MOREHEAD CITY — The Carteret County Economic Development Department has a new leader at its helm, one who is no stranger to the worlds of workforce and financial development and who hopes to guide the region through a period of growth.
Michele Querry took over as economic development director last month after being officially named to the position by the Carteret County Board of Commissioners Sept. 20. At the time, Ms. Querry was serving as interim director and had applied for the director’s position, but said she wasn’t expecting the announcement to come during the commissioners’ meeting.
“That was a surprise to me, it was obviously a wonderful surprise,” she told the News-Times in an interview Tuesday.
Ms. Querry began her employment with the county in March 2019 when she was brought on to work as an administrative assistant in the county manager’s office. Later that year, she moved to the economic development department, where she worked closely under previous director Don Kirkman. She was then named interim director upon Mr. Kirkman’s retirement this past June.
“(The county) solicited applications through the normal competitive process, so I interviewed with a panel and…went through that process,” she said.
As economic development director, Ms. Querry will earn an annual salary of $81,412.54.
Originally from Texas, Ms. Querry describes her background as “varied,” something she thinks is an asset to her job now. She has a master’s degree in public administration and worked for some years on the finance side of campaigns and elections in Washington, D.C. She then transitioned to working as a city council liaison in Jacksonville, Fla., where she got her first experience with local government work.
“I learned a ton about county government and learned even more about local politics,” she said.
Over the years, Ms. Querry has run her own consulting firm, worked in real estate and marketing, fundraised for campaigns and been involved in workforce development and business recruitment, among other jobs.
“My background is varied and I think all of the components of what I’ve done and my prior experiences has really led me to this point, which is kind of exciting to be able to put it all together and then put it to work for the county and this economic development perspective,” she said. “I’m really passionate about the work, I love the work.”
Ms. Querry recognizes Carteret County is on the brink of potential major growth with the arrival of Interstate 42 in a few years, and she intends to be “proactive, not reactive,” in planning for that growth. She has begun working with local officials, particularly with the town of Newport, where I-42 is supposed to terminate, on planning for future infrastructure and other needs.
The economic development department can also help drive and guide growth. Before the coronavirus pandemic, a major focus of the department was attracting new full-time residents to live in the area, especially remote workers and younger families.
“The pandemic just created this opportunity where we saw a natural migration of people who could work remotely wanting to work from the beach,” Ms. Querry noted. “…Remote workers are going to continue to be a focus of ours, I think it’s a natural for us. It’s a great way to grow our tax base.”
With the “people attraction” piece of the puzzle seemingly falling into place, Ms. Querry wants to begin shifting the focus on nurturing and expanding small businesses already existing in Carteret County. She also intends to uphold existing partnerships, including with the Economic Development Foundation and local and state workforce development organizations, such as the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce and NCWorks.
“Entrepreneurship is a big passion of mine and I think something that we need to look for more opportunities to support in a more formal way. With that, I’d like to do more business retention and expansion efforts…I want to be a more active, outwardly focused economic development director,” Ms. Querry said.
One of her first major efforts as director will be realized this week with the first Crystal Coast Women in Business conference taking place Thursday. The networking and professional development event, which Ms. Querry hopes will become an annual conference, is sold out but has a waiting list. It will feature a number of women speakers from the local business community, including keynote speaker Mary Cheatham King.
Another initial project Ms. Querry is working on is development of a new GIS planning tool that can be utilized by real estate agencies to monitor commercial and residential markets.
With Ms. Querry’s new role, office assistant Heather Harris was promoted to her old position and is now the department’s administrative officer. The economic development department offices are located at 3615 Arendell St. in Morehead City, on the campus of Carteret Community College.
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.