Raleigh, N.C. — State Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker is stepping down after leading North Carolina's business-recruitment and job growth efforts for the past 22 months, Gov. Pat McCrory said Tuesday.
McCrory named Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla to succeed Decker. The shift will take place at the end of December.
Decker said she and her husband initially agreed that she would work in McCrory's administration for a year, and having put in almost twice that time, it was time for her to return to her home and family in western North Carolina. She informed McCrory she planned to leave several weeks ago.
"It really is at a very personal level that I make this decision," she said.
After leaving office, she will become president of Nuray Media, a digital media company started by the founders of Raycom Sports.
McCrory praised Decker's work leading the Commerce Department, noting that the state's unemployment rate has dropped 2.5 percentage points and that North Carolina has added 157,000 jobs, including many in rural areas, during her tenure. She also reorganized the department to privatize business-recruitment efforts – Christopher Chung, who previously headed job recruitment in Missouri, was named Monday as chief executive of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
"Sharon Decker has made a difference in this state," he said.
Choking back tears, he said, "She has left a legacy of jobs for North Carolina, and she's been the best salesman I've ever seen for this state. She will be missed."
McCrory said he and Decker agreed that Skvarla would be the best option for the next commerce secretary, given his background as an entrepreneur and business executive and the work he has done as DENR chief on economic development issues.
"He understands startups. He understands manufacturing," the governor said. "He himself is a great salesman and a great representative of this state."
Skvarla has been criticized in recent months for DENR's handling of dozens of coal ash pits at Duke Energy power plants across North Carolina, some of which have been leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater and nearby surface waters.
Both he and McCrory have staunchly defended DENR's actions. The governor maintains his administration has taken a tougher stance on coal ash than previous governors did.
"It's just another adventure," Skvarla said of his move to the Commerce Department. "I've had the most remarkable rocket ride of opportunity."
He also praised Decker's work and said it will be tough to follow in her success.
Decker said Skvarla has his work cut out for him when the General Assembly reconvenes in January to expand the state's available incentives for business recruitment and to focus efforts on rural areas. Lawmakers balked at providing her with more incentive funds this year.
"We've made great progress, but I've got a feeling that the best is yet to come," she said. "A great part of that best is John Skvarla and Chris Chung teaming up together to lead North Carolina in economic development."
No successor has been named at DENR, but McCrory said he hopes to have a new secretary named by the end of the month.