Economic development director Robert Van Geons resigns, takes new job in Fayetteville
By Amanda Raymond and Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY – Robert Van Geons, executive director of RowanWorks since January of 2008, will be leaving his position at the end of this month.
Van Geons announced his new position as president and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation on Friday.
Van Geons said he is excited about his new opportunity and looks forward to working with people in Cumberland County, but it is not easy parting from the relationships and friendships he has gained in Rowan County.
“It’s a very difficult and personal decision to leave Salisbury and Rowan County,” he said.
Since becoming executive director of RowanWorks, Van Geons has overseen projects that include the entry into Rowan of Gildan, Agility Fuel Solutions, the Shoppes at Summit and Integro Technologies. He has also helped the county move forward with plans for the Granite Industrial Park and Easter Creek’s 150,000-square-foot speculative buildings.
Van Geons said he directly assisted about $1.1 billion of private sector investment in the county, which supported more than 3,500 jobs.
With support from the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and participation from Salisbury and other municipalities, RowanWorks has been able to expand marketing efforts, help existing industries and bring more than 3,000 acres of new industrial sites to market, a news release said.
“We are grateful for Robert’s longstanding commitment to Rowan County,” said Stephen Kidd, chairman of the Economic Development Board. “In addition to the jobs and projects announced, the board believes that he leaves both our organization and the community well positioned for even more growth and success. Rowan County will continue moving forward with an aggressive strategy for economic development.”
Van Geons took the top economic development position in Rowan County at the start of the Great Recession, and job figures still haven’t fully recovered.
Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Rowan County’s workforce — those employed or actively searching — went from 70,465 in the year before Van Geons started his job in Rowan to 63,806 at the end of 2015 — the latest full year on record.
The number of people employed went from 66,228 in 2007 to 59,963 in 2015.
Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, said there has been “an intensified, coordinated effort to strengthen the foundations of local economic development” for the last couple of years, and those efforts are being noticed around the state and region.
“We are excited about our direction and we are confident that the hard work of Robert and his team is going to result in significant wins for our county,” he said.
Jim Greene, Board of Commissioners vice-chairman and former member of the economic development board, said Van Geons’ departure won’t stop the commission from its economic development efforts.
“Obviously, it will affect us for a while until we can replace him, but it will not deter our efforts as far as the county commission is concerned. Certainly, with Robert being gone, we will have a period of adjustment,” he said.
He said it was important to find a new executive director, but it is just as important to make sure the new director is the right person for the job.
Mayor Karen Alexander said she was shocked to hear about Van Geons’ resignation, but wished him the best as he moved on to another position.
“I think that the EDC has benefited from a new, strong board and so I think that will be a factor in figuring out who the best candidate is in replacing Robert,” she said.
Alexander also said Van Geons has not only been an asset for the community as far as economic development, but he has also been a part of productions at the Piedmont Players Theatre and Lee Street theatre.
According to a press release from the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation, they chose Van Geons based on his “focus on strategic doing (rather than just strategic planning), his experience working with stakeholders in economic development across the state of North Carolina, as well as his focus on collaborative development efforts.”
“We are excited as a county about the opportunities Robert brings to our community,” Glenn Adams, Fayetteville County Commission chairman said in the press release. “We are poised for great things there and the experience he brings will help us in bridging gaps that can push us forward.”
Scott Shelton, project manager of RowanWorks, will serve as interim executive director while the board searches for a new executive director.
“I look forward to assisting the board through this transition, and am happy to serve in this role temporarily,” Shelton said.
Shelton said he is not interested in becoming the permanent executive director.
Kidd said the search should not slow the agency down.
“We have a great staff, and feel confident that they will ensure we continue to close deals while we go through our recruitment process,” Kidd said.
Edds said he was confident in the ability of RowanWork’s staff to continue its work during the search for a new executive director.
“The EDC has a great staff and the most aggressive, talented board in decades. With … Scott Shelton as interim director, a very active board and a quick-moving search process, Rowan County will not skip a beat,” he said.
Van Geons said among the most important projects the new director will have to handle is the completion of Easter Creek’s spec building in Granite Quarry and continuing to add more spec buildings to the county. There are also existing industry expansion projects that staff is working on that will need to be completed.
“The person coming in here next will have a good foundation in leadership and staff to take advantage of,” he said.
Van Geons said he was grateful for the opportunity to lead economic development in the county and the support he received from officials, the Economic Development Board and community.
“I have no doubt there’s going to be great success in the coming years,” he said.
Contact reporter Amanda Raymond 704-797-4222 and reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.