Harris: Economic job has ‘quality’ applicants

Donnie Douglas - Editor
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LUMBERTON — County Manager Ricky Harris says “about 10” people have been interviewed for the soon-to-be-vacant job of director of economic development for Robeson County, but the search will be widened before anyone is hired.

At least one county commissioner says the hire is “a big deal.”

Greg Cummings, who has held the job for more than two decades, is retiring on Dec. 31, prompting the search for his replacement.

Harris said the job has been advertised with the Fayetteville Observer, through the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, and online, but that he also will post the advertisement in two national publications that have been suggested by Commissioner David Edge.

Harris will make a recommendation to the county Board of Commissioners, which has the authority to approve or reject it.

He said there is no timeline to make the hire.

Harris said he led a team that has conducted several interviews, and he characterized the candidates as being of “good quality.” Jason King and Kellie Blue, who are his assistant county managers, and County Attorney Patrick Pait are among those who joined Harris for the interviews.

The advertisement for the job says an applicant should have a bachelor’s degree in Business/Public Administration, economics or related field; five to seven years of experience in economic or business development area; and that “exceptional organizational skills are a plus.”

It says job requirements include working “aggressively marketing Robeson County as the ideal destination for businesses looking to expand or relocate,” and an “ability to work independently to create new industry and expand existing industries.”

It also says the new hire will be “responsible for long-term goals to diversify the county economy in order to recruit better jobs for the community and region while building a stronger tax base.”

Cummings, who also is the mayor of Pembroke, has held the position for almost 22 years, working out of an office at 200 Airport Blvd. His current salary is listed as $96,981.36 a year.

The advertisement says the job’s pay range is from $59,739 to $76,168, but the salary is negotiable based on experience. Harris acknowledged that the county would be willing to dig deeper into its coffers for the right candidate.

Edge sees the hire as a critical investment in the county’s economic future.

“It’s a big deal. It’s serious business,” he said, adding “That person could make or break this county, so to speak. It could make a difference.”

Robeson County has struggled in the past two decades economically with the loss of as many as 10,000 textile jobs after the North American Free Trade Agreement was ratified, and the shrinkage of the tobacco industry from $100 million a year to about a fifth that, as well as the loss of support jobs that tobacco created.

Many of the jobs that have replaced those lost in textiles and tobacco have been in the tourism industry, which are generally low-paying and poorly benefited.

Robeson County’s unemployment rate for October was 6.1 percent, well above the state average of 4.1 percent, which ranked it the seventh highest out of 100 counties. According to the state Department of Commerce, about 3,100 Robeson County residents were looking for work but couldn’t find it during that month.

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Donnie Douglas

Editor

Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or ddouglas@robesonian.com.

Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or ddouglas@robesonian.com.