Johnson named director of millennial initiatives at WCU

An executive who has more than 25 years of experience leading economic and community development efforts as well as a passion for Western Carolina University and the region has joined WCU as executive director of millennial initiatives.

Tony Johnson

Tony Johnson

In that role, alumnus Tony E. Johnson, previously the senior director for business development at the Rural Economic Development Center serving North Carolina, will lead WCU’s efforts to enhance learning opportunities through cultivating public-private partnerships and regional activities that also fuel development in Western North Carolina.

“Johnson brings with him a wealth of experiences in leading business and community development initiatives, extensive networks in business, nonprofit, government and education sectors, as well as a track record of faculty engagement,” said Beth Tyson Lofquist, WCU interim provost. “WCU is excited to welcome his leadership as we move forward to enhance the academic experiences of our students and faculty with increased regional involvement.”

At the Rural Economic Development Center, Johnson supervised a 12-person division that served businesses in North Carolina’s 85 rural counties through the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship, the Growing America through Entrepreneurship program for dislocated workers, the New Generations Ventures Program and the Microenterprise Loan Program.

During his tenure at the center, he led the state’s $46.1 million State Small Business Credit Initiative program, which was part of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 under contract through the N.C. Department of Commerce.

He also designed, implemented and managed the N.C. Capital Access Program through which 19 lenders enrolled 270 business loans for more than $30 million. In addition, he spearheaded the N.C. Loan Participation Program through which 16 lenders have awarded 77 business loans totaling more than $100 million with SSBCI participation of $20 million.

Johnson’s experience includes working as executive director and associate state director at the North Carolina Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning Enterprises; executive director of Smoky Mountain Development Corporation; and regional director of the Small Business and Technology Development Center in Winston-Salem.

In addition, Johnson currently serves on the loan committee for AdvantageWest’s Advantage Opportunity Fund, the working group for the U.S. Treasury State Small Business Credit Initiative’s Loan Participation Program, and the advisory committee for the Western Carolina University Small Business and Technology Development Center.

“Dr. Johnson brings a track record of developing successful public-private partnerships that create jobs,” said Darrell F. Parker, dean of the WCU College of Business and chair of the search committee. “Engaged learning that enhances the economic and community development of Western North Carolina fulfills the mission of the university. With Dr. Johnson’s leadership, Western Carolina University can combine its reputation for academic excellence with tangible economic development for the region.”

Western Carolina in February 2005 unveiled its Millennial Initiative, a comprehensive regional economic development strategy designed to enable the university to engage in public-private partnerships that enhance educational opportunities for students and increase the ability of faculty to conduct research, while also promoting regional development. As part of the initiative, the university acquired 344 acres of property adjacent to the main campus; that tract often is called the West Campus.

Johnson’s ties to WCU include earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration and master’s degrees in business administration and public affairs at the institution. He went on to participate in the Entrepreneurship Research Conference Doctoral Consortium in 1994 and complete his doctorate in education from North Carolina State University in 1995.

“WCU is an important economic asset to Western North Carolina,” said Johnson, who joined the university’s staff Thursday, Aug. 15. “The initiatives will enhance collaboration and innovation among students, faculty, businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions and government entities in the region. Students and faculty will interact with both the public and private sectors to spur new ideas, transfer knowledge and learn from each other. The result will be increased economic vitality in Western North Carolina.”

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