YORK COUNTY — Jim Noel has been the Director of Economic and Tourism Development for York County since November 1993. In December 2021, Noel announced that as of June 1, he would be retiring from county service.
It is rare to find someone who has worked for same organization, let alone in same position, for that long, but Noel says that his director position has always kept him on his toes.
For the better part of three decades, Noel has worked to drive the recruitment, development and the retention of businesses within the county.
Its a job that, while rewarding, has more than its share of stressors. These include navigating bureaucratic red tape while competing with surrounding localities; all of this in the name of creating an environment that is conducive for robust business throughout the county.
“This job is so diverse,” Noel said during an interview with WYDaily. “What I do on any given day varies just tremendously. The skillsets needed to address issues. I am more of a ‘jack of all trades’ than an expert on anything. You’ve got to have some knowledge of commercial real estate, financing knowledge, you’ve got to be a marketing person, a public relations person, public speaking. You’ve got to be able to deal with the private sector from a tiny little one person shop in a home base business to a megacorporation.”
During his tenure, Noel has been at the helm as worldwide chains such as Walmart and Lowes Home Improvement decided to set up shop on Mooretown Road. In the early 2000s, Noel and his team actively courted the parent company of Great Wolf Lodge to build its Williamsburg location on Rochambeau Drive, thus becoming a boon for tourism in the Historic Triangle.
These are huge feathers in his team’s caps, which also came alongside some of the challenges that come with building an economy in York County.
“While York County is a wonderful community and a very rich community in terms of its people, housing, wealth and beauty, it is not a very big county, only about 106 square miles, and literally half of the county is not taxable,” said Noel.
Noel went on to say that because of the County presence of Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, Camp Peary, as well as water reservoirs and other protected areas, there is a huge amount of the municipality in which there is no tax base.
That, coupled with the fiscally conservative nature of the York County electorate, which tends to shy away from the development of industrial and office parks, attracting businesses to the area can be difficult. Particularly when competing with larger neighboring localities, such as Newport News, to attract businesses.
“On the other hand, I have a great community to promote,” Noel says when noting the county’s business friendly qualities. “I have a highly trained workforce, a highly educated population, a great built environment, superior schools. Elements that any business that would love to have for their employees.”
Noel notes that a key to his success and longevity in his role has been the steady leadership within the county. He said that he has enjoyed working for County Administrator Neil Morgan as well as his predecessor, the late James “Mac” McReynolds.
“Neil Morgan is a superb administrator by any standard and he probably understands economic development better than me,” Noel said.
Going forward, Noel says he is looking forward to the next chapter in his professional life and that, all in all, his almost three decades at the helm of York County development have been gratifying.
“When you see businesses that are locally-owned grow and expand and build new buildings and create new jobs and give back to the community, that is very gratifying,” Noel said. “I’ve been blessed to be, I am pretty certain, that I am the longest serving director of economic development in the state.”