Regional commission gets new director


ShearbyBrittney Raby – Staff Writer

The Southwestern Commission has been instrumental in the economic development of the state’s seven westernmost counties since formed by the federal government in 1965. Since its inception, the commission has been spearheaded by three directors, but with resignation of Ryan Sherby on March 1, the search began for the organization’s fourth leader.

Last week, members of the Southwestern Commission bid farewell to Sherby,sarah thompson while welcoming his replacement, Sarah Thompson who has served the commission as the Director of Planning and Development.

“Ryan has done an outstanding job for Region A,” said Macon County Commissioner chairman and chairman of the Southwestern Commission Kevin Corbin. “He has not only been a leader for our Region but a visionary as far as the state of North Carolina goes.  He is well admired all across North Carolina  and will be sorely missed.  We are fortunate to have someone with the skill set of Sarah Thompson to move into Ryan’s position.  She will not ‘replace’ Ryan. No one could.  But Sarah will make here own path and will succeed with flying colors. Ryan has great confidence in her and so does the executive board. We wish Ryan well in his new endeavors.”

Along with involvement from the far west counties of North Carolina, the leadership and oversight of the Southwestern Commission is important to help shape the economic development and advancement of western North Carolina. The commission serves as a conduit for local governments to receive federal funding for infrastructure, business development and training or other services. The organization also provides monitoring and oversight of grants and funding given to governments.

Sherby took the helm of the Southwestern Commission in 2012, replacing Bill Gibson who served as executive director for 40 years. Sherby was first named as interim director, but in 2013 became the official leader of the organization.

Before replacing Gibson, Sherby worked as the Southwestern Commission’s Transportation Director. According to Sherby, he decided to resign from the commission to spend more time with his family, which includes a tropical vacation in the Bahamas.

The Southwestern Commission Executive Board began the search for Sherby’s replacement after receiving his resignation. Thompson was selected out of 11 applications who submitted resumes for the position. In addition to serving as the Director of Planning and Development for the Southwestern Commission, Thompson’s resume includes former chair of the Jackson County Planning Board and Town of Sylva Commissioner, both of which Corbin noted set her apart from other candidates.

“Ryan Sherby has been a tremendous force in helping rural WNC through economic development, infrastructure expansion, and healthcare,” said Southwestern Commission Treasure and Canton Board of Aldermen Zeb Smathers. “His leadership, passion, and friendship will be missed, but I am very confident that Sarah Thompson will continue in Ryan’s footsteps to find practical solutions to the problems our region faces no matter your location, political affiliation, or need.”