The Transylvania Times -

Goodbye, Artie Wilson, And Thank You

 

Commission Chairman Mike Hawkins said Artie Wilson's leadership during the county's sesquicentennial celebration was critical. Pictured here: Wilson helps to cut the county's birthday cake.

For Arthur C. "Artie" Wilson Jr. the past 25 years have been all about one thing – service and commitment to Transylvania County citizens.

After serving three years as the county's economic development director, Wilson was named county manager in 1992. Over his career, Wilson has seen it all – good and bad – from the closing of the county's biggest manufacturing plants to the development of new county resources and construction of new facilities.

Throughout his tenure, Wilson, who turns 68 in November, has been a familiar face; not just in the governmental realm but also in the community that he is proud to call home. In honor of Wilson's retirement and years of service, The Transylvania Times spoke with some of those who worked closely with Wilson during his career to offer insight into their personal and working relationship with the man who has played an integral role in shaping the county over the past quarter-century.

Few people have worked as closely recently with Wilson on a daily basis as Trisha Hogan, clerk to the board of county commissioners.

Hogan has worked with Wilson since January 2007 and said his guidance and mentorship have been invaluable in helping her learn about county government.

"When I first came to work for Transylvania County I hardly knew anything about local government or Transylvania County for that matter," she said. "Having someone like Artie here that not only has been in county government for so long, but is also a native, has allowed me to learn so much. Sometimes I feel like I was born and raised here myself.

"(Artie) also has a work ethic like no other, and he has instilled that in me. Artie has made me a better person and a better clerk, and I'm blessed to have had this opportunity to work with him. I think we've made a pretty good team over the last several years."

Other county employees also praised Wilson's tireless work ethic and his commitment to serving the county.

"I think it's fair to say that Artie is one of the hardest working individuals I've ever been able to work with and I've learned a lot from him," said Mark Burrows, county planning and economic development director.

A common theme among those who worked with Wilson is his dedication to ensuring Transylvania County is the best it possibly can be. That commitment covers a broad spectrum, from efficiently managing the county's budget to working to keep Transylvania County Schools as the pillar of success it historically has been.

School Superintendent Jeff McDaris said he is grateful for all that Wilson has done on behalf of the local schools since McDaris took over the position in 2009.

"Artie has been good to work with over a long period of time," McDaris said. "A lot of people don't realize that he is a strong advocate for the schools. We might not always agree on the numbers but he's been good to work with."

Despite not always agreeing on numbers, McDaris said he and Wilson maintained a close working relationship over the years as both strived to do what is best for students.

"Over the years we've met many times here at my office, at his office," McDaris said. "We've gone to lunch frequently. We've tried to work together to try and position the schools as best we can, budget-wise. I consider Artie a friend, and I'm sure he feels the same way."

There are also those who worked closely with Wilson for many years who beat him to the punch on retirement or will be joining him soon. Rick Pangle, former county parks and recreation director, retired last October after 35 years on the job – 21 of which he worked alongside Wilson.

In speaking about his relationship with Wilson, Pangle said he always appreciated the fact that Wilson could forge friendships with county employees but also strike a balance between the personal and working part of relationships.

"We always had a good relationship," Pangle said. "Artie could be your friend, but he could also be your boss, and that's one of the things I always liked."

Pangle said one of Wilson's legacies as county manager will be all the improvements to county facilities as well as new construction that took place under his leadership.

"The county has progressed facility-wise under Artie as much or more than anything," Pangle said. "We've got a new library, a new jail, new law enforcement center, new maintenance building, developed the new park at the recreation center, started development of the new park in Rosman. So, he's really been a driving force behind new and better facilities for the public."

One county employee who will soon be joining Wilson in retirement is longtime county tax administrator David Reid. Reid, who will be retiring at the end of 2014 after 39 years with the county, said his earliest memories of Wilson were forged during their youth on the baseball diamond.

"My relationship with Artie goes back to the days when I was in Little League," Reid said. "Artie is a few years older than me and he was always around the ball fields when I was there, so I've basically known him all my life."

Although Reid joked that as manager of the county's budget it was important to "stay on (Wilson's) good side" he was quick to praise Wilson for his hard work and bringing a personal touch to his service to the citizens.

"Artie's a very good man," Reid said. "He's caring; he's a hard worker. He's really been a bargain to Transylvania County, with the amount of time he's dedicated to his job and the level of care he's given it. He's always worked toward treating folks equitably and his approach has been one of empathy and caring. He's a good man, and I wish him the best in his retirement."

As county manager, Wilson is directly responsible to report to county commissioners and for the past six years Mike Hawkins has served as chairman of the board. In looking back over the past 15 years – from the closing of the manufacturing plants in the county to the economic collapse in 2008 – Hawkins said Wilson was at the helm during one of the roughest economic times in the county's history but managed to weather the storm with smart, concise leadership.

"If you look at the historical view of his time as county manager, Artie certainly drew the short straw in terms of having to deal with very difficult economic issues," Hawkins said. "First of all, the period around 2000 when we had the manufacturing job loss and working out of that hole and then getting hit again in 2008, with the overall economic downturn. It posed challenges that not everybody could have responded to, but Artie responded to both of those things in a very positive, proactive way."

Hawkins made it clear that without Wilson's knowledge and ability to work through those tough times, Transylvania's economic landscape would look like a much different place than it does today.

"It's not an exaggeration to say that, economically, Transylvania County would be in a much more difficult position today had Artie not been the county manager because of his suggested action steps," Hawkins said.

Hawkins also highlighted Wilson's commitment to community service. Hawkins said the 2011 Transylvania County Sesquicentennial celebration required countless hours of work and a tireless effort on Wilson's behalf.

"Artie was so instrumental in making (Sesquicentennial) happen, and it was such a positive thing for the whole county," he said. "Artie really drove that bus. He had a vision. We formed a committee and Artie was really instrumental in making sure that the activities and the projects that the committee came up with actually came to be. When I think about Artie those are the two things that I'll think about in terms of his tenure. His steady hand in guiding the county through the two different economic setbacks that (the county) suffered... plus the sesquicentennial. To me, those are his two lasting legacies."

Recollecting on the Past

In an interview last week, Wilson said his time with the county has been rewarding but also seems to have gone by in a blur.

"I would describe my time with the county as going by very quickly," Wilson said. "It's amazing with my 25 years with the county it seems like yesterday when I came on board. To see so many changes in the community since that time, with the coming of Walmart and Kmart, to thinking about the plants that were very active during that time and to see all the changes downtown is really amazing. Time has flown by these past few years."

While there have undoubtedly been positive changes in the community over the past 25 years, there have also been trying times; some that still resonate to this day. Wilson said the closing of the county's three major employers – Ecusta, DuPont and Coats America – was one of the low points of his time with the county.

"The biggest negative change I've seen has been the closing of our large manufacturers," he said. "The Ecusta mill, which I worked at for 20 years, the closing of the DuPont plant and Coats America - those were very negative points in my career that we tried very hard to replace and sustain but were unable to do so because of outside factors. So, those were very disheartening experiences that we had to overcome."

The economic downfall in 2008 was also a difficult time for Transylvania County. Wilson said although the recession invariably took a toll on all citizens, he was proud to call Transylvania a "can-do community" that banded together under difficult circumstances.

On the bright side, Wilson said there are plenty of exciting prospects on the horizon – specifically the growth at the new Excelsior plant, as well as the Davidson River Village project.

"Davidson River Village has a lot of promise for the county, and I think we're a year to two years away from seeing some major happenings down there. So, I'm excited about that and I think the county is financially poised to capitalize on some of the things that will be happening."

For Wilson, speaking about Transylvania County isn't just a managerial duty. As a lifelong county native, Wilson said he takes great pride in having served his fellow citizens and working to build a better community that he calls home.

"I take great pride in the fact that I was born here in our community," he said. "I'm a native of Transylvania County. I went to school here. I worked here all my life. I see people as my friends and understand that I work for the board of commissioners, who in turn work for the citizens of Transylvania County, so I see my job as being 24/7.

"If somebody stops me in the grocery store and asks me a question, it's my responsibility to try to find an answer for them. And if I don't have an answer, I'll write it down and get back to them. I take it very personal. I want the people to know that I care because it's not just a job to me; it's my home and I value it just like they do."

A pivotal part of providing that top level of service to the community is having high-quality staff in place. Wilson left no doubt what he thought about all the county employees he worked with over the years.

"I have to say, first of all, that we have the best county employees around," he said. "Our employees do a remarkable job. What a bang we, as citizens of Transylvania County, get for our buck."

When asked what his proudest accomplishment was, Wilson said the new county library ranks at the top of the list.

"What an effort that took between the private and public sector to partner and build a brand new, state-of-the-art facility," Wilson said. "It is one of those libraries that a lot of people in the state look at. It's in a lot of different magazines talking about what it looks like. And just to see the number of people that utilize our library. We're in the top 10 in the number of per capita circulation in the state, so that's a great achievement right there."

Wilson also referenced the new community park in Rosman, the new administration building, renovations to the county courthouse and the new Animal Shelter as some of the projects he is proud of. Wilson said the finished result of those projects didn't mean nearly as much to him as the collaborative efforts of employees, volunteers and citizens that made them possible in the first place.

"It's not just facilities," he said. "It's to see the pride in our people and the cooperative spirit we have in our community of making things happen."

As for the future, with no more meetings to attend, no more numbers to crunch and no more manager's reports to prepare, Wilson said his primary focus will be spending time with his family.

"My immediate plans are to help with my parents," Wilson said. "My dad is 93 and my mother is 89. They're having some health issues, and I hope to be able to do some things with them that they are not able to do or will not do themselves. My son has his own small business and he wants me to be his PR (public relations) person and help him with the books a little bit.

In retirement, Wilson plans to spend more time with his family.

"I've got five grandkids and one great-grandchild recently. With the grandkids, they're involved with sports. So, I hope to be able to attend many softball, baseball, volleyball and basketball games that I have missed over the past several years. So, my time is going to be full."

Wilson didn't rule out the possibility that he may return to public service by way of a county board or committee but said it would be several years down the road before he made that decision. Wilson said he has full confidence in new the county manager, Jamie Laughter, and her ability to continue leading Transylvania County in a positive direction.

In the meantime, Wilson will be able to do something that probably seems foreign after 22 years of county leadership – relax.

"I plan to just sit back and take it easy," he said.

 
 

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