A recent recipient of the N.C. Economic Developers Association’s Economic Developer of the Year award is joining the staff at AdvantageWest, the economic development partnership serving the 23 westernmost counties of the state.
Thomas L. Johnson, who has served as executive director of the Rutherford County Economic Development Commission since April 2006, will head efforts to market the region as a location for advanced manufacturing, among other responsibilities, as AdvantageWest’s new executive vice president.
With three decades of experience in economic, business and community development and planning, Johnson’s most recent accomplishments are the leadership roles he played in bringing two major companies to Rutherford County: Horsehead Corp., representing the single largest manufacturing project in the county’s history, with a $360 million facility and 250 jobs, and Facebook, the largest non-utility announcement in the county’s history, currently building a $450 million data center, with some 400 construction jobs and 45 permanent jobs.
Horsehead is the largest zinc producer in the United States, and the Rutherford County facility will be state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly. Johnson was instrumental in structuring the deal that includes several million dollars of grant assistance from numerous agencies. The announcement about the Pittsburgh-headquartered company locating in Western North Carolina was made on Monday by Gov. Beverly Perdue.
“The citizens of Rutherford County have benefited significantly from Tom’s experience, connections and his aggressive approach to economic development,” said Scott T. Hamilton, president and CEO of AdvantageWest. “With Facebook, and now Horsehead, in less than a year he has helped facilitate more than $800 million in investments in Rutherford County. He was recognized in June by the nearly 600 members of NCEDA for his skills, vision, collaborative spirit and tireless optimism. We’re honored that he’s bringing these talents to AdvantageWest, where the impact he makes will be expanded across our 23-county region.”
“AdvantageWest’s commitment to advanced manufacturing is as strong as ever, as evidenced by the appointment of Tom Johnson, one of the most experienced and highly respected economic development professionals in the Southeast.,” said Tom Alexander, chair of the organization’s 21- member board of directors. “Advanced manufacturing remains vital to our economy, and we are delighted to have Tom on board.”
Previous to his position with Rutherford County EDC, Johnson was president of the Greene County Partnership in Greeneville, Tenn., in 2004–2006. He served with the Burke Partnership for Economic Development, 1987–2004, and the City of Morganton, 1974–1987. In the early 70s he was a planner with the Lawton, Okla., Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the Johnson City, Tenn., Regional Planning Commission.
Johnson is a graduate of the Economic Development Institute at University of Oklahoma, where he also earned a Master’s in Public Administration in 1976 after graduating with a B.S. degree from East Tennessee State University. He was certified as an economic developer (CEcD) in 1998, and was chosen by Business North Carolina magazine as one of 12 top industry hunters in the state.
Among his numerous past appointments and leadership positions are service on the N.C. Commission on Workforce Development, appointed by the governor, and state director of the Southern Economic Development Council, where is also an Honorary Life Member.
Johnson takes the position vacated by Kyle Edney, who was recruited by Illinois-based industrial development firm Agracel, Inc., to oversee the company’s new Southeast office in Charlotte. Johnson will begin work with AdvantageWest on Nov. 1.