Wharton Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) Executive Director Chad Odom announced his departure on June 19, leaving behind a city poised for the evolution that comes with growth.
When Odom took the helm of the office on Jan. 3, 2017, he knew great things were on the horizon for Wharton; however, there was an immediate undertaking just ahead.
In his first year, Whartonians were left reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.
“It was tough after Harvey, getting the businesses back in line,” Odom told The County Gin. “I’m proud that the WEDC led the way in business recovery after Harvey and did our best to bring every resource to bear to keep our business going. The sales tax revenue reflects that recovery. It’s not by accident. That was a lot of hard work by Karen and myself and our board of directors. That’s the legacy I leave. The momentum is there.”
Looking back on his tenure as the executive director, Odom highlighted some of the accomplishments he is most proud of, including the modernization of the WEDC.
“The office is completely modernized with a paperless accounting and file system so that audits went from three and a half months to complete to taking a couple of weeks because of the transparency we can show with our offices,” he said, noting that the organization’s website was redesigned in his first year at the WEDC. Plans are underway to refresh it for the next three years as well.
Odom also stressed the investment placed into planning for the future of the city of Wharton.
“We really fought to get some dollars to the community for planning for the future. We got some pretty prestigious money behind with the APA foundation that planned the overlay of the levee and sumps and connectivity of the community,” he said. “That was important because we just finished up the land use plan for the 1301 expansion, which used that plan to try to make a mirror image of the city on the other land. So, that we’re building more Wharton instead of whatever developers want to build when they come our way.”
Though Odom said he will always consider himself a Whartonian, the decision behind his departure stems from an opportunity.
“Sometimes in a job like mine, you do a lot of heavy lifting and you get to a point when it’s really the cosmos or God that shows you the door,” Odom told The Gin. “A new opportunity opens up and it’s somebody else’s responsibility to come in and see those things through.”
After receiving a call from a headhunter, Odom took the initial interview as a way to sharpen his interview skills. Following a visit to Alabama, he decided it was the right move for him and his family.
“It’s a bigger job, covering two counties and it’s a public/private partnership,” Odom said. “It’s more responsibility. It’s the next stage in my career. I assessed the accomplishments and where we’ve gotten while I was in Wharton and decided that someone else can take the ball and run with it. It’s a better opportunity for my family. We’re proud of what we’ve done in Wharton.”
Odom expressed his excitement for a successor, who he feels must follow up on the seeds of growth sewn by his tenure.
“I’m excited about the pool of candidates that have applied for the job. We have some really good options that would all be good to fill in my place and move things forward,” he said, stressing that things must move forward in Wharton.
“This isn’t time to stop and ponder what we’re doing because what we’ve done is a lot of planning. A lot of planning has to be done to succeed in the right way. A lot of planning was vacant and didn’t get done. Now Wharton should be able to grow and be more Wharton. That’s what I’m leaving behind. I’m leaving behind candidates who understand that.”
Odom also shared some of the qualities the WEDC board is searching for in a new executive director, which could be announced as early as next week.
“Discussions are ongoing. They want somebody who understands the position we’re in and what the next steps are that can carry the ball. The board is looking for someone with an economic development background, 10-plus years of experience — someone who understands technology, understands change, understands how to mold things to shape them with the times and with events that can make the organization agile and position the community in that way,” he said. “We have good candidates reflecting those traits and I think we’re going to land one of them.”
Ushering in his successor, Odom feels the organization is in position to foster economic growth.
“We had a great opportunity. We feel like my tenure here has put the bones in place, put the pieces in place where Wharton is in position to boom and really blossom,” he said. “When the infrastructure is placed, the plans will be there to attract the right developers to build Wharton in a way we can all recognize, be proud of and feel at home in.”
Odom is also excited for the future of Wharton and expressed his hopes for the city.
“I want Wharton to remain recognizable to Whartonians. I want the citizens of Wharton to have a voice. I’ve striven to get maximum public input, taking great pains to make sure the public is giving the input into the future plans. What I really want is for Wharton to grow and I want the folks who are living in Wharton, who choose to live in Wharton and love Wharton to be proud of the way it grows and to be proud of the community they are going to become through the growth,” Odom said. “Wharton is a unique enough place that has survived enough hardship to have earned the right to choose their own destiny. It’s my hope that the growth that’s going to happen in the next 50 years happens in a manner that really accentuates the positive things about the culture of Wharton. What I wish for Wharton is that the growth that’s coming their way gets captured and harnessed and put together in a way that all Whartonians can be proud.
“I will always consider myself a Whartonian. I hope to come back and visit and see that happening and see happy people welcoming new development.”
Odom’s last day as executive director will be Aug. 5.