LAURINBURG — Having spent much of the last 20 years behind an executive desk in a bank office, Scotland County’s new economic developer has leapt at the chance to get out and meet the community where it is.
A Laurinburg native and member of Scotland High School’s class of 1989, Mark Ward sees no better way to help connect the county with businesses and industries interested in locating in this part of the country.
“I can get in my car and go see people, that’s the flexibility that I enjoy about this job: I’m not tied behind this desk,” said Ward. “I can’t make money behind this desk for the county — I’ve got to go out and meet people in the community.”
Ward, formerly vice president of the Laurinburg branch of First Bank, was hired in April to fill an 18-month vacancy in the Scotland County Economic Development Corporation’s director position and started work on May 2. Ward is a graduate of UNC-Pembroke.
Greg Icard, the county’s first EDC director, resigned in 2014.
Last November, Ward began to give serious consideration to applying for the job.
“I was at the bank, I enjoyed what I did, but I was at a point where I needed to step away from banking or I needed to give 120 percent to it,” he said. “With the bank, I could do a little bit for a lot of people in the community, but with economic development I can do a lot for everybody in the county.”
Ward hit the ground running in his first few days, with a week of back-to-back meetings and getting a handle on the volume of information processing that will be among his primary functions.
As economic development director, Ward is the first contact for industries considering Scotland County in their search for the best location for expansion and he has armed himself with statistical portraits of the area as well as vital information about available industrial sites, utility services, and other infrastructure.
“It’s not all about being out in the public; it’s a lot of documentation that you’ve got to get done, a lot of research, a lot of preparing to meet with that client,” said Ward.
Based on what he has learned about industries’ level of interest in the area and the county’s support from the state and the Southeastern Economic Development Commission, Ward feels that the county’s economic tides are turning.
“There is a lot of interest in Scotland County that we never know about,” he said. “During my second week on the job I had a company call me, and that was great. I met with them, I gave them some information, and I hope that that will be the first one I can say I helped bring to Scotland County.”
Though the county has its weaknesses in labor force and infrastructure, Ward said it has assets in the same areas.
“Our fiber optic is huge and nobody else in the area can compare — Richmond County doesn’t have it, Montgomery County doesn’t have it,” he said. “Every industrial site we have has Pee Dee Natural Gas available. There are a lot of places in Moore County where you can’t get natural gas, period.”
He also described as a strength the support of the county’s elected officials, who have the final say in offering incentives — like land and tax waivers — to businesses that will create a significant impact on the county.
“Our county commissioners are dedicated to business,” he said. “There’s no doubt that if there’s an incentive to give out or if they can do something to attract a business, they’re going to do it.”
Ward lives in Laurinburg with his wife Susan, 15-year-old daughter Sarah and 11-year-old son Ethan. He is a member of Stewartsville Baptist Church and serves as treasurer of the Laurinburg Optimist Club.
Though Ward left his banking career with two decades of experience marketing to potential clients, it is experience gained as a high school student waiting tables at the Lob Steer Inn — where McDuff’s is now located — that he considers most valuable.
“That probably prepared me for this job more than anything else, because of the communication skills,” he said. “You’ve got to treat the customers like you want their business.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.