Johnson steps down as Coastal Gateway executive director


Dr. John A. Johnson announced recently that he is stepping down as executive director of Coastal Gateway Regional Economic Development Alliance after more than three years at the helm.

Johnson was president of Alabama Southern Community College from 1989 to 2009 and was at the helm when Alabama Southern was created through the merger of Patrick Henry Junior College in Monroeville and Hobson State Technical College in Thomasville. He guided Alabama Southern to a top-20 ranking out of more than 1,200 U.S. community colleges.

Johnson, who has agreed to serve in a part-time capacity to help his replacement through the transition period, was named interim executive director of Coastal Gateway on July 15, 2013 and served in that role until November 2013, when he was named to fill the position on a permanent basis.

“Serving as the executive director of Coastal Gateway over the past several years has been my honor and privilege,” Johnson said in a release issued by CGREDA. “I’ve spent more than 25 years working for southwest Alabama, both in my role as a community college president and in economic development. While it will always be home to me, it is time to move on to my next chapter and let others take the reins at Coastal Gateway.”

Under Johnson’s direction, Coastal Gateway has assisted in the creation of more than 600 jobs and more than $15 million in incentive and grant funds to the region. The economic development alliance has also established four industrial AdvantageSites (including the Brown Precision site in Atmore), helped complete a region-wide economic development strategic plan and assisted with over $3.5 million of energy efficiency projects to existing businesses of all sizes.

“I am proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last three years,” Johnson said. “We have been able to do much more as a team of three economic developers.

Rural areas need effective advocacy, and I’m pleased that we’ve been successful in raising the profile of this area and helping it (to) compete effectively with its larger neighbors.”

Atmore Mayor Jim Staff agreed that the effort put forth by Johnson and his staff has paid off for Atmore and the entire area. He added that he is keeping his fingers crossed that Johnson’s replacement will follow suit.

“He’s done a good job for us and for the whole region,” Staff said. “I hope that whoever replaces him will continue in the same direction. I’ve been told that they have a committee who will make the decision on who will take Dr. Johnson’s place.”

Coastal Gateway Chairman Larry Woods said the CGREDA board has been well pleased with Johnson’s direction.

“These have been, without a doubt, the best three years in Coastal Gateway’s history,” Woods said. “We have been exceedingly pleased with John’s leadership, and we are grateful to him for agreeing to stay with the organization through this transition.”

Coastal Gateway’s assistant directors, Jess Nicholas and Will Ruzic, expressed how much they have grown and the CGREDA counties have benefited during Johnson’s tenure.

“I know I have learned so much about economic development strategies and how to help our region from working with Dr. Johnson,” Nicholas said. “He has been a tireless advocate for this region.”

Ruzic called Johnson “a visionary, an innovator and a regional entrepreneur,” adding that CGREDA is a more powerful organization as a result of his leadership.”

The outgoing executive director said he and his wife would eventually relocate to the Birmingham area, where they hoped to continue making a difference.

“Laurie and I will definitely miss our friends, colleagues and home in southwest Alabama and will always cherish memories of our time here,” he said. “But, we also look forward to living in the Birmingham area, closer to our children and grandchildren, and are ready to start the transition toward retirement. Our belief is that our purpose is to make a positive difference, and we will both continue to work toward that goal, wherever we are.”

Johnson, who spearheaded the effort to designate Monroeville as “The Literary Capital of Alabama” and created the Alabama Writers Symposium, was selected in 2010 as founding executive director of the Monroeville / Monroe County Economic Development Authority. He served in that capacity prior to the Coastal Gateway assignment.

During his tenure at Alabama Southern, the community college was winner of the National Bellwether Award for Instructional Excellence in 2005 and was designated in 2004 by the National Science Foundation as one of only 14 National Centers for Technology Training.