City and County elected officials are watching as the new President and CEO of the Fayetteville/Cumberland County Economic Development Corporation digs in. Robert Van Geons comes to Fayetteville from Salisbury where he earned recognition from Consultant Connects as one of the 2017 Top 50 North American Economic Developers. Also listed is Fayetteville’s Juawana Colbert Williams, Economic Development Director of the FCEDC. Consultant Connect is a Michigan-based consulting firm that works with developers and site selectors. In his nine years as a business hunter in Rowan County, Van Geons is credited with having direct involvement in nearly $2 billion of announced projects and was directly responsible for creating or retaining more than 4,500 jobs.
He’s in his fourth week on the job in his office at Fayetteville Technical Community College. He tells Up & Coming Weekly in an exclusive interview that he’d been intrigued with Cumberland County on the few occasions he passed through here. Since settling in, Van Geons believes Greater Fayetteville has what he calls “a great balance of opportunity, affordability and accessibility,” which many cities lack. He’s especially excited about the 6,500 soldiers who leave the service at Fort Bragg each year. They are mostly young, experienced and disciplined people who should be persuaded to settle here. “We should leverage Fort Bragg to make our community better,” he said.
Van Geons sees Cumberland County as a whole, from Spring Lake to Hope Mills. When told Spring Lake is often seen as “that town on the other side of Fort Bragg,” he responded that Spring Lake is the northern gateway to Cumberland County and should be treated as such. Hope Mills is the southern gateway. He wants all of Cumberland County to come together to promote itself.
The first thing he’d like to change is “the poor self-perception” many local people have. He all but echoed the words of the City of Fayetteville Business Development Director Jim Palenick in a recent interview, saying that from what he’s been able to discern, community leaders “lack a hunger for a unified purpose.”
“I’m about closing deals,” Van Geons told Up & Coming Weekly, “using a numbers-based, results-driven philosophy.” He says business brokers and site selectors start with a list of prospective locations. They begin a “site selection process of elimination from the bottom up.” Geons notes that Fayetteville and Cumberland County have often been in the mix among major site selectors.
Van Geons has learned about some of the community’s failures to attract business in recent years and says we can learn from the past, but must put it behind us. “Tangible results are achievable,” he insists. “I wish everyone could see the community with fresh eyes.”