August 22, 2016

Call of the great outdoors lures economic development pro to the Northwest

After a City Hall career spanning several decades, Ward Wimbish will say goodbye to West Memphis next month to become director of a regional economic development organization in Eugene, Ore. Wimbish, who has served the city as economic development director since 2006, says his decision is based not on the merits of either job but on the lifestyle opportunities in Eugene.

“I’ve lived in West Memphis for 24 years,” he said. “I raised my two children here. I love this community.”

Wimbish said he’s felt support from the community for his ideas and programs, especially from Mayor William Johnson, whom he considers a personal friend. Telling Johnson, he said, was the hardest part of his decision.

He leaves to run Greater Eugene, Inc. formerly known as South Willamette Economic Development Corp., which serves the communities of Eugene, Springfield and Lane County. According to a release from the organization, the board of directors selected Wimbish unanimously. He’ll start in October leading the organization in building relationships to grow local businesses and promote the region to new companies.

Wimbish’s resume has prepared him well for the new post. He studied civil engineering at the University of Mississippi and graduated from the U.S. Army Engineering School in 1976. He has extensive construction and project management experience and holds an MBA from Christian Brothers University. Before running the city’s economic development office, he served West Memphis as public works director, city engineer and manager of the utility department.

Mayor Johnson called Wimbish “a pioneer in the community. As economic development director, he draws from every resource to attract business and industry to the community,” Johnson said. “We wish him well, but he will be missed.”

Over the last 10 years, Wimbish oversaw a major rebranding of the economic development office and worked to cultivate relationships with business leaders and site selectors from around the country and as far away as Shenzen in China. His office’s marketing efforts have earned multiple awards from the Southern Economic Development Council.

Because of his passion for outdoor recreation, he’s been excited by developments like the Big River Crossing and the planned Delta Regional River Park. He played a role in the development of the Arkansas Delta Flatlander, which will host cyclists for its third series of events just weeks after he starts his new role.

The new job, Wimbish says, will offer many of the same challenges he’s found exciting here. The area has a deepwater ocean port, a network of interstates and railroads and a large university. He calls the decision to move bittersweet—but it’s based almost completely on the Eugene area’s access to limitless outdoor recreation. He will be able to do what he loves—hike, climb, run and bike—weekly instead of waiting for vacation time.

“I am a life-long runner,” Wimbish said. “I went to Ole Miss on a track and cross country scholarship in the 1970s when Eugene was becoming known as ‘Track Town USA.’ It’s always been a special place for me. I just couldn’t pass that up.”