After 10 years at the helm, Sharon Hart, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council, is stepping down effective Jan. 1.
Her replacement is Ron Nelson, a 1980 Oak Harbor High School graduate who spent 24 year in the Air Force, retiring as a chief master sergeant.
“I’ve been around the world. There’s no place quite as good,” Nelson said of Whidbey Island. He hopes to strengthen existing small businesses and attract others, but he’s not out to change the island’s character.
“I’m not making this a metropolis,” he said. “It’s about quality of life.”
Hart never made Island County a metropolis, either, but she’s had some successes. “This whole job has been amazing,” she said.
Hart, 60, is ending her 21-year career in economic development and retiring to her primary home in Cathlamet where she will become “a professional grandmother.” But she won’t be a stranger to Whidbey. She and her husband Steve own a condo here and he will continue to work here as a marine electrician and teacher.
“I’ll go back and forth,” Hart said, adding with a laugh, “I’ll still be shopping.”
Nelson has been Hart’s assistant in recent months so she believes she’s leaving the EDC in good hands. “He’s the perfect person to take over,” she said.
Nelson worked at the Pentagon and was responsible for 3,000 people and could easily have landed a high-paying civilian job in the Washington, D.C. area, he said. But he wanted to come home to Whidbey where his father, Bob, ran a water pump business for 35 years. His wife Gayle works at Kmart, his youngest son is a senior at Oak Harbor High School and his oldest son is an F-22 crew chief in Alaska.
Hart is leaving during the toughest economic times in decades and she laments some setbacks, such as the loss of Kenmore Air service, the empty car lots in Oak Harbor and the present small business climate in which “the banks haven’t been especially generous.”
But she is enthused that Central Whidbey once again has a ferry to call its own and that the EDC helped bring a Waste Management call enter with its 150 jobs to Oak Harbor.
Nelson said his military skills of working with various departments and agencies will translate smoothly to his duties with the EDC, which works with cities and town, schools, chambers of commerce and all levels of government.
“This is exactly the same thing, it’s a real nice fit,” Nelson said.
The EDC office is located at 180 NW Coveland St. in Coupeville. Anyone looking for business information or assistance should stop by or call 678-6889.
The nonprofit EDC is overseen by a board of volunteer directors, headed by Scott Lincoln.