PEMBROKE — Ken Windley, the executive director of COMtech, is leaving his position at the financially struggling industrial park to become the interim county manager in Gates County. His last day at COMtech is Wednesday, and he begins his new job in Gates County on Monday.
Windley, a former Robeson County County manager and COMtech’s executive director since January 2010, said he plans to maintain his residence in Lumberton and travel to Gates County a couple of days a week while working a limited schedule for the next several months.
The director, who has 37 years of experience in public administration, told The Robesonian on Monday that his decision to leave COMtech is all about money. A reduction in county funding for COMtech this fiscal year has resulted in his salary being cut from $90,000 to $30,000 a year, Windley said.
“My salary has been cut by two thirds, and everyone (executive directors) that has been here has made $90,000,” he said.
Windley is currently being paid for only 13 hours a week, although he says he often works as many as 20 hours a week in his efforts to recruit new businesses to the park.
COMtech , which is located just outside of Pembroke on N.C. 711, began operating in January 2001. The park, consisting of more than 700 acres, is designed to provide homes to technology-focused businesses, industry, educational training facilities and business incubators.
Windley said that he is leaving COMtech “administratively” in good shape, but that the park is “not in a good financial state.”
“It’s struggling to get by month by month,” he said. “Some of the property owners are not paying fees that they owe.”
COMtech’s board of directors has been trying to overcome a significant cut in county funding in the fiscal budget that took effect July 1. According to figures previously supplied by County Manager Ricky Harris, the county originally budgeted $96,000, adding $18,000 for Hollingsworth, a company that is helping market COMtech property, and $18,000 for a building loan, bringing the total county allocation for the park to $132,000. Harris, who also sits on COMtech ’s board of directors, also cited figures showing that funding during the past fiscal year was originally $132,000, with additional money allocated later in the year that brought the park’s total funding up to $194,000.
Windley had requested $196,000 funding for the current fiscal year.
Harris was not surprised to hear that Windley is stepping down as COMtech’s executive director to become an interim county manager.
“That’s something county managers do when they have as many as 30 years of experience,” he said.
When contacted, Noah Woods, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, said he was “not aware” of the situation and had no comment.
Harris said COMtech’s board of directors will determine the park’s future..
Windley is expected to submit his resignation to COMtech’s board of directors when it meets today at 6 p.m. According to Ronnie Hunt, the board’s chairman, another board meeting will be held in a couple of weeks to discuss what action should be taken.
“Somehow we will keep the doors of COMtech open,” Hunt said.
Hunt said that he does not expect there will be much, if any, new business activity at COMtech until after the dust of the November presidential race settles.
“A presidential election always impacts the economy,” he said. “It either boosts it up or down, but eventually it levels out.”
According to Windley there are about 30 businesses located at COMtech that employ more than 1,000 people. Tenants pay fees for services offered by the park, including 24-hour security, window washing, grass cutting, parking lot cleaning and trash pickup.