By Shannon Beamon, Staff Writer
Thursday, December 5, 2013 —
Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation (ADDC) welcomed in its new executive director Wednesday.
Three months after former executive director Kathy Almond became the leader of Stanly County Chamber of Commerce, the ADDC hired Shannon Johnson, former sustainable local economy manager for Cabarrus County.
Johnson comes to the ADDC with 21 years of public and private sector experience. Along with developing sustainable local business strategies for Cabarrus, Johnson has worked as a small business consultant, been part of the North Carolina Main Street Program and served as director for the Washington Homeland Security Roundtable in Washington, D.C.
“Local economy development is really what’s attractive to me,” Johnson said.
When budget cuts in Cabarrus limited what she could do with local development projects, Johnson began searching for a way to get back to them. When she heard the executive director position at the ADDC had opened up, she said it was exactly what she was looking for.
“It’s a great avenue for local economic development — the area has a lot going for it,” she said.
“There’s a lot of history and you can still see it in the buildings.
“That helps when you’re talking to people about setting up businesses. They can envision that charm. The city also invests a lot in the gardens and landscaping and partnering with committees to make that happen. Really everything’s been done well and thoughtfully. It shows that people here have pride and that’s a good feeling for an area to have.”
However, Johnson said that in her opinion the community’s attitude was it’s biggest asset.
“Through the interviewing process, I’ve spent a lot of time here,” she said.
“Everybody I’ve talked to, whether individual, business owner or community leader, was overwhelmingly positive.
“They love the place they live and they work together to build it up. ... I kept waiting for that person who has negative things to say, but I never really got that. I never found an ugly underbelly. I don’t think it’s here.”
While Johnson said she needs to get more familiar with downtown Albemarle before she can really frame her own vision for the area, she said there are some goals she will start working on right away.
“There is a huge potential to bring in more traffic here,” Johnson said.
“Albemarle sits between the tourism of natural attractions [such as Morrow Mountain State Park] and the busy box store circuit, which always draws in a lot of people on the weekends. Geographically it is very doable to start siphoning people into downtown for the benefits they can find there as well. That’s something I’m really excited about and I can start working on that without impeding any plans that are already in place here.”
A few months from now, Johnson said she will probably have other plans to address as well, but getting people into downtown will always be a high priority.
“It’s very hard for businesses to invest in being open if people aren’t coming through,” she said.
However, Johnson sees her new role as encompassing more than just economic development. In the months to come she hopes to come up with strategies that will help the community as a whole.
“You can focus on the economic development of the area as much as you want, but if you don’t, at the same time, put effort into the community as a whole, into it’s social development, into it’s health standards, into how businesses are giving back, then you’re only going to get so far,” she said.
“You need all of the pieces to really truly be economically sustainable.”
As the holidays wrap up, she looks forward to working with business and community leaders to move toward that kind of sustainability.
To submit story ideas, contact Shannon Beamon at (704) 982-2121 ext. 24 or at shannon@stanlynews press.com