“A county manager is like the CEO of a large corporation that offers a variety of programs, services and products,” said Andy Lucas ’96, ’00 MPA. “We’re in the business of economic development, transportation, water and sewage, health and human services, and more—all affecting quality of life for citizens.”
For the past decade, Lucas has served predominantly rural Stanly County, located 35 miles northeast of Charlotte, making sure that services people depend on are delivered effectively and efficiently. He attributes the length of his tenure—twice that of the average county manager—to his ability to stay above politics as well as his experience with UNC Charlotte’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program.
“Not a week goes by that I don’t consult my course materials or reach out to a former professor or classmate. The foundation of the MPA program—the fundamental expertise required for the field—is as relevant today as it was when I was a student,” he said. “I am the effective professional that UNC Charlotte taught me to be.”
Academics meets experience
Lucas’ hometown in upstate New York provided all the inspiration he needed to focus on a career that makes an impact on the well-being of individuals, families and communities. “In a small, blue-collar town, community is everything,” he said. “I experienced firsthand how programs and services make a difference for people. It was athletics, through parks and rec, that connected me to others and my surroundings.”
The opportunity to make a difference in a similar environment—and apply MPA program lessons along with those learned early in his career as an administrator for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office—has proved positive. And one where Lucas “wears a lot of hats.”
“Limited revenue and citizens’ expectations for speedy, high-quality services requires leadership and creative application of resources,” he said. “Processes in a rural county may not be as complex or entrenched as those of a larger jurisdiction, so it’s often possible to make decisions or put programs in place relatively quickly.”
Collaboration is key
He points out that regardless of a community’s size, relationship building is essential, especially in North Carolina where the urban-rural divide is real.
“Relationships between these areas must be collaborative and reciprocal, with representatives from each having a seat at the table,” Lucas explained. “We recognize Charlotte’s role as the region’s economic engine. It’s my responsibility to make sure leadership from the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are aware of everything Stanly County offers to support the region’s viability.”
Among these, in Stanly County’s case, are affordable real estate and an accessible and modern regional airport. These and other economic factors, including a ripple effect from a thriving Charlotte-Mecklenburg economy, indicate that the immediate future is bright for Stanly County.
“Stanly County is on the verge of tremendous growth,” Lucas said. “It’s a great place to be and in the middle of everything. It’s a privilege to work with our elected officials and other community leaders whose ideas, decisions and solutions enhance life for everyone.”