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Monday, June 5, 2023

Power List 2023: Economic Development

Page Castrodale
Brent Christensen
Chris Chung
Adrienne Cole*
Kit Cramer
Tracy Dodson
Geoff Durham
Natalie English

Don Flow
Kevin Franklin
Scott Hamilton
Kevin Howell
Janet LaBar
Scott Levitan
Gene McLaurin
Scott Millar

Mark Owens
Chris Plate
Jimmy Randolph
Julie Roper
Gary Salamido
Scott Satterfield
C. Michael Smith 
Melissa Smith

Andrew Tate
Ben Teague
Robert Van Geons
Patrick Woodie
Steve Yost

 


ADRIENNE COLE

president, CEO | Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
Raleigh

Seven years ago, Adrienne Cole broke ground when she became the first female president and CEO of the 129-year-old Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. 

Not that anyone questioned her credentials. She shepherded dozens of corporate relocations to the region, totaling $250 million or more and bringing 5,000 or more jobs during her previous role as head of Wake County economic development.

Key highlights included steering the Campbell University law school campus to downtown Raleigh and helping Raleigh-Durham International Airport land a flight to Paris.

During her tenure leading the chamber, the Triangle’s reputation as a center for tech and life sciences jobs has soared. So has Raleigh’s attraction as a great place to live, as cited in repeated national surveys.  The chamber’s 2,200 members represent more than two-thirds of the private sector employment in the state’s largest county.

Cole majored in political studies and American civilization at Raleigh’s Meredith College, then earned a master’s in public administration at Appalachian State University. She started her economic-development career as director of the Carteret County Economic Development Council in the late 1990s.

Favorite family tradition: We have a tradition of going to Holden Beach in the summer for two weeks — one week with my husband’s sister and her family and the other week with my cousin from Austin and her family. We cook seafood, read, play Putt-Putt, swim, walk, collect shells, roast s’mores and just enjoy being with family. We’ve been going since our oldest kids, now 21, were babies. 

Favorite N.C. place to visit: I love the North Carolina mountains. Ashe and Watauga counties are two of our favorites to visit. 

What do you listen to on your commute: Lately I’ve been listening to Billy Strings. He’s amazing.

Career highlight: The opportunity to lead the chamber and work with our talented team and the business community. I am always blown away by the generosity of really busy people who dedicate their time, energy and expertise to the organization.

Favorite hobby after work: I love to walk at the N.C. Museum of Art park. It is a wonderful asset in our community.

Best advice for industry newcomers: You can fake sincerity, but you can’t fake showing up. You have to be present and engaged. It takes time to build relationships, but it is worth the effort. You never know when you’ll need to call on those people to help get a deal done, to collaborate on a project or to solve a problem. I also think it’s important to keep your cool. I’ve yet to find a situation that freaking out helped. 


PAGE CASTRODALE

executive director | Cabarrus County Economic Development Commission
Concord

The suburban Charlotte county has become a hot development site with pharma giant Eli Lilly planning a nearly $1 billion plant in Concord that is expected to employ about 600 people. Another major expansion involves Austrian beverage maker Red Bull and Rauch North America, which plans a $740 million distribution center with about 400 staffers. The UNC Chapel Hill graduate joined the commission in 2018.  

BRENT CHRISTENSEN 

president, CEO | Greensboro Chamber of Commerce
Greensboro 

Christensen has headed the Chamber of Commerce since 2015, after similar stints in Mississippi and Florida. The Gate City has gained national attention because of the nearby Toyota Motor battery plant and plans by Colorado-based Boom Supersonic for a $500 million aircraft assembly plant.

Favorite family tradition: We have birthday cake for breakfast on everyone’s special day.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Grandfather Mountain 

Major inspiration: My “why” is simply the people who have gotten a first job, a new job or a better job because of our economic development efforts. At the end of the day what drives me is working to help provide a better quality of life in our community.

Career highlight: The recruitment of Toyota Battery Manufacturing North Carolina and Boom Supersonic.

Favorite hobby after work: After a long day of work you will often find me on the driving range, mindlessly practicing my golf swing. Maybe one day it will get better. Still, it remains my favorite hobby.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Standing out in a crowd is the key to success.

Key industry change in next five years: Success in economic development will require more and more regional collaboration. I am proud that we are at the forefront of that trend in the Piedmont Triad.

CHRIS CHUNG

CEO | Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina 
Raleigh

Chung came to North Carolina from a similar post in Missouri in 2015. He has gained widespread respect for helping the state win competitions for Toyota Motor and other big corporate investments, aided by a more robust incentives program approved by state lawmakers. The public-private group works closely with the N.C. Commerce Department. 

Favorite family tradition: Annual weeklong house rental in Duck and decorating our home for the holidays by Nov. 1 if we can.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: The Outer Banks, where my wife and I got married.   

Career highlight: Being East Carolina University’s fall 2020 commencement speaker.

Favorite hobby after work: With a toddler and an infant, just enjoying the post-workday routine of getting them fed and ready for bed offers a sense of accomplishment. Cooking dinner resembles a hobby.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Hone your communication skills. Listen and ask questions so that you continue learning as much as you can about different issues, situations, and subjects.

Key industry change in next five years: Only in recent years has the economic development profession started seeing the linkage between workforce availability and issues like the availability/affordability of housing, child care, dependent care, and transportation.

KIT CRAMER

president, CEO | Asheville Area Chamber
Asheville

Cramer worked at the Charlotte Chamber and International Downtown Association before taking her post in Asheville in 2010. Since then, the city has become an international tourist mecca, which has bolstered business while creating tension with residents preferring slower growth.  

Favorite family tradition: Setting a beautiful table for family gatherings. Also love opening two gifts on Christmas Eve, always a book and a new pair of pajamas.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Charlotte, because of the friends we have there, as well as our son and his wife.

What do you listen to on your commute: Books from my Audible account: dystopian science fiction, murder mysteries, fiction, etc. Or yacht rock.

Major inspiration: Working with a group of volunteers and seeing things come together energizes me.  

Career highlight: Winning the national Chamber of the Year award from the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives in 2019.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Take the time to listen and test your assumptions before moving forward. 

Key industry change in next five years: Social issues crossing over with economic development. 

TRACY DODSON

assistant city manager, economic development director | City of Charlotte
Charlotte

Dodson leads key areas for the state’s biggest city, including workforce development and economic expansion. She’s helped recruit jobs promised by Honeywell, Lowe’s and other companies. The UNC Charlotte graduate worked for real estate group Lincoln Harris before moving to her current post in 2018.  

Favorite family tradition: Every year my family goes to dinner at the restaurant where my husband and I dined the day before our daughter was born.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: The mountains

Major inspiration: The work and ability to have a positive impact in our community drives me every day.

Career highlight: The past five years. We have accomplished so much —  from Fortune 100 headquarters or expansions (i.e., Honeywell & Lowe’s) to our Corridors of Opportunity and securing and extending the Hornets lease to 2045.

Favorite hobby after work: Family time, whether it is good conversation over dinner or a family walk. It takes my mind off of work and centers me.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Don’t be afraid to be creative. Bold ideas get bold results. Be nimble.

GEOFF DURHAM

president, CEO | Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
Durham

Durham has been in his role since 2016, during which the Bull City has seen continued economic growth both downtown and at Research Triangle Park. The Randolph-Macon College graduate formerly led Downtown Durham for nearly three years and was director of economic development in Fairfax, Virginia.

Favorite family tradition: We throw seeds and berries on the roof of our home Christmas Eve to feed Santa’s reindeer.

Career highlight: Relocating to Durham was a great decision. The Research Triangle Region is built on an ecosystem of innovative talent and high-growth industry that thrives on collaboration. There is no better place in the country to be engaged in this line of work.

Favorite hobby after work: Rain or shine, I take my dog for a mile walk each evening.  It has become a therapeutic routine that I have grown to depend on over the past three years.

Key industry change in next five years: Improvements in mobility, both physical and economic. There are environmental and productivity benefits in providing alternative working spaces and transportation solutions to enhance labor market accessibility. Economic mobility represents equitable opportunity for current and future generations.

NATALIE ENGLISH

CEO  | Wilmington Chamber
Wilmington

The N.C. State University graduate spent a decade with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce before moving to Wilmington in 2017. She helped convince local leaders to approve the $1.5 billion sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant, which led to creation of a
$1.2 billion community foundation.

DON FLOW

chair | Golden LEAF Foundation board
CEO | Flow Automotive
Winston-Salem

Flow’s companies include 45 dealerships in North Carolina and Virginia. The foundation was established in 1999 to invest proceeds from the state’s legal settlement with big U.S. tobacco companies to mainly benefit rural areas. It had assets of $1.1 billion in early 2023 and has provided combined annual grants topping $60 million recently. The University of Virginia graduate and Wake Forest University MBA is often called Winston-Salem’s most influential civic leader. 

KEVIN FRANKLIN

president | Randolph County Economic Development Commission
Asheboro

A former town administrator in Ramseur, Franklin took on his current role in 2019 after a decade at the commission. The profile of the Bob Jones University graduate and Randolph soared when Toyota Motor selected the county for a massive electric-battery plant. 

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Ocracoke Island

Major inspiration: My faith in Jesus motivates me to love God and others, to do everything to the best of my ability, to treat others with dignity and respect, and to strive to lead by serving. 

Career highlight: On Dec. 6, 2021, Toyota announced a $1.29 billion investment and creation of 1,750 jobs in Randolph County; since then, those numbers have already grown to $3.8 billion and 2,100 jobs. The Toyota announcement will ultimately have a positive impact on thousands of families and many businesses in the county and region.

Favorite hobby after work: Sitting down with a good book, generally nonfiction.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Economic development, at its core, is about helping businesses thrive so that individuals in the community can have access to better jobs, enjoy greater career advancement opportunities, increase their buying power, and generally improve their quality of life.     

SCOTT HAMILTON

CEO | Golden LEAF Foundation
Rocky Mount

The UNC Greensboro graduate joined the group in 2019 after spending five years leading the Appalachian Regional Commission. Golden LEAF invests money from the federal tobacco settlement, then allocates millions of dollars to economic development projects, mainly in rural areas. The fund provided $40 million for road improvements at the Toyota Motor site in Randolph County.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: During my time at Golden LEAF, I have visited all 100 counties in North Carolina, but as someone who calls western North Carolina home, our North Carolina mountains and my hometown of Boone is hard to beat. 

Career highlight: Leading the talented and dedicated team at Golden Leaf Foundation truly the highlight of my career.

Favorite hobby after work: I like to unwind by cooking or grilling.

Best advice for industry newcomer: Networking, collaboration and follow through are keys to success in economic advancement. We all like to work with people we know and trust.

KEVIN HOWELL

vice chancellor, external affairs, partnerships, economic development | N.C. State University Raleigh

The UNC Chapel Hill law graduate focuses his efforts on partnerships with government and industry to boost his alma mater, N.C. State University, where he was a student body president. He’s a past chair of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and on the boards of UNC Rex Healthcare and myFutureNC.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: My wife, Aleta, and I grew up in Shelby. Our upbringing in Cleveland County instilled values such as the importance of hard work, integrity, family and community. My parents, who served as public educators there for more than 30 years, provided a home rooted in love and discipline. It was their belief in me and the limitless possibilities of what I could accomplish that set me on the path to realize my dreams. Leaving home to attend college at NC State, I had the foundation of not just my family but the whole of my community as well. Shelby is a special place, it has this spirit of belonging and everyone rooting for one another. I’ll always be grateful for both the roots and wings it gave me.

Major inspiration: One of my colleagues gave me a biography about Alexander Hamilton which I keep in my office. After reading and re-reading it and adding notes throughout, I had to re-tape the binding to keep it from falling apart. Hamilton was one of the most dynamic, charismatic, inspiring leaders I’ve ever learned about. I was mesmerized by his story of coming from humble beginnings and how he used education as the great equalizer, giving him the opportunity to ultimately change the course of history. Hamilton’s work influenced the biggest aspects of modern society, including laying the foundation for America’s government and financial system. He was by no means a perfect person, but I greatly admire his commitment to what he believed in and his courage in never shying away from the toughest of issues.

Career highlight: I try not to be complacent, so hopefully the top highlight is still yet to come. I’ve been so fortunate to do work I’m passionate about alongside people who inspire me. This past year, I was honored to serve as the chair of the Greater Raleigh Chamber board of directors. The board brings together leaders representing the region’s public and private sectors to make long-term investments in Wake County’s 12 municipalities. N.C. State works with partners statewide to support economic growth for communities. We’ve made a really meaningful impact.

Best advice to industry newcomers: Listen to the leaders around you, those who’ve come before you. Tap into and soak up the knowledge of their unique experiences. Never assume you know everything. Stay curious and humble — don’t be afraid to ask questions. Take advantage of every mentorship opportunity. Always work to continue getting better and to show your value every day.

Key industry change in next five years: North Carolina is home to one of the nation’s best higher education systems. This strong talent pipeline sets the state apart for recruiting and retaining businesses. As North Carolina continues to grow, we need to stay ahead of this demand and ensure we have the most prepared workforce for the jobs of the future. N.C. State students are equipped with real-world learning and problem-solving. Partnerships between universities and industry will continue to be key in advancing innovation and meeting long-term workforce needs.

JANET LABAR

president, CEO | Charlotte Regional Business Alliance
Charlotte

LaBar assumed her role in 2019, after leading a similar group in Portland, Oregon.   She’s helped make leadership of the alliance more diverse and worked to unite the 15 counties backing the group. She has a bachelor’s degree from West Florida University and a University of Phoenix MBA.  

SCOTT LEVITAN 

president, CEO | Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina
Durham 

Before coming to the RTP overseer in 2017, Levitan held real-estate management posts aimed at spurring development at Johns Hopkins and Georgia Tech universities. He’s helping shift RTP to more of a work-live-play environment than its historic office-oriented design. He has a master’s in urban design from Harvard University.

GENE MCLAURIN

chairman | Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina 
Rockingham

McLaurin’s diverse experience led to Gov. Roy Cooper’s assignment as chair of the EDPNC in 2021. He was Rockingham’s mayor from 1997 to 2013. The UNC Charlotte graduate was also a state senator for one term. Since 2007, he’s been president of Swink-Quality Oil, a petroleum products distributor. 

Favorite family tradition: Thanksgiving at our home in Rockingham. Our three children, spouses, six grandchildren are always there, and any other family that can attend.  

Favorite N.C. place to visit: A tie between Montreat and Wrightsville Beach. 

Major inspiration: My faith, my family and my co-workers. Together, they give me guidance, love and purpose.  

Career highlight: Balancing private life of 42 years in business with public service of almost 25 years in elective or appointive office.

Favorite hobby after work: Donna and I enjoy playing nine holes of golf at Pinehurst CC and then dinner overlooking the 18th green of Pinehurst No.2. 

Best advice for industry newcomers: Get involved, volunteer to serve and help make a difference in your community and/or in an organization that supports your business.

Key industry change in next five years: Transition to more renewable energy, nimble ability to adapt to change and a more inclusive and diverse workforce. 

SCOTT MILLAR

president | Catawba County Economic Development Commission
Hickory

Millar has led the EDC since 1997, helping the county diversify as its textile and furniture jobs declined. The University of Tennessee graduate was awarded the inaugural Lifetime Service Award from the N.C. Economic Development Association in 2022. In 2010, he was named the trade group’s Developer of the Year. 

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Mountains

What do you listen to on your commute: My thoughts

Major inspiration: Sir Edmund Hillary, who first climbed Everest, but preferred to be called “an ordinary person with ordinary qualities” and whose life “was marked by grand achievements, high adventure, discovery and excitement.” That’s humility.

Career highlight: Being effective in securing a resilient economy across Catawba County by helping secure and grow many companies in Hickory and Catawba County.

Favorite hobby after work: Trail running

Best advice for industry newcomers: Cultivate informed team partners and advance confidently in the direction of your well-planned dreams.

MARK OWENS

president, CEO | Greater Winston-Salem Inc.
Winston-Salem

After serving at the Greer, South Carolina,  chamber for nearly 10 years, Owens moved to the Triad in 2018. The Presbyterian University graduate serves on the Piedmont Triad Partnership and Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina boards.

Favorite family tradition: Christmas Eve with my wife, Melody, and our 5-year-old son.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Old Edwards Inn in Highlands.

Major inspiration: Knowing our team’s work in economic and community development can change people’s lives through economic mobility. Job announcements are not just numbers; they represent families who have better opportunities to provide for themselves and their families. That fires me up every day.

Favorite hobby after work: The front porch swing with our son, Luke. Having a smiling boy on a swing just brings joy. 

Best advice for industry newcomers: Meet as many people as you can and not just the people who are happy with your organization. Find a mentor to challenge you and not just tell you what you want to hear. 

Key industry change in next five years: Watching how many companies and individuals want to go back to an office setting. Not purely from an economic standpoint, but also how that affects restaurants and retail that have traditionally been around high office density areas. 

CHRIS PLATÉ 

executive director | Monroe-Union County Economic Development
Monroe

Platé, who has had his post since 1999, is president of the N.C. Economic Development Association. He’s a 1993 Clemson University economics graduate. Union is the only Charlotte-area county that isn’t an investor in the 15-county, bistate Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, reflecting a desire for independence. 

JIMMY RANDOLPH

CEO | Sanford Area Growth Alliance 
Sanford

Randolph’s profile keeps rising as Lee and Chatham counties attract major investments from Pfizer, Bharat Forge and others. He became CEO in 2020 after two years as industry development manager. The UNC Chapel Hill graduate was president of professional employer organization Payroll Edge for nearly eight years. 

Favorite family tradition: Eating a meal together each night. When our children were younger, dinnertime provided a chance to reconnect via stories and experiences at school and work.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Blowing Rock and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Major inspiration: A lifelong passion for nature and the natural world inspires and informs my approach to economic development.

Career highlight: Highlights become the norm if you are passionate and purpose-driven and make a positive difference in the lives of others. 

Favorite hobby after work: Go for a hike with my camera at San-Lee Park. 

Best advice for industry newcomers: Invest in your network and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Economic development is the ultimate team sport.

Key industry change in next five years: I think we will see a significant renormalization of manufacturing as a rewarding and desirable career pathway. 

JULIE ROPER

economic development, local government manager | Dominion Energy North America
Mount Holly

With decades of utility industry experience, the Appalachian State University graduate
and U.S. Air Force veteran manages community engagement and communications with government officials for the Richmond, Virginia-based electric utility. It provides natural gas service to more than 600,000 customers in North Carolina.  

GARY SALAMIDO

CEO | NC Chamber
Cary

While staying out of the headlines, the University of Texas graduate is a key player in North Carolina business affairs, having led the business-promotion group’s lobbying efforts for nearly a decade before gaining the top post in 2019. He previously spent nearly 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry. 

Favorite family tradition: Playing Scopa, a traditional Italian card game we enjoy over the Christmas holiday.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Bald Head Island

What do you listen to on your commute: Depends on my calendar. My go-to’s are Rat Pack and Bocelli.

Major inspiration: My family keeps me focused on the most important things in my life, working on and building long standing relationships.

Career highlight: Serving eight years on Wake Tech board of trustees.

Favorite hobbies after work: Attending Carolina Hurricane hockey games and collecting Italian wines.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Write handwritten thank you notes to people you meet and for kindnesses they afford you.

Key industry change in next five years: Reimagining and aligning education and talent supply systems to be employer demand driven meeting today’s needs and be predictable for the future in order to maintain our No. 1 state for business ranking.

 

SCOTT SATTERFIELD

CEO | Wilmington Business Development Wilmington

The UNC Wilmington graduate is among the state’s most veteran economic developers, having led the not-for-profit group since 1995. He’s also among the highest paid with compensation topping $430,000 annually, reflecting strong support from the group’s board. He previously was a district executive for the region’s Boy Scouts of America council. 

Favorite family tradition: My wife is a fanatic when it comes to the Christmas holidays, a time of year when family, close friends and co-workers come together over food and laughs to reflect on all the things we’re truly grateful for — mainly each other.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Wilmington is my home.

What do you listen to on your commute: Typically on the phone with members, clients, consultants or staff.

Major inspiration: Years ago, I developed a strong affinity for Bob Marley. His ‘one-world, let’s-get-together’ message resonates with me as American culture grows more divisive.

Career highlight: The work we did in recruiting GE’s Nuclear Energy Division headquarters in 2003. The win gave us the confidence to never back down when big opportunities arise.

Favorite hobby after work: Walking into my house and being greeted by my lovely wife, Twyla, and my adoring black-lab mix, Gibney. 

Best advice for industry newcomers: Never underestimate the power of strong customer service. This is key both when recruiting new companies or supporting existing industry. They need to know you care  and that starts with good listening skills. 

Key industry change in next five years: We’re already seeing re-shoring in the wake of the pandemic and the drive toward more reliable supply chains.

MELISSA SMITH

vice president, business recruitment and development | Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina
Greensboro

Smith has courted businesses for the state for 25 years and had her current post leading a staff of 15 since 2020. Last year, the state had 174 projects that will create 23,000 jobs, including the $4 billion VinFast auto factory in Chatham County and a $1 billion Eli Lilly drug plant in Concord.

 

C. MICHAEL SMITH

president | Chatham Economic Development Corp.
Pittsboro

The East Carolina University graduate and industry veteran moved from neighboring Lee County to his Chatham post in late 2020. Since then, two Chatham megasites have attracted massive investment pledges from Wolfspeed and VinFast, attracting global attention. He worked at the N.C. Department of Commerce and is a past president of the N.C. Economic Development Association. 

Favorite family tradition: Holiday season oyster roasts with our family in Eastern N.C.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Beaufort County and the Pamlico River.  

Major inspiration: Abraham Lincoln. I got a copy of his list of significant life challenges early in my career. An important reminder that persistence can overcome many obstacles.

Career highlight: Our team had the largest jobs announcement in N.C. history last March with VinFast. In September, we had the largest investment in state history with Wolfspeed. Combined, almost 10,000 jobs and $9 billion for Chatham County.

Favorite hobby after work: Spending time at home with our recently rescued Blue Tick/TWC mix, Reba.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Economic development is about people and persistence. Make connections and never give up. Be grateful to be in a fun and rewarding career, where you get to make a difference.

ANDREW TATE

director, economic development | Duke Energy Raleigh

The former vice president of the N.C. Railroad Co. has been in his role since 2021, leading a team of five senior managers. The electric utility often plays a vital, unpublicized role in major economic development recruitments. He’s a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill. 

Favorite family tradition: Gathering in early August each year, around my grandfather’s birthdate, with my mother’s family, the Jetts, in Stafford County, Virginia, to pick steamed blue crabs. What started as a birthday celebration has morphed into a family reunion and a reminder of who we are and where we come from.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: My parents’ home south of Fuquay-Varina and the woods and creek that my brothers, sister and I grew up running around. Now my children run around in the same places, catching fish in the creek and rehabilitating forts that we built many years ago.

Favorite hobby after work: The simple act of closing the laptop, cooking and winning on the tennis court.

Best advice for industry newcomers: If you don’t have the experience yet, outwork and outsmart the other folks. Listen intently, act with purpose and authenticity, and always pay attention to the horizon.

BEN TEAGUE

VP strategic development | Biltmore Farms Fletcher

Since 2018, the University of Mississippi MBA graduate has led strategic planning for the Cecil family-owned real estate development company. Previously, Teague led the Asheville-Buncombe County Economic Development Coalition.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Montreat or Wrightsville Beach. Both lower my blood pressure. 

Major inspiration: Statesmen of all kinds and at all levels. I truly admire people who selflessly work to create a better day for their community and have no thought of their own self-interest.

Career highlight: Being selected as a Presidential Leadership Scholar in 2022. Four presidential foundations select 60 leaders across the nation each year and work with them for six months to make them better leaders and people. 

Best advice for industry newcomers: Be humble. Never let what you accomplish get in the way of who you are. 

ROBERT VAN GEONS

president, CEO | Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp.
Fayetteville

Since 2017, the University of Southern Mississippi and Catawba College graduate has helped raise the Fayetteville area’s profile, helping attract $600 million-plus in new investment pledges. Van Geons previously worked in economic development in Rowan and Stanly counties. He notes that he has 14 guitars. 

Favorite family tradition: Fireworks on the Fourth of July, especially at Fort Bragg. 

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Outer Banks

Major inspiration: The quiet heroes I meet in Fayetteville, who have sacrificed so much for our country.

Career highlight: Raising Fayetteville and Cumberland County’s profile with super-regional and national developers, who are building millions of square feet in our community.  

Favorite hobby after work: Play my guitar on the front porch while my two girls dance in the yard. 

Best advice for industry newcomers: Lead with empathy for those you serve and never stop looking for the next great innovation.  

Key industry change in next five years: The increase in automation and the rise of advanced AI platforms will significantly alter how we market and communicate our value proposition to external audiences.  

 

 

PATRICK WOODIE

president, CEO | N.C. Rural Center
Cary

The Wake Forest University graduate joined the group in 2006 and has led it since 2013. The Rural Center, which has a staff of more than 40, is distributing $50 million in financing for early-stage, high-growth small businesses. Previously, Woodie led a nonprofit business development center and ran Alleghany County’s chamber.

Favorite family tradition: Cutting the Christmas tree from an Alleghany County farm around Thanksgiving Day.

Major inspiration: The legacy of my predecessor, Billy Ray Hall. Without Billy Ray, I would not have the privilege of serving rural North Carolinians.

Career highlight: Walking into a random meeting of rural leaders, such as one I dropped in on recently in Sylva, and being completely at home and among friends. That is an unbeatable feeling.

Favorite hobby after work: Exercise to work off daily stresses and then decompress with a book.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Deliberately and consciously work at building, expanding, and strengthening your network of colleagues and partners.

Key industry change in next five years: For the first time in a decade, rural North Carolina saw population increases from 2020-2021. One year does not make a trend, but are we on the cusp in this post-COVID world of seeing a resurgence of rural places?

STEVE YOST

president  | North Carolina’s Southeast  Elizabethtown

Yost has been at the helm since 2009, promoting a region stretching from Wilmington to Anson County. He previously worked for the N.C. Department of Commerce’s southeast region as a senior developer and regional manager. Yost holds degrees from UNC Chapel Hill and Appalachian State University. 

Favorite family tradition: Formerly attending the UNC-Duke football game every year.

Favorite N.C. place to visit: Anywhere on the Black River for paddling trips. 

What do you listen to on your commute: News, audio books, or silence.

Major inspiration: Right now, it is caregivers who are taking care of our elderly, sick and disabled. There is no more challenging job. Their empathy, dedication and work ethic at caring for others is a daily inspiration.

Career highlight: Transforming North Carolina’s Southeast into a thriving public-private partnership organization.

Favorite hobbies after work: Gardening, landscaping, hanging out with family, walking, and reading.

Best advice for industry newcomers: Act strategically and pay attention to the small things that lead to the big things. Have patience, as results do not happen overnight. Develop and use collaborative engagement skills because nothing gets accomplished going solo. 

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