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FCEDC's VP of Existing Industry retires after 30 years

By Kim Hasty, posted 1 month ago

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 Fayetteville Cumberland Economic  Development Corporation, recently announced that she will retire 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 then-Fayetteville Area Economic Development Corporation 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, healthcare, 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.

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