Michael Smith is leaving the Sanford Area Growth Alliance next month for a position in Chatham County, he said Wednesday.

Smith, who joined the Sanford Area Growth Alliance in 2018 as its CEO, recently handed over the reins to Jimmy Randolph. Smith said he was stepping down to take a position as the co-executive director of economic development. He holds the position jointly with Bob Joyce.

Smith will now leave the organization to become president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation, he said. His last day is Jan. 24.

“It was hard to leave SAGA because we’ve got a great team that I really like and respect,” he said Wednesday. “It was a difficult decision, but I think being able to lead the economic development efforts in a place that’s so dynamic ... and also very close by, really made it a great situation for me to accept.”

In Chatham County, Smith said, he will work primarily on attracting business to three major sites — Chatham Park, a “live/work/play community;” Triangle Innovation Point, formerly the Moncure megasite, a 2,150-acre business park; and Chatham-Siler City Advanced Manufacturing megasite, an 1,800-acre business park.

He said he will likely continue to cooperate with Sanford and Lee County officials in his new role. Lee and Chatham county have a number of shared resources that will require collaboration, he noted, such as Central Carolina Community College and Triangle Innovation Point, which is served by Sanford for utilities like water and sewer.

Smith’s tenure in Sanford is ending with a string of successes. In the past 24 months, biopharmaceutical company Pfizer, automotive manufacturer Bharat Forge and life science company Audentes Therapeutic have all announced major investments in Sanford. An existing building in Sanford is also under renovation for textile manufacturer Through6, and recently, four new companies, which have yet to be named, have shown interest in settling in Lee County.

“I’m very proud of what the team was able to accomplish during my time here,” Smith said. “There was a plan put together 12 years ago, in 2008. There’s been a lot of leadership over that period of time from various folks here in Sanford and Lee County that pulled all this together and put us in a position to do well.”

With Smith’s departure, and Joyce set to partially retire at the end of the year, the Sanford Area Growth Alliance in need of a full-time director of economic development.

Smith has more than 20 years of experience in local economic development, having worked in Stanly County, Davidson County and in the Statesville region.