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'I felt like it's time'

Cathy Johnson, the VP of Existing Industry for the Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp., retires after 30 years.


Cathy Johnson has a pair of steel-toed shoes in the trunk of her car, a paperclip holder shaped like a tiny cinderblock on her desk and a litany of Elvis Presley songs always on her mind. It’s an interesting collection, one that happens to go nicely with the freight container’s worth of memories from her 30-year career in economic development.

Johnson, who serves as vice president of Existing Industry for the Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp., retired on July 1 after an accomplished career as a fixture on the Fayetteville and Cumberland County economic development scene and champion of the local manufacturing community.

“Cathy has been an incredible resource to me and continues to share her knowledge with new team members,” said Robert Van Geons, president and CEO of FCEDC. “She has made thousands of existing industry visits, assisted hundreds of companies, and leads our Plant Manager’s Association.  We are all grateful for her service to Fayetteville and Cumberland County.”

Johnson, 66, rose through the ranks in economic development over the years, starting out as an administrative assistant for the then-Fayetteville Area Economic Development Corp. in 1992. She had no idea at the time that she would go on to accomplish such longevity. Six months after she arrived, she took on the tasks of payroll and payroll taxes.

“I found it quite interesting and stayed with it,” she said. “I just kept getting promoted.”

 During the years when the economic development organization was connected to the local chamber of commerce, she had the chance to travel on chamber tours.

“I took it as an opportunity to see the world,” she said. “The first tour was in China. I went to Budapest, Austria, the Czech Republic, and twice to Prague. I learned so much about culture and history.”

She found her real niche when she was charged with serving as a liaison to the fledgling Cumberland County’s Plant Managers Association, an organization that provides a forum for local manufacturing leaders on subjects of common interest such as education, community involvement, economic development, utility costs, health care, and taxes. She eventually was awarded membership in the organization, served as its secretary and treasurer, and was never hesitant to don those steel-toed shoes or even a protective hard hat when the situation called for such attire.

“Cathy took the bull by the horns and ran with it,” said Bob Petroski, who retired earlier this year as chief engineer at Hercules Steel. “We would not have had the Plant Managers Association without Cathy. She’s been the backbone of the organization.

“All the guys liked Cathy because they knew how much work she did,” he said. “She had a real desire to keep the organization going.”

Johnson grew up in a military family and attended five different high schools in four years before graduating in Anne Arundel, Maryland. After moving to North Carolina and starting her career in economic development, she earned an associate degree in business from Fayetteville Technical Community College and certification from the Institute for Organizational Management at the University of Georgia.

Looking back over her career, she can reflect on a host of changes in the local landscape.

“Downtown is a big change,” she said. “Now it’s nice down here. And look at the mall. Our retail scene has exploded. Companies have come and gone, but we continue to bring in companies and jobs, which is a good thing for our community.”

Upon retirement, Johnson will have time for her hobbies like gardening, crafting and oil painting and for spending time with her family, including a son and 7-year-old granddaughter who live in Kansas.

“After 30 years, I felt like it’s time, but I’ll miss this job,” she said. “And the plant managers have been like extended family.”

She’ll be missed, as well. FCEDC hosted a reception for her that Van Geons opted to term a celebration of service rather than a retirement.

“There’ll never be another Cathy,” said Kelvin Farmer, chairman of FCEDC’s board of directors.

Fayetteville, Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp., Plant Managers Association