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Swanger back in the game with EDC seat

Haywood County Commissioner Mark Swanger is back on the county’s Economic Development Commission five years after he played a critical role in overhauling the organization and redirecting the county’s strategy for economic development.

Swanger recently regained his seat as a Haywood County commissioner in the November election after being voted off the board two years ago. But initially, it didn’t look like he would get to also reclaim a spot on the EDC.

When the new board of county commissioners met for the first time in early December and doled out committee appointments, all five commissioners expressed interest in serving on the EDC. Swanger and newly elected Commissioner Kevin Ensley pushed particularly hard for the appointment. Ensley had partnered with Swanger to make the EDC overhaul a reality five years ago.

The EDC only has room for two county commissioners, however, and the decision of who to appoint rested with with Commissioner Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick. He chose Commissioners Skeeter Curtis and Bill Upton to retain their spots on the EDC, rather than appoint the new commissioners — Swanger and Ensley — to the board. Kirkpatrick had not been not a fan of the EDC overhaul driven by Swanger and Ensley five years ago.

By the following commissioners’ meeting, however, it was announced that Curtis had given up his spot on the EDC to Swanger. Curtis’ attendance record at EDC meetings has been poor. He missed over half the meetings in 2007 and nearly half in 2008.

“He knew of my interest, and I really appreciated his gesture a lot, so I commend him for it,” Swanger said of Curtis.

With his board appointment, Swanger is picking up where he left off. When Swanger was last on the EDC, he helped instate some pivotal changes.

“I was involved in its reorganization to its current state,” he said. “It was a major structural change. It’s safe to say the county government got more involved and the municipalities have a much larger voice now.”

The changes also gave EDC board members more control over the economic development strategy of the organization, and helped move the emphasis away from big new factories to include a focus on recruiting small business and entrepreneurs.

Swanger sees plenty of new opportunities for economic development in Haywood County, including a methane recovery project that could draw alternative energy from the county’s old landfill.

“I think that can be a win-win proposition, in terms of minimal environmental impact while making money,” he said.

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