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Laughter named Transylvania County manager

Jaime Laughter Jaime Laughter

MILLS RIVER — Mills River Town Manager Jaime Laughter, who shepherded the new town through the building of its Town Hall and Town Park and guided land-use planning while preserving the community's deep farming tradition, has been named county manager in Transylvania County. She will start the new job on Oct. 1.

 

"It just breaks my heart that we're losing her," said Mayor Larry Freeman. "But it's just a good opportunity for her and we wish her the best."

Freeman said Laughter has been an indispensable leader as the farming community incorporated and grew into its role as a new town. Laughter has been manager for eight years of the town's 11-year existence.

"She has led whether it was overseeing the purchase of the property for the Town Hall and the library and park," he said. "Probably her greatest asset is putting together a really outstanding staff that can take over and run the town in the interim."

Freeman called a Town Board meeting for Wednesday, during which the board will start the process of naming an interim manager and forming a search committee for a permanent manager.

Laughter has been at the helm for the construction of the town hall and town park and has also seen the peak of the residential boom and the crash that brought it to a halt. She has also helped navigate the town through the complexity of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. recruitment and economic incentives package. She even hiked in the woods with the Grossman family, bonding with a daughter of Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman.

A Henderson County native with deep roots in the community, Laughter knew the history and culture of the county and the Mills River in particular, but also had the skills in planning and local governance to guide the board through new uncharted waters.

 

She's the first woman hired to manage Transylvania County's 300 employees and its $44 million annual budget. At 34, she's also Transylvania County's youngest manager.

Laughter replaces Arthur C. "Artie" Wilson Jr., who has managed the day-to-day operation of county government for the last 22 years. Wilson announced his retirement in January.

Transylvania County commissioners hired Laughter after a nationwide months-long search by Developmental Associates, a Chapel Hill company with a close tie to Brevard. The company is led by president and founder Steve Straus, a descendant of Ecusta Paper Corp. founder Harry Straus.

"Jaime has real strengths in bringing people together to achieve goals, and that's going to be key for Transylvania County moving forward, as we work in an ever growing regional economy. Jaime also has a leader's personality — positive, optimistic, engaging and innovative. She will be a great leader for county staff," Board Chairman Mike Hawkins said in a news release.

"I think it's interesting that we conducted a nationwide search and had finalists from all over the country, but in the end the best person was just 15 miles away," Hawkins said. "We're very excited about what Jaime will help us accomplish in the upcoming years."

Larry Chapman, vice chairman of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners, said Laughter "is energetic, has a great positive outlook and a dedication to serving our citizens and working closely with all of our county staff."

Laughter said: "I've watched Transylvania County change a lot. The consistent thing that has impressed me is that everybody has a commitment to their community. There is a sense of wanting to do something great together, even though there are different perspectives out there.

"They are poised to reinvent themselves while honoring their heritage, and they have the people and the infrastructure to do it," she added in the news release. "The next 20 years are going to be exciting."

A 2002 graduate of North Carolina State University, Laughter also earned a master's degree in public administration from the university. Before she took the Mills River job, she served for two years as a community planner for the Town of Cary and four years as a transportation planner at the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Public service runs in the Laughter family. Her father, Sam, worked for Henderson County for nearly 30 years and retired as head of building inspections and code enforcement.

"Given her experiences, she understands being business friendly, she understands economic development and she understands regional opportunities," Commissioner Page Lemel said.

As a single mom with daughters ages 9 and 5, Laughter also understands the needs of young families.

"We've spent a lot of time talking about the importance of young families to our community. When you put leadership in the hands of exactly what you want in the community, that gives us a huge advantage when it comes to supporting young families," Lemel said. "She's aware of us. She knows us. She spent time growing up here. The expectation is she will hit the ground running and lead us forward."

Commissioner Jason Chappell said Laughter "brings a wealth of connections from across Western North Carolina and all across the state. She will be a great asset to Transylvania County."