The North Carolina Economic Development Association honored its top achievers at its annual conference last month in Wilmington. The award winners, representing both big cities and small towns, helped arrange significant deals that brought jobs and investments to their communities.
Donny Hicks, executive director of Gaston County Economic Development, received the President’s Award from the association, given at the discretion of the group’s president, Chris Platé, who is executive director of Monroe-Union County Economic Development.
Hicks graduated from UNC Charlotte in 1983 with a degree in political science.
The next year, while working on a master’s degree in public administration from UNC Chapel Hill, Hicks joined Gaston County Economic Development.
He was promoted to the director’s job the following year, and continues to help bring jobs and investment to Gaston County.
“Eventually I’m going to want to do something else, but right now I couldn’t be happier,” Hicks, a two-time winner of the association’s economic developer of the year award, said. It helps that Gaston County is in higher demand by industry than at any time in the past 39 years, he said.
What they’re saying: “There are only a few people in our business who deserve to be on the Mount Rushmore of economic development, and Donny’s body of work over the years makes him one of them,” Platé said. “It’s one thing to be successful in the easiest of times, it’s another thing to be successful in the difficult times.”
“We’d be lost without him,” Gaston County Commission Chair Chad Brown said. “He’s the one who has helped shape this county into what it is today. He understands what it takes and his staff is second to none.”
By the numbers: Gaston County has seen 5 million square feet of industrial space built in the past two years, and expects the same amount to be built in the next two years.
A total of 7 million square feet of industrial space was built during Hicks’ first 37 years.
Companies adding industrial space include Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service.
Hicks’ work ethic and skills of persuasion for attracting prospective companies have led to growth in Gaston County, Grant Miller, a senior vice president for Colliers International, said. He notes that economic development has transitioned from collecting census data at a library to accessing information online.
“Donny Hicks gets it and he understands what needs to be done and he’s willing to roll up his sleeves and do the work,” Miller said.
“He’s the multi-tool of economic developers. He can do anything and everything he does, he does well.”