Maya Angelou)
Favorite recent book: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
president | North Carolina’s Southeast
Yost, 54, has led the regional development group since 2009. He has degrees from Appalachian State University and UNC Chapel Hill.
First job: Strategic planning project coordinator
Employer’s distinction: In our 18 counties, we’ve helped generate announcements of 5,900 jobs, 43 company locations and $1.25 billion in capital since 2014.
North Carolina’s challenge: Economic stagnation and economic growth hurdles
Best advice: “When you commit to doing a job, do it well and finish it.” (my father)
Proud family accomplishment: One grandmother taught public school for 45 years and the other for 25 years. My mother taught for 25 years.
Favorite passions: Kayaking, reading, gardening and scouting
People you admire: My wife, Deborah Albritton, who gives everything 100%. My brother Thomas Yost Jr. has overcome enormous obstacles to lead a successful life.
Favorite recent book: Every Drop of Blood: The Second Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln by Edward Achorn
Favorite music: Blues, especially Joe Bonamassa