Apex hires first economic development director

twanbaugh@newsobserver.comJune 17, 2014 

— Town leaders have long pushed for more commercial growth in Apex. For the first time, the town has an economic development director to try to lure new businesses.

Joanna Helms, 52, was hired for the newly created job. Helms has 20 years of experience in economic development, and she was most recently president of the Wayne County Development Alliance.

During her tenure as president of the Goldsboro-based group, Helms recruited almost 5,000 jobs and $279.3 million in investment, according to Apex officials.

In 2008, Helms was named the state’s economic developer of the year by the North Carolina Economic Developers Association. She was named the N.C. Career Woman of the Year in 2010 by the North Carolina Business and Professional Women’s Club.

Helms has ties to western Wake County, and she already calls Apex home. She grew up in Cary and attended Apex High School before going on to Western Carolina University to study geography planning.

“I’ve been really intrigued by the growth in Apex and thought it was just a great opportunity for me to utilize the skills I already have,” Helms said. “I’m excited for a new challenge.”

Apex’s population is booming, and residential development is on the rise. The town is the third largest in Wake County, with about 40,000 residents.

But there has been a push for more business development. More than half of Apex residents commute out of town for work.

“We want to attract business here,” Apex Town Councilwoman Nicole Dozier said. “We thought it was important to invest in the (economic development) position. By investing in her, we are investing in our future and the growth of the community.”

“Right now, the tax breakdown in Apex is about 80 percent residential development, 20 percent commercial,” said Councilwoman Denise Wilkie. “We don’t want to have to depend on residential. We want Apex to be a place where people can live and work.”

Helms will start the job July 21. She will earn an annual salary of $104,000.

As part of the job, Helms will identify available land and real estate in Apex, recruit businesses and expand existing businesses.

“We’re a bedroom community, and that’s fine,” Dozier said. “But as we continue to grow, Apex is mainly going to be people who are homeowners. In order to keep up with the needs of the growth, we are going to want more businesses.”

Wanbaugh: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @TaylorWanbaugh

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