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Moss column: Tate guided a surge of job creation

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For a guy who is paid good money to keep things out of the press, Andrew Tate was always as open as he could be when I asked him questions.
You do what you can do this in reporting job. My zeal to know everything first and tell everything first usually pays off. Sometimes you hit a wall. Because I respected Andrew, I usually ended up backing off, at least temporarily, until the fruit got ripe.
In interviews with people who worked with Andrew and knew him well, I had tried to get at why he was so effective leading the Henderson County Partnership for Economic Development for the past 10 years. He’s leaving to manage real estate for the North Carolina Railroad, a corporation that’s actually more of an economic development engine than a train operator.
Tate comes across in public as anything but a slick salesman. His mastery of the job came from his understanding of the community’s strengths and weaknesses, a steel-trap grasp of facts factory owners want to know, a tireless work ethic and maybe most of all a gift for building relationships.
In our exit interview over IPAs at Southern Appalachian Brewery on Monday afternoon, Andrew and I reminisced about what became kind of a joint mission in the summer of 2013 — an effort to tell the epic story of the recruitment of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. The Lightning was only a year old then and many of the sources I spoke with, including the top executives of Sierra Nevada, would never have cooperated without a signal from Andrew that they could trust me. Trust is the currency in his line of work.
“He never drew attention to himself,” state Rep. Chuck McGrady told me. “He’s very understated and he’s very much about building relationships so it’s all for the long-term. I’ve talked to enough decision-makers that ultimately decided to move here and they’re all really quick to come back to the relationships they’ve built with him. He also was really good at keeping relationships with people in the community so he could bring other people to the table very very quickly.”

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Before he was a county commissioner, Bill Lapsley was a civil engineer who drew up the site plans and orchestrated the dirt-moving for hundreds of large developments in Henderson County and beyond. He has been involved with industrial recruitment efforts, from the Committee of 100 on, throughout his career.
“Oh my,” Lapsley said when I asked him to assess Tate’s service. “He’s just been a great asset to our county. I hate to see him go but I’m not surprised. His talent and abilities are going to lead him to much higher levels in economic development. He just has great ability and I’ve really been pleased we’ve been able to hold him here as long as we have.”
If Tate has mastered the soft skills of relationship building, he’s also a quick and agile technocrat.
“He has a grasp of the knowledge that he can sit down with power people and water and sewer people and road people and know what questions to ask, what’s critical information and what isn’t,” he said. “It’s been my experience that he can answer quickly by himself without having to hand it off. He’s gathered the information. He knows.”
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Sometimes public officials are reluctant to return calls for fear that I’m going to ask the hard question or dig into a behind-the-scenes drama they’d rather not share. But when I left word that I was calling about Andrew Tate, they were glad to step to the plate.
County Manager Steve Wyatt recalled what happened when a delegation from the partnership made a visit to his office.
“When they came to see me to deliver the bad news they looked like their dog had been run over,” he said. “I knew before they opened their mouth what they were going to tell me. I said, ‘That’s not bad news. Bad news would be, “We’re having to run this guy off because we’re not getting anything done.”’”
It was inevitable, he said, that a recruiter with Tate’s record would move up the food chain.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years,” Wyatt said. “In his role, he is as effective as anyone I’ve ever worked with. The results speak for themselves. We have seen an unprecedented period of success in the last 10 years. There are a lot of reasons for that. One of them is Andrew Tate. He brought the right skill set at the right time to the right place. I tell the commissioners, over the last several years, it came together with the right people with the right assets to do those things that were previously unimaginable.”
Like what? you ask. Like this: Demmel, Empire Distributors, Legacy Paddlesports, UPM Raflatac Specials, Norafin, the Dirty
Dancing film production, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Microtech Knives, Raumedic, PMA Tools,
Bold Rock Hard Cider, Smart Products, Wingate University, Country Malt Group, GF Linamar. Taxable investment: $796,458,000. Jobs: 2,070.
“That’s going to change hundreds of lives,” Wyatt says. “Sierra Nevada, Raflatac, Raumedic, you say those are just businesses. But those businesses are made up of people and those people have lives and these job opportunities allow them to put their kids in school, pay their bills and have lives. Andrew Tate’s impact, his legacy in this community, will play out for generations.”

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We had good hunting hounds before we got Andrew and we’ll have a good hound again. After all, as Tate himself points out, we are selling one of the most desirable places to live in the whole country. But there was a sense from people I’ve spoken with that Tate has done about all he can do. Although he says that’s not why he’s leaving for the job in Raleigh, he acknowledges that the partnership has checked off nearly everything its leaders charted for him 10 years ago. It’s a model of success in economic development, respected and admired around the state.
It feels like the partnership and our economic development efforts are at a crossroads and that’s not a bad thing. If they asked me — which they didn’t — I’d tell the Partnership that the next priority should be the recreation/tourism industry, starting with the 45-mile greenway connecting parks.
We’re lucky that Andrew Tate
has helped to bring us this far. A high peak does not have to be a point that leads downhill. It can be the place from which we spring to the next level.