Tony Johnson has been drawn back to Western Carolina University many times throughout the years. According to The Reporter, after earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at WCU, Johnson returned yet again.
Johnson was recently named the director of Millennial Initiatives. After going through video conferences with approximately 10 candidates and having three of those candidates tour the campus for two days, Dean of the College of Business Darrell Parker and others on the search committee finally selected Johnson.
According to Parker, the search was developed last fall under Angie Brenton’s leadership as provost.
Over the years, Johnson has led North Carolina’s $46.1 State Small Business Credit Initiative. The initiative helped over 350 businesses receive funding over the course of two years.
Johnson also served as Executive Director of North Carolina Rural Entrepreneurship through Action Learning (NC REAL), which focuses on bringing entrepreneurial education to educational institutions and community organizations across the state.
“We wanted someone with experience and success working with universities, governmental economic development entities and private businesses. Dr. Johnson had the complete package to provide leadership us,” said Parker.
At the university level, Johnson has served as the executive director of Smoky Mountain Development Corporation and the Small Business Technology and Development Centers at WCU and Winston-Salem State University.
Johnson also served on the board for the nonprofit that was developing neighborhoods around the camps at Winston-Salem State University. He gave assistance to startup businesses coming from the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University Center, as well.
“Many students attend WCU because they love the area but must then leave the region to find a job. I believe the Millennial Initiative has the potential to increase job opportunities for WCU graduates and others,” said Johnson.
The Millennial Initiative includes the development of neighborhoods, or areas of development linked to various fields of studies.
For example, future goals of the initiative include the construction of other healthcare-related buildings near the new Health and Human Sciences Building.
By working with universities with similar goals in mind, Johnson already has an idea of what he wants to see.
Johnson’s plan focuses on three different areas: innovation, transfer of knowledge and community revitalization. A regional economic development conference in fall of 2014 is meant to facilitate said transfer of knowledge. Meanwhile, the revitalization aspect falls in line with the initiative itself.
“[The Director of Millennial Initiatives] can help raise the visibility of WCU as we partner with others to help our region. We are becoming known for our engagement of students in real projects working on projects that can impact the state and region. The Millennial Initiative will help us move to the next level,” said Parker.
When he is not working, Johnson likes to enjoy what the Western North Carolina mountains have to offer.
“My wife and I both love to travel. Our favorite destination is national parks, and usually involves hiking, biking, canoeing and/or kayaking,” said Johnson. “There are few places anywhere in the world with as much natural beauty [as WNC].”