Robert Carney stepped into his new role as executive director of Cabarrus Economic Development on Aug. 1. The Hickory native and East Carolina University graduate previously led the Mooresville-South Iredell Economic Development Corp. since 2010. Now that he’s had a couple of months to fully immerse himself in all things Cabarrus County, we asked him about his plans for leading economic development efforts and recruiting new business and industry to the area.
Q: Cabarrus Economic Development is the lead economic development agency for Cabarrus County and its five municipalities (Concord, Kannapolis, Harrisburg, Midland and Mount Pleasant). How does the organization work to improve economic development?
A: Here’s my short answer. Economic development is a popular buzzword, especially during election seasons, but what we do each and every day is take global/environmental market conditions and bring it all the way down to what makes sense for the local community. We use that knowledge to drive local economic success through healthy growth of tax base and jobs in the community. It’s constantly asking the question of, “Who are we today, who should we be tomorrow and how do we get there?”
We put together the economic development strategy and then work with our public and private leadership to drive that strategy forward. That strategy changes as market conditions change and the community changes. It’s a constant evaluation and execution of how do we make our business environment better.
Q: What are your priorities and goals for your first six months as executive director?
A: To educate myself on the community, my leadership and understand my team. Frankly, it’s been constant SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to understand where we are today and where the community wants to be tomorrow.
Q: What challenges do Cabarrus County and its municipalities face when recruiting new business?
A: First off, it should be noted that Cabarrus as a whole is way ahead of the game. We have natural assets that most communities would only dream of. That said, each city or town has different challenges. Some challenges have been having site-ready product, available infrastructure, utilities, workforce, housing product, etc. – and it all matters in a company’s business decision.
Q: What selling points are unique to Cabarrus County and its municipalities?
A: Cabarrus County is the business corridor for the Charlotte region. We have immediate access to Center City Charlotte and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, while having Concord Regional Airport in our own community. We’re attractive to businesses that want both urban and rural lifestyle options. Then, we have product. We have both sites that are ready for development as well as speculative buildings that are ready right now. Quality school systems, large labor-shed of high quality workforce, low taxes … I could go on about our unique advantages.
Q: What influenced your decision to come to Cabarrus County?
A: I loved my time in Mooresville and it gave me the opportunity to work in an aggressive community with high growth potential. But by comparison, Mooresville’s a smaller area. Cabarrus County as a whole gives me the opportunity to help develop in a larger area and focus each community’s goals for success.
Q: What did you learn from your experience in Mooresville-South Iredell that gives you a fresh perspective on Cabarrus County issues?
A: I’ve learned that focused and selfless leadership is the cornerstone of positive economic growth for a community. When both your business and political leadership build and share a vision for community growth, that’s when anything is possible. Part of our responsibility is to always reinforce that collaboration.
Q: What are the similarities in the challenges both counties face? What are the differences?
A: The Charlotte region in general is a high growth area. Especially for those communities that touch Mecklenburg county. Both communities have to deal with the rapid influx of growth. The key is to ensure that growth is healthy and as balanced as possible.
Q: What have you been hearing from Cabarrus County economic development stakeholders over the past couple of months?
A: I’m seeing and feeling a lot of excitement in the community. I think that everyone is recognizing that the county is moving in a healthy direction.
Q: How did you get interested economic development?
A: I got interested in economic development by pure luck. After graduating from ECU, I began publishing a lifestyle magazine in Miami, Fla. I was ready to get back to North Carolina and happened upon a couple of elected leaders of Iredell County. After our meeting, they felt my skills in relationship management and business development might fit well.
Q: What was your very first job?
A: My very first job was in 2nd grade when I began bringing various candies to school to sell to my fellow students. It was an awesome early education of supply vs. demand vs. consequences of selling candy at school. My teachers were not pleased.
Q: What do you do when you’re not working?
A: I like to stay very active when I’m not working; I believe it keeps the mind sharp. I’m active in CrossFit, skiing, snowboarding and golf. When I’m not on the run, I enjoy hanging with my wife, Erika, and our 2-year-old daughter, Ali.