06/12/14 — Alliance president to leave her post

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Alliance president to leave her post

By From staff reports
Published in News on June 12, 2014 1:46 PM

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Joanna Helms

Wayne County Development Alliance President Joanna Helms announced Wednesday that she will resign effective July 11 to become the first economic development director for the town of Apex in Wake County.

She will begin her new duties on July 21.

Mrs. Helms, who grew up in Wake County, notified Wayne County Manager George Wood and Development Alliance board Chairman Neal Benton earlier in the week.

The public announcement was made Wednesday morning at the regular Development Alliance board meeting.

"It has certainly been an honor to serve as chairman this year, primarily due to our president, Joanna Helms," Benton said. "Her professionalism, attention to detail and presence in the economic development community has always positioned Wayne County in the most favorable light. She will be missed, but we wish her well with her new opportunity at the town of Apex."

Wood said he hated to lose an employee like Mrs. Helms.

The agreement between the county and Development Alliance stipulates that the Development Alliance board appoints the president in conjunction with the county manager since the president is a county employee.

"Neal and I will be working together on starting that process to look at someone new," Wood said. "The other issue of course is sometime in the next 30 days to jointly decide who is going to be the interim director over there while we search.

"It is actually their decision. The way I read the agreement it says 'in consultation with the county manager.' But we are going to work cooperatively on all of that. I don't see any issues with that, but technically it is the WCDA, I think it is the executive board that makes the decision."

Wednesday was a "bittersweet" day, Mrs. Helms said.

"The last 21 years in Wayne County have been amazing to say the least. I am so proud of our economic development program, our organization and the strides we've made. But even more, I am proud to have worked beside and among the most remarkable staff, board of directors and local elected officials. They are truly what make it hard to leave.

"The opportunity in Apex was just something I could not pass up. The southwest part of Wake County is really home for me. It's where I grew up and it's where all my family lives. That weighed heavily on my decision to leave."

Apex has not had an economic developer in the past, she said.

"The chamber tried to do it, the town manager," she said. "But it requires a full-time effort. The mayor and town council decided to get serious. Part of me is very excited about starting and building a new start-up program from scratch."

Mrs. Helms said the job had been posted on the town's website, but that other professionals in the economic development field had contacted her about it and had encouraged her to apply.

"They knew that I was from that area and a graduate of Apex High School," she said.

Mrs. Helms was hired in 1993 as the assistant director of the Wayne County Economic Development Commission. She was elected vice president of the organization in 1998 and in 2000 was promoted to president.

The Wayne County EDC was re-organized in 2006 to its current status as the Wayne County Development Alliance Inc. The Development Alliance is a 501(c)3 public/private organization that provides the lead in all economic development activities for the county and its seven municipalities.

During her tenure in Wayne County, Mrs. Helms was involved in the recruitment and expansion of numerous businesses and industries; was instrumental in the design and development of two industrial parks and multiple industrial sites; and spearheaded the design and construction of three speculative industrial buildings; among other accomplishments.

In 2008 she was named the N.C. Economic Developer of the Year by the N.C. Economic Developers Association and in 2010 she was awarded the N.C. Career Woman of the Year by the N.C. Business & Professional Women's Club.