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People - July 2007

Developer will avert industrial revolution
By Chris Roush

Given Chapel Hill’s reputation as a bohemian college town that frowns on commerce, it figures that its first economic-development officer would have an unusual background. But Dwight Bassett’s might raise eyebrows even there.

Never mind that he was once part-time director of OutCharlotte, a defunct gay cultural organization. But he was charged with embezzling $2,500 from it in 2003. Charges were dropped, he’s quick to add. “Accused and innocent is about all I can say. It’s not really relevant to the work I’m doing here.”

That work involves recruiting and keeping development in a town that finally wants it. Well, some of it. Hold the smokestacks, please. “There is a lack of desire for industry,” Bassett admits. “But there are a number of sectors in business that can play off UNC.”

A native of Sylacauga, Ala., he earned a bachelor’s in business administration in 1982 from Samford University in Birmingham. After working in public relations four years, he moved to Savannah, Ga., to be project manager for a construction company. He got into economic development in 1988 in nearby Hinesville, Ga., and held similar posts in McCormick, Ga., and Concord before becoming Statesville’s downtown-redevelopment director in 1993. He led the effort to move and restore the railroad depot, which reopened as a visitor center. In 2000, he became development manager of Rock Hill, S.C., where he helped secure state revenue bonds, tax credits and other backing to pay for a $200 million project to redevelop property near Winthrop University. The centerpiece was renovation of a 120-year-old mill into condominiums and stores.

In 2005, he took a break from economic development and moved to Parkers Lake, Ky., where he started Bear Oil Trading Co., making handmade furniture from recycled wood. “I began to realize last spring that I missed development.”

In Chapel Hill, Bassett, 47, will make $78,000 a year and concentrate on development along major roads such as N.C. 54 and U.S. 15-501, which he says could support multi-use projects with shops, offices and condos. “What I read in Chapel Hill’s comprehensive plan is the desire to use existing areas to make them more friendly. It’s not about taking raw acreage and turning it into development.”