The battle is one fought by nearly every county in the nation — to keep the existing industries in the region strong and solid, and to make sure they are able to stay in the area where they are operating.
It is something Jan Critz strives to do every day at work as the vice president of existing industry for the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, a job she takes seriously, because that means keeping people in the county employed and helping company owners find the solutions to their problems and filling their needs.
Unlike many of her colleagues who have told her they always knew they wanted to work in economic development, Critz actually started out in the banking industry following her attendance at Surry Community College.
Critz’s parents were both natives of Surry County, but moving around for work and other various reasons meant Critz was born in High Point. Her elementary school years were spent at Franklin Elementary School since her parents moved back to the county when she was 5.
But as she grew up, more moves were in store. Critz spent most of her middle and high school years growing up in a number of schools in the Shenendoah Valley region of Virginia. She graduated from Galax High School at the age of 16, because being in four different high schools allowed her to obtain enough credits to graduate early.
“Because I graduated early, I worked full-time, traveled in Europe and had fun, then I went to Surry Community College with the class I should have graduated with,” Critz explained.
For 11 years, she worked in the banking industry, first at a bank in Hillsville, Va., and then she was hired by Ted Ashby at Workman’s Federal where she stayed for nine years.
Bank mergers and changes meant a transfer to Winston-Salem, and when she was going to be transfered again away from the area, she decided it was time for a job change.
“So I called Teresa Lewis at what was then Surry Temporary Services to help me find something here, and she hired me for her inside office,” Critz said. “We were all really like sisters. I loved working there.”
While at Lewis’ company, Critz went back to school and received her undergraduate degree from Gardner-Webb University in 2002.
Eight years ago, when Crystal Morphis was president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, a new job was created at EDP for an existing industry position.
“I had a family member who asked me to apply for it, and with Teresa’s blessing, I began my economic development career,” Critz explained.
After a year focusing on existing industries in Surry County, Morphis decided to leave the EDP to start a home business and have a family, so Critz was named the new president of EDP, a position she held for three years.
“The president role was very political and stressful. It took a toll on my health,” Critz said, explaining why she left EDP to work in the private practice at SouthData for three years. “It was nice to get a break for a while to get away from the stress.”
But she said she is glad to be back at EDP in a support role again and is looking forward to working with the newly-named president when he starts Aug. 5.
“I’ve been back here one year. I love being back and I love the existing industry role,” Critz said. “I found my niche in a support role, and that’s where I want to be.”
To better serve the industries in the county and to learn more about the business side of the companies she works with, Critz is working to complete her Master in Business Administration degree, which she will receive in December from Broyhill School of Business at Gardner-Webb University.
“I had a girlfriend, and we were going to (go to grad school) together, but she passed away. I decided I’d still do it. I always knew I wanted to go all the way (through school),” Critz said. “(She died) three years ago. I have a girlfriend group called the Princesses, because we play Princess golf together, so we all went together and formed a scholarship fund in Marcy A. Hendrix’s name for employees of United Plastics and their families.”
Critz said, “In my 12 years of marriage (to Andy), I’ve been in school for half of it, but I had a wonderful support system through my husband and my daughter (Heather Johnson). It really was a family accomplishment.”
With one semester left, Critz said she told her husband she wants to be somewhere tropical sitting on a beach reading in January as a Christmas present.
“The school process has been such a great experience, because I have real time application and I can apply everything back to the job,” she said. “I can experience and learn about what the businesses go through.”
She said she loves her job, “because I feel like I can be their research or marketing arm because they are busy running their companies.
“I stay up with their current legislation, resources available whether its training, financial or workforce assistance. I’m learning about their company and expressing thanks that they are here,” she said.
“It is exciting to see some of the industries creating products that are global or international, because the entrepreneurs are inventors, too,” Critz continued. “When I hear people say there are no jobs and industry here, I know they don’t know what we really have here.
“The entrepreneurs here are so smart, and they don’t want competition to know where they are,” she said. “There is definitely diversity. There is a lot of diversity and it continues. We’ve lost a lot of industry in the traditional sense, but a lot of them are still competing.”
One example of a competing industry is Nester Hosiery, Critz said, of the Mount Airy plant which makes hiking and outdoor socks. “They are in the traditional sock business, but are still competing in a very niche-based way.
“Renfro has a product that has medicinal benefits with copper in it,” she said. “I think about Piedmont Medical, where Byron Wurdeman created a bed even though they are a secondary market where he refurbishes old beds to serve the military and others. His company has completed all the R&D (research and development), and will be manufacturing all the Alpha (beginning) products.
“Byron is a true entrepreneur. I think he appreciates someone saying, ‘Do you know this grant is out there?’” Critz said of what she does to help area industries.
“My other role is to work on expansions, which is retention to compete with other locations to keep your own companies,” she said.
Many of the new openings announcements in North Carolina, Critz explained, are actually companies consolidating and relocating from other places to the state, meaning it is good for the area because it brings jobs here, but bad for the place they are leaving because people will be unemployed there.
“The most rewarding part of my job is to find out their need and go out and find what it is and fill that need and help them with what they’re going through,” Critz said.
When she isn’t at the office helping the companies in the county, Critz said she is very active in her church, Haymore Memorial Baptist Church, where she is the Woman’s Missionary Union director this year.
“I love to work out and exercise with my husband, Andy, and I have a new grandbaby, Karleigh Collins (daughter of Heather Johnson and Blake Collins). They really love being parents, and she was definitely made to be a mother,” she said of her daughter, Heather.
When she isn’t playing golf with her girlfriends, she said she loves to travel. Last year, she took a trip to Italy, and she is planning a trip to Ireland for next year. “It takes a whole year of work to plan and pay for it.”