By Brian Graves, Staff Writer
The Stanly News & Press
Friday, March 22, 2013 —
It was a strange twist of historical fate that brought Sharon Allred Decker back to Stanly County Thursday afternoon.
She was here to speak at the Economic Develop-ment Commission’s Ally Awards luncheon to honor those individuals and organizations that have offered assistance in the effort to improve the county’s economy.
The “twist” is she is the second consecutive state secretary of commerce to be a native of Stanly County.
She follows Keith Crisco who served in the same post under the administration of Gov. Bev Perdue.
Crisco was here with his fellow native Stanly Countian at the same time he was being named the chairman of the North Carolina Communities and Business Alliance, a group formed late last year to promote economic growth and development in the state.
Decker succeeded Crisco when Gov. Pat McCrory named her to the position after he took office in January.
So, it seemed fitting that Decker would return to her roots to encourage her home county on as it seeks better economic times.
County Commissioner Lindsay Dunevant, who was a childhood friend and neighbor of Decker while she lived in Albemarle, gave the introduction.
Dunevant went through Decker’s many accomplishments, including 17 years at Duke Power, with a stint as that company’s first female vice president.
“My appreciation for Sharon began when she was an elementary school student and we were next door neighbors with her parents as they served the congregation of West Albemarle Baptist Church,” Dunevant recalled.
He said she has “realized her full potential by taking advantage of every opportunity she has been blessed with to become more than she could have hoped for or imagined.”
Decker said she has great memories of the county, having been born in Stanly Family Hospital, and her father was the pastor at West Albemarle Baptist for a decade in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The family left when she was 4-years-old, but she says there were very close friendships made, and they return to the county on a regular basis.
“You helped shape my life,” she said.
“I’m always proud to say, ‘I’m from Stanly County.’ Stanly County is home and I’m proud of that.”
She got the crowd to laugh when she joked that when one becomes a public official, there is a search about anything in one’s past that could be an embarrassment.
“The only thing that I can remember is there was a picture of me topless and it was on Mill Street when I was 2-years-old,” she said.
“There was a crowd of boys who lived on that street and Lindsay’s two sisters and myself. So, there were 10 boys, Angelina, Debbie and Sharon, all of us shirtless, standing on Mill Street and playing on the street just like all of us did when we were 2-years-old.”
She also noted the presence of Crisco, who she called “a great confidant and guide.”
She also broke the news, slightly before Gov. McCrory’s official announcement, that MetLife is bringing two of its largest divisions to the state, opening sites in Raleigh and Charlotte over the next three years involving 2,600 jobs.
Speaking on the subject of developing the economy, Decker said there were five important points to remember.
“When I think about the state’s economy, I come at it as a small town girl though my history is tied to a very successful urban center,” Decker said.
“But, I know you can’t disconnect the two. We are intrinsically connected, but uniquely have challenges of our own.”
She said the five points are relevant no matter what area of the state is involved.
She said every person should have the opportunity to live a healthy life.
“That means access to good, quality health care even in our rural communities,” Decker said.
“I brag I had my foot surgery in a rural hospital in North Carolina.”
She said one of the most important things the state can offer to potential employers is healthy employees.
“That is also connected to the quality of the food we create and agribusiness is critically important to the health of North Carolina,” Decker said.
She also mentioned the importance of education.
“Look at what you’ve done with Stanly Community College. Look at what you’ve done with your public schools. Look at what you’ve done with Pfeiffer,” she said.
Decker said there needs to be a pro-active movement in economic development.
“We need to recruit firms that have the long-term sustainable opportunity to operate in North Carolina and do more for small business and help them grow,” she said.
“Small business is the life blood of the North Carolina economy.”
She also noted the importance of the arts, culture and tourism and added there would be a move to better brand the state, making it more attractive to visitors.
“Where else can you have the beach and the mountains in the same day?” she asked.
“We underestimate the power of a great experience in a visit, not only to bring tourism dollars but to bring their businesses here.”
Decker mentioned the points of interest in Stanly County, including Morrow Mountain State Park, Lake Tillery and the many wineries.
She also said the quality of life the state offers is an important part.
“If we’re competitive they see opportunities and relationships in a bigger and bolder way.”
She said it was important for the local leaders and businesses to work together, adding there were many pluses in Stanly County’s favor.
“Economic development happens at a community level,” Decker said.
“We need to be going in the same direction.”
She said the opportunity was unique for her home county.
“When I think about Stanly County, I think about a place some would say is in the middle of nowhere,” Decker said.
“I say you’re in the center of everything.
“You’re sitting in the middle of two of the best airports in the state. You have access with a fantastic facility of your own.
“You are within commuting distance of great urban centers, but yet you offer a quality of life those urban centers will never be able to offer.
“You offer a sense of community and a commitment to community health. You offer a commitment to education that puts you in the center of opportunity to redefine this economy in ways it has never been defined before.”
Decker said all of this means the county needs to get creative in its quest for economic development.
“Here’s what I know about Stanly County,” she continued, “You love this place. You are here consciously, purposely by choice.”
She said many have had the chance to take business elsewhere, but chose to stay because of their affection for the area.
“It is out of that passion and commitment that your economy has been turning and will continue to turn,” Decker said.