County fills new director position for agricultural economic development

Published 1:43 pm Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sprague joined the staff on August 1 after an interview process that included County Manager Ryan Whitson and members of the county&squo;s Agricultural Advisory board. According to Whitson, &dquo;We had numerous good local, state and regional candidates but Lynn&squo;s unique credentials set him apart. His career experience is not only a great fit, his knowledge of North Carolina programs and the contacts he has at the state and national level were just unmatched. He should be a tremendous resource for our local farmers and the county&squo;s economy as a whole.&dquo;

Prior to taking the AEDD position, Sprague spent almost nine years as chief of District Programs for the NC Department of Environment & Natural Resources, responsible for overseeing the state&squo;s 96 Soil & Water Districts; developing policies at the state and national level; and establishing working relationships and agreements with federal, state and local government agencies. In that position, Sprague worked closely with the Polk Soil & Water Conservation District, helping the county with its grant programs, Voluntary and Enhanced Agricultural Districts, and farmland preservation efforts.

Sprague previously held local and state positions throughout the east coast, supporting agricultural, environmental and conservation initiatives. He was also an instructor at Fairfield University in Connecticut, his alma mater, teaching graduate courses in environmental education, and had a leadership role in the national Association of Conservation Districts, heading national committees and working with numerous federal agencies.

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Sprague was attracted to the Polk AEDD position for the chance to get back to the local level. &dquo;When you&squo;re at the state and national level, you can lose that one-on-one perspective. Sometimes it&squo;s better to lead by example and county government is where things really happen. I see this position as a chance to roll up my sleeves again, get to work and have an impact that can be seen and felt,&dquo; he says. &dquo;Polk County has really stepped up to the plate, said that agriculture is important and is moving ahead with keeping this an agricultural area. I&squo;m excited about playing a role in that.&dquo;

But, although he can already see exciting opportunities, Sprague stresses that his first priority will be listening before leading. &dquo;It&squo;s easy to be enthusiastic about the opportunities here but my first goal is to get out and meet with as many of our farmers as I can, to talk about what their needs are and what they&squo;re interested in.&dquo;

Agricultural Board member Dave Slater commended the board of commissioners for approving the AEDD position. &dquo;The BOC has put us in a unique situation as a community, with our new AEDD working alongside Cooperative Extension Director John Vining and Economic Development Director Kipp McIntyre. I believe they will together produce a synergy they couldn&squo;t achieve individually, which will provide a lot of economic punch for our county. And with the experience Lynn brings, he&squo;ll be a great person to help us meet agricultural and economic challenges.&dquo;

Sprague is not a stranger to agriculture in Western North Carolina. His wife, Ellen, is the daughter of Billy and Peggy Laughter of Edneyville; the family&squo;s Billy Laughter Orchard is one of the largest apple producers in the area and Peggy is executive director of the NC Apple Growers Association. Ellen is director of the NC Tomato Growers, in addition to working full time at the NC Department of Juvenile Justice. The Spragues have spent a lot of vacation time at the Edneyville farm while based elsewhere over the years and plan to make it their new home base.