Natalie Dean Hawkins has been tapped to lead Moore County Partners in Progress, the county’s economic development arm. She will succeed outgoing executive director Pat Corso who is stepping down in May.

Hawkins has served as the assistant village manager of Pinehurst since 2005. In that role she oversaw development of the village’s 2019 comprehensive long-range plan, oversaw preparation of the annual strategic operating plan which includes a five-year financial forecast and capital improvement plan, coordinated the village’s 2020 library needs assessment, and served as the downtown manager, and directed external communications and marketing.

“If you look at Natalie and what she has accomplished. She also stood out for her versatility and enthusiasm in her interview and her recommendations on things going forward,” said John May, chairman of the Partners in Progress board.

He noted Hawkins was the unanimous selection of both Partners’ executive committee and its executive search committee from an applicant pool of four “very well-qualified candidates.”

“All four of whom are here in Moore County and all would have made a very good executive director. They were a good group of people and that it speaks well to the talent we have here in the area,” said May.

Pat Corso and his predecessor Ray Ogden were also both longtime residents of Moore County prior to assuming the top leadership post at Partners in Progress.

“They were familiar with the area. We believe that is an invaluable attribute when you talk about economic development. We felt it was important to have that talent and we believe Natalie will be as good as she’s proven to be,” May said. “Pat did an excellent job as did Ray before him. She has big shoes to fill but we are confident that she will be able to do so.”

Hawkins grew up in Charleston, SC, and later lived near Asheville. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning a degree in business and a master’s in accounting.

A resident of Moore County for 26 years, she initially began her relationship with the village as an auditor working with Dixon Hughes Goodman. She was recruited by former Village Manager Andy Wilkison to step into the finance director position.

Three years later she was promoted to assistant village manager. During her tenure, the village has achieved substantial improvements in resident satisfaction ratings and received several of the nation’s highest awards for performance management, financial reporting and budgeting, and use of technology.

Hawkins said she sees the leadership role at Partners in Progress as an opportunity to have a broader impact on improving the quality of life across the entire area.

“This role is about creating economic prosperity. I can see some great things on the horizon and I want to help facilitate that,” said Hawkins. “It is about creating communities. That is what I see this job as, having an impact that will help define the future of Moore County.”

In particular, she noted her recent experience developing the village of Pinehurst’s comprehensive long-range plan included a lot of forethought into land use and infrastructure and looking at where development — both commercial and residential interests — should go in the future. Similar development pressure and planning needs are being seen across much of southern Moore County.

Hawkins said she is also very aware of Partners in Progress’ board’s priorities which include development of the proposed business incubator hub in Carthage, and ongoing work to further development the golf cluster and medical cluster opportunities identified in the organization’s strategic plan. Hawkins credits Corso’s leadership for providing a solid vision that she’ll be able to build upon.

“He laid the foundation for where economic development fits in and what we need to focus on in the near term horizon” she said. “He is leaving big shoes to fill.”

Hawkins said she enjoys working with elected officials and industry leaders, finding common interest, building consensus and solving issues.

“They all have different perspectives and we can learn so much from those different perspectives,” she added. “For instance you have northern Moore County which is very different from southern Moore County, but there are common interests and we need to make sure we are all aligned. I see that as a great opportunity to move the county forward.”

Outgoing Executive Director Pat Corso described Hawkins as someone who is immensely well-qualified for her new position.

“When you look at her skill set, her education and her practical and functional experience. Economic development is community development. And when you look at the community, she is the best candidate to deal with what is coming at us down the road.”

She is so good at what she does…she exudes confidence and that is backed up by competence,” Corso said.

He noted Partners’ executive board had not sought to recruit from outside of the community because they believed it was crucial to hire someone who “knows us intimately and understands what makes Moore County unique.”

I think we are lucky and we are fortunate that she accepted this job. I could not be more proud to have somebody like Natalie as a successor.”

Hawkins lives in Pinehurst with her husband, Scott, who is a mortgage broker with Wells Fargo. Her daughter is a senior at the N.C. School of Science and Math and plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill; her son recently graduated from Appalachian State University and is starting his career in the GIS field in Colorado; and Hawkins has helped raise two stepdaughters.

Her last day with the village of Pinehurst is Friday, May 7. Hawkins will assume her role at Partners in Progress the following week, which allows for a short transitional time before Corso’s pending departure.

(Story by Laura Douglass, The Pilot)