Raleigh, N.C. — Patricia Mitchell will head up the state's efforts to spur economic growth in 80 rural counties as assistant secretary for rural economic development, the Commerce Department announced Friday.
Mitchell, a former Ashe County manager, will be responsible for combining the department's existing rural development programs with functions once overseen by nonprofits, such as the troubled Rural Economic Development Center.
Mitchell is an adjunct faculty member at Appalachian State University, Nova Southeastern University and North Carolina State University, according to a news release. She was also an assistant professor at East Carolina University. In addition, Mitchell is an instructor at the Rural Economic Development Institute and the UNC School of Government.
Mitchell was a member of the Rural Center board from 2007 through 2013.
"Dr. Mitchell is well-equipped for this," Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said.
Mitchell has been a part of the "transition committee" for the Rural Center.
"The Rural Center will still exist in a much smaller form," Decker said. The center will still manage a pair of small loan programs and a leadership training program.
The bulk of the center's job, including making grants to projects aimed at developing infrastructure in rural areas, will be handled by the new Commerce Department division.
Mitchell was a long-time head of economic development for Ashe County when she was tapped to become manager in 2011. Three weeks ago, commissioners there asked her to resign but offered little explanation. Local media reports have speculated that commissioners are clearing the way to hire a local member of the state legislature.
During a conference call Friday, Mitchell said that she expected one of the biggest tasks for her division would be identifying buildings that once served as factories to see if they can be reused.
"If there are building that are not usable any more, many of them are sitting on sites that are very good sites," she said.