Women of Western Wake: Lee Anne Nance

Titles: Executive Vice President, Research Triangle Regional Partnership; Managing Director, Regional Triangle Cleantech Cluster

Family: Married 26 years to Jon; sons Will and Blake, in college

Early jobs: McDonald’s drive-thru window; Residence Advisor and Residence Director while in college

Passions: Exercise, reading, teaching Sunday school at Angier Baptist Church for 3rd-5th-graders

Hometown: Smithfield, N.C.; currently lives in Angier

Education: B.A. and Master’s in economics, N.C. State University

Fun facts: Includes a quote from a rock and roll song in the signature of every email sent; it changes every week. Has jumped with the Golden Knights; Sat in the front row at a Bruce Springsteen concert


While working at the local McDonald’s in Smithfield, 17-year-old Lee Anne Britt took it upon herself to re-design the fast food restaurant’s inventory management system, and offered to write a training manual because she didn’t think the training was consistent.

She just got more impressive from there. But her guiding principle in life and work has never wavered.

“Regardless of where I have ever been, organizing my son’s high school sock hop or an economic development meeting in China, I really want to leave it better than I found it,” said Nance.

There is no doubt that has happened in the economic development space Nance has occupied for the last 13 years, first as the director of economic development in Harnett County and now as the executive vice president of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership and managing director of Regional Triangle Cleantech Cluster.

“I’m focused on marketing and branding the region’s assets to the world, and also focused on making sure we are strategically positioned for the future,” Nance explained.

The RTRP’s most recent five-year plan netted nearly 90 thousand new jobs and brought in more than $8 billion in new investment to the 70-mile area surrounding RTP.

According to RTRP President Charles Hayes, Nance is regarded as one of the leading economic developers in the world. She traverses the globe speaking as both an expert and advocate.

Her most recent coup is helping to establish the Triangle as one of the world’s leading clean technology clusters. Evidence suggests businesses operating in clean technology will be the next wave of innovation-based job growth, and our region is at the forefront.

Nance’s unique background of economics degrees coupled with marketing and communications experience in corporate America, makes her a persuasive pitch person for the educated workforce and unparalleled quality of life our region offers.

“Creating jobs and creating opportunities is something I’m really passionate about,” said Nance. “I’m also really passionate about rural North Carolina.”

Specifically, she is passionate about Harnett County. It’s her home, and she is most proud of what she helped build there.

When she and her husband, Jon, moved to Angier 21 years ago and bought a large picturesque lot with a pond and a lake to raise their two sons, Nance found an economy that had been devastated with the loss of agriculture, textiles and life as many folks knew it.

She set to work developing the “Strong Roots, New Growth” campaign that brought neighbors and businesses in the community together for a common cause.

“I was proud of being a part of that spirit that comes out of crisis, that says, ‘We’re going to take control of the future of this county for the sake of people that haven’t even been born yet. And we’re going to build it and we’re going to shout from the mountains why you should come here,’” said Nance.

Today in Harnett County, you can see a hospital and medical center, a river park, industrial parks and more. The poverty rate went down this year.

“It makes me happy to this day because I know the groundwork that was done many years ago is contributing to that,” said Nance.

An especially poignant validation of her work came at her neighborhood grocery store when she overheard two women at the meat counter talk about a job one of their husbands had just gotten with a local business, and what it meant to have health insurance and groceries again.

Nance knew that company would not have come to Harnett County without the economic development process.

She went home and told her husband, “What I’m doing is not just enjoyable and productive for our family; it  really matters. It translates into food on the table and kids going to college. I think I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.’”

While it is easy to understand why Nance is passionate about her work, she did slow down when her children were young, and for seven years freelanced so that she could take off Fridays and six weeks every summer.

She is a firm believer that women (or men) can have it all, but not at the same time. Instead she encourages others to equip themselves so they have options.

“I feel education and experience give you an opportunity to customize your work life to best meet you in your personal life,” Nance said. “There is no right or wrong path; there is your path.”

Looking back, Nance can see how the stepping stones on her path — a  job at McDonald’s, internships in government, working in corporate America, parenthood, and even being a senior at N.C. State when its basketball team  won the NCAA Championship in 1983 — all  led to her life’s success.

“I learned to believe in miracles that year (1983) … and in the power of a passionate leader (Coach Jim Valvano) and an inspired team!” she said.

Lucky for Western Wake County,  Nance’s plan, like Valvano’s, is to “never give up” and to leave things better than she found them.

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