Sharon Decker talks about challenges, opportunities

new role as Secretary of Commerce
Jan. 13, 2013 @ 05:35 AM

From a large picture window in her dining room  Sharon Decker can see several western North Carolina mountain ranges. 

On a clear day, Decker can point to Rutherford County's Chimney Rock State Park. Now, those mountains have a new perspective as she became the state's Secretary of Commerce last Saturday, Jan. 5.

The Commerce Department oversees the tourism division of the state, Employment Security Commission and has the responsibility of finding jobs for people in the state.

Decker says no one was more surprised than she when then Gov.-Elect Pat McCrory called the week after Christmas asking her to join his cabinet.

 McCrory drove to Rutherfordton on Dec. 29 for a three hour meeting with Decker, who was recovering from foot surgery performed only days earlier.

Having discussed the opportunity with her husband, Bob Decker, after McCrory made the first call, and after prayer, she knew taking the job was the right thing.

 McCrory and Decker worked together at Duke Power 15 years and have have been friends about 30 years, but she was caught off guard about the position.

"I wasn't looking for a job . . . Pat and I had never talked a about my having a position with him before the week after Christmas," she said.

Decker, still supporting a bright yellow cast on her right foot and moving quickly on a scooter, said McCrory told her  he knew she understood the people of North Carolina and was driven by the desire to help others.

"I learned that from my parents. I've never known anything else. They modeled that in me," she said. "To help others."

Decker was sworn-in last Saturday morning, putting her hand on the Bible her mother, Dot Allred, gave her dad, Hoyle Allred, in 1939, "when they were dating."

"As I had my hand on the Bible, I knew I was committing to service. They spent their whole lives serving for Christ sake, modeling their lives for me."

With the position comes the challenge of finding employment for people of North Carolina and Rutherford County, she said.

"We have got to create jobs for North Carolina. The state is so rich in cultural, natural and human resources and companies are looking to relocate in places like this," she said. "We just need to put it all together."

"We need to change the tax structure to attract new businesss, expand businesses already existing and keep our businesses open," she said.

"We have lost ground in North Carolina during the past few years . . .We haven't made to shift to a global economy. We haven't kept up the pace.

Decker sees the challenges as opportunities.

"You can be successful if you want to be and when you make that decision, you focus on it and then become successful," she said.

She believes incentives must be offered in finding companies to locate here and there is opportunity to partner with other states in finding jobs.

As the state moves ahead toward creating more jobs, it also must have a prepared work force, she said. "We have to brand our state again and we're working on a economic plan right now, which we do not have."

Decker said McCrory and his new team will work toward re-branding the state and executing a new economic plan. "We have to have very high quality jobs here."

The job force must be willing to be retrained and re-equipped. She said she saw a prime example of that while a patient at Rutherford Regional.

One of her nurses was a former auto mechanic but was not able to make a living. He was encouraged by staff at Isothermal Community College to get back into school. He joined the nursing studies program there and is now a nurse.

"And a good one," she said. 

Other opportunities Decker face as Secretary of Commerce is overseeing the Employment Security Commission. "People without work need compassion" she said.

She believes a greater customer service emphasis is needed there. 

Decker began the 24 hour/7 days Duke Power customer service call center in 1989.

"Two days after it was implemented (Hurricane) Hugo happened," she said. "I was working 80 hours a week. My entire family was taking calls from the patch center at 2 a.m." 

Decker has a very demanding job,one that has been described as the highest profile position in McCrory's administration.

"God's preparation of an empty nest was perfect timing," Decker of her youngest daughter, Emily, 17, who is attending school in Baltimore. "Everything that happens is God's timing," she said.

Decker and husband Bob and their four children came to Rutherford County 11 years ago as she joined Tanner Companies as its president.

 The whole family was present last Saturday for the swearing-in ceremony. Son Rob attended the inaugural ball with his parents on Saturday.

Decker is also founder of the Tapestry Group, a ministry for women.

Among her future speaking engagements is to preach on Feb. 16 at Mt. Holly Baptist Church.

"But I do believe in separation of church and state," she emphasized.

 McCrory asked her to deliver the litany at the Martin Luther King service in Raleigh on Jan. 18.

"I am so honored."

Before McCrory's call, Decker was set to complete her master of divinity degree and was in discussion regarding two other jobs. She had been asked to return to the University of Virginia as a chaplain and was also in conversation about a regional job.

"But I knew this was right. I would do this."

Decker said God is at work all the time and "we tap into where he is already at work and we join him."

"God's plan is always bigger and better than ours." 

Decker and husband Bob will retain their Rutherfordton home and will have a home in downtown Raleigh.