Washington native John Cotton Dean became the new economic development manager for the Sanford Area Growth Alliance on Monday.

Dean is replacing former manager Michael Smith, who stepped down in January to become president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation. Smith’s resignation was the last in a long list of changes to SAGA as the organization’s top brass shuffled roles.

The internal reorganization began in August when Jimmy Randolph became CEO, overseeing both the Sanford Area Growth Alliance and the Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year, in preparation for retirement, Bob Joyce became senior director of Business Retention and Expansion, shifting his focus from recruiting new businesses to working with the county’s existing businesses.

Joyce is still working “nearly full-time,” but once the new economic development manager Dean settles in, he may start slowing down, said SAGA spokesman Austin Thomas.

“We feel very confident about the position we’re in right now,” Thomas said. “We still have a lot of great momentum. Even with some of the internal shuffling, we feel like it’s been business as usual.”

Recent news about a new life-sciences company coming to Sanford seems to prove Thomas right. Gov. Roy Cooper and the SAGA staff celebrated yet another economic win in April when they announced that San Diego-based company Abzena would open a new facility in the Central Carolina Enterprise Park. The facility is expected to create 325 jobs offering an average annual salary of $60,000.

As economic development manager, Dean will continue SAGA’s efforts to recruit new businesses to Lee County. His responsibilities include site identification, responding to requests for information, client and local government presentations and post-recruitment support, according to a news release.

Originally from eastern Washington state, Dean is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute, and earned dual master’s degrees from Iowa State University in Community and Regional Planning and Sustainable Agriculture. Dean brings more than 15 years of professional experience in strengthening rural and regional economies, including work in Louisiana, Oregon and Iowa.

Prior to joining SAGA, John served as executive director of Regional Innovation for Louisiana Central, where he worked to increase economic prosperity across a 10-parish region in central Louisiana. He also led the organization’s business retention and expansion program, working directly with companies like Proctor & Gamble, Weyerhaeuser, Drax Biomass and Hunt Forest Products to expand their operations in the region.

“SAGA’s public-private partnership model has delivered unprecedented job growth and tax base expansion for Lee County over the past two years,” CEO Randolph said in a news release. “John (Dean)’s diverse experience and leadership roles in a regional public-private partnership make him an excellent fit for the SAGA organization. We are excited to have him join our team.”

Dean said in a news release he is looking forward to working at SAGA, “especially during a time of exciting economic activity.”

“There continues to be tremendous opportunity for future growth in Lee County,” he said. “My wife and I are excited to put down roots in the community.”