John Marek only began working as Anson County’s economic leader last October, but he has big hopes for the county this year and going forward.
Marek was hired as the executive director of the Anson Economic Development Partnership as of Oct. 1, 2016.
Marek graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1985, and was employed in the automotive industry in Ohio before moving to the Charlotte area in 1995, when he went to work for a consulting firm that often worked with industrial manufacturing companies.
“One of our clients was big into mergers and acquisitions, and so I got kind of peripherally involved in closing plants and opening plants,” Marek said. “And so I made some contacts in the economic development field and as a result of that, in 2004, I started my own consulting firm. And so naturally, some of my early clients were chambers of commerce and economic development organizations, and things just kind of grew from there.”
He finished a project he was working on with his firm in Transylvania County, and was told that Statesville was looking for someone to assist with business expansion. When he inquired about it, he was told they needed a full-time person, but only for a two-year project. He did so well that they had him stay on once the two years were up, and he ended his consulting firm.
Marek became the director of business retention, expansion and marketing for Statesville Regional Development in 2007. In the six months before moving to Anson, he served as the organization’s interim director.
Before applying for the job, Marek’s main interactions in Anson were stopping at Bojangle’s for a biscuit and coffee on his way to the beach and some work he did with Coffing Hoists, which later became Columbus McKinnon, in the late 1990s.
The Anson Economic Development Partnership’s charter is to “promote environmentally-friendly industry and sustainable prosperity for Anson County,” Marek said. While he welcomes tourism-boosting opportunities, he is largely focused on creating industrial and commercial jobs.
“What attracted me was I feel there’s a lot of potential here,” Marek said. “I heard about this job opening as I called up my counterpart in Monroe in Union County, and asked him what he knew about Anson County. He said, ‘As a matter of fact, I’ve been doing some talking to those folks over there, trying to give them some direction as to what to do.’ And he said, ‘There’s nothing but potential over there. There’s just a tremendous amount of untapped potential.’
“When we get the issues resolved with the roads going to Charlotte — which hopefully will be resolved with the Monroe bypass — when we have that issue resolved, we’re going to be in a really great position for developing this county, both from a commercial and residential standpoint, although I think most of that growth is going to be in the western part of the county, over by Peachland.” Marek continued. “And then in the center part of the county — you know, your Wadesboro, your Ansonville, Lilesville, those areas — I think they are really going to benefit just by having better connectivity to the city of Charlotte, to the interstates over there and to the airport.”
North Carolina’s investments in its ports in Wilmington, and the variety of products including agricultural goods that go through there, mean that Wadesboro’s location between Charlotte and Wilmington may benefit Anson, Marek said. An increase in military manufacturing in the area could also provide opportunities; though Marek said that could change with the changing government leadership, there will always be a need for military items, he said. Some businesses in Anson already provide textile products for the military.
All may help boost Anson’s growth.
The county’s wealth of water will also be a key factor, Marek predicted, identifying water and an able workforce as two of the most important components to growth.
“We have a tremendous amount of water,” he said. “Unlike the Catawba river system, our water is not taxed at this time, so we can draw quite a bit out without causing environmental issues.
“The workforce issue is a two-phase issue for us,” he continued. “Right now, we have about 3,500 people a day who leave the county to work for Union County, or Albemarle, or Rockingham or even Charlotte. So we have a ready workforce. And most of those people leaving the county are highly skilled or professional people going to jobs in uptown Charlotte or in Albemarle or Rockingham. And I’m fairly certain that they’d just as soon stay at home and not have that long commute, not have to pay money for the commute. So if we can bring jobs here for those people, not have to have them leave, we’ll have about 3,500 people we can put into good jobs immediately.”
The county will still have to increase its workforce and invest in workforce training, he said. Manufacturing has changed over the years and requires a different skill set than it used to, necessitating employee training. Some jobs have been lost to automation, but many jobs have gone overseas for cheaper labor and need to be brought back, he said, adding that even a reduced number of jobs is more than none.
Marek hopes that the upcoming textile plant King Charles Industries will be the beginning of a series of job creation opportunities in Anson, saying that the October announcement about the plan from then-Gov. Pat McCrory was “huge” for the county.
Although automation has changed the nature of the job, Marek celebrated the return of the “traditional” industry to the United States, though he noted Anson’s strong background in textiles. He credited local textile business leadership for navigating the changing nature of the business to be able to succeed when similar businesses across the state closed.
“We’re working right now on about a dozen different leads,” Marek said. “A couple of them are in existing industries that are maybe talking about doing something here. A couple are from industries that are not here now that are kind of looking at us. Not everything that is a lead will obviously come to fruition, and sometimes, other communities will be a better fit. Sometimes, companies will choose to go elsewhere. But yeah, I think we have enough in the pipeline that I really anticipate in 2017 we’ll have a handful of nice announcements. Nothing huge. I see 2017 as being a year in which we lay the groundwork for future success. We’ll have some wins, but I don’t think we’re really going to move the needle significantly for a couple of years yet.”
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.