Family: Wife Jeanette
Occupation: IT Site Support Analyst, Army Veteran
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Where'd you grow up?
I grew up in Grant, Michigan, about an hour north of Grand Rapids. It is a really small town, with just one stoplight and a grocery store.
What made you decide to join the military?
After graduating from college, I had difficulty finding a job using my graphic design degree. Michigan isn’t the best place for finding a lot of creative jobs. Financially speaking, I made the decision to join the military because I had student loan obligations. However, it was something I had thought about before college as well. I joined so I could basically get some technical experience, travel a little bit, and maybe put myself ahead a little bit. I didn't expect to be an IT person, but I found my passion in that area through the military. I think things tend to work out differently than planned every time you make big decisions like that.
What brought you to Catawba County?
I was stationed at Fort Bragg for two years. I was in Korea for a year, which is where I met my wife. She was teaching there. After I came back, I was stationed at Fort Bragg again so I was familiar with North Carolina.
I was ready to settle down. I didn't like having to move every two or three years. That was one of my main motivations for leaving the military. But searching for employment with my military background was incredibly difficult, because my job in the military was to work on computer systems for rocket launchers. That doesn’t translate easily into other kinds of work.
My supervisor told me about the Welcome Home Hickory Metro event. He was in the process of retiring from the military after doing his 20 years, and he was taking a Microsoft technical course. He got information about the event through that course somehow. When I learned about everything that was planned for that weekend, I immediately went to the website and signed up.
How did that event influence your decision to move here?
My wife came with me, which I thought was really nice because this whole transition involved her too. Getting out of the military and moving are both a big deal. She was able to participate in seeing where we could potentially live and some of the things around town, which was awesome and a big part of the decision to move here. I’m glad I’m here.
You mentioned meeting your wife in Korea. Where is she from?
She’s from South Africa.
How did you convince her to move here?
I must be pretty awesome.
That goes without saying.
She was excited to come here, but it was difficult for her to make the decision to leave her family back home. South Africa's a pretty dangerous place, and there’s a little more opportunity here. Overall she was excited about it.
When you came to Catawba County for the Welcome Home Hickory Metro weekend, what kind of expectations did you have?
I felt pretty good about finding a job. There weren't a lot of technical jobs available at the time, but I knew CommScope and Corning would be there. That was a big deal. Seeing the community was also a huge, huge part of it, because we were living in Fayetteville. Our tastes are different from what Fayetteville has to offer; we like doing things outdoors and we appreciate a small town feel. Participating in different activities during the Hickory Metro event showed us that this community has a lot more to do than just shopping or going out to eat. We wanted to move somewhere where we could do things.
Did you know ahead of time who you might be connecting with for interviews? Or did that evolve as you were here?
I remember going around and talking to each and every one of the people who were there. Even if I wasn't interested in a job with them, it was good to talk with everybody and learn about the community. There were not any open positions when I spoke with the people at CommScope, but I got a really good vibe from them and they said they'd keep me updated. And the thing about it is, they did. The person I talked to added me on LinkedIn that night, and they actually messaged me when a position was open.
At the event, I was a little disappointed because there weren’t any job positions open. Now that I look back, I know there were plenty of people who were hired from that event. I think maybe my expectations were wrong going into it, but it was extremely valuable talking with everyone and I understand now that just getting myself out here is what got me the job.
So Catawba County probably would not have been on your radar if that event hadn’t happened?
I had never heard of Hickory before. My wife and I, the first day we were here, we thought it was just amazing. We went on a tour, and it was awesome to be able to see things just from riding the bus around town. We went to a distillery and the brewery. We were really, really glad that we heard about the event.
Was there one particular thing about the County during the weekend that really kind of sold you?
The dinner at Rock Barn Country Club. That was when we really felt like this was a place we could call home. So many people were there, and they kept coming up to us and talking to us and just welcoming us into the community, even though we weren't here yet. The fact that so many people are interested in bringing others into the community is just an amazing attitude and perspective. It's something I haven't seen in any other place that I've lived, so that night, we really said yeah, we could see ourselves living here.
How has your experience been since you made the commitment to move here?
Awesome. The move was very quick. We're in a good apartment in a nice, quiet area by the university. Just about every weekend we do something new. We go to new places to eat and walk around downtown a lot. There's always something we're doing on the weekends. Ever since we've moved here, we've had a lot of fun going out and about in the community. We've gone hiking, walked around with our cameras, and run into people from work just on a Saturday downtown.
There's a lot of ways this place feels bigger than it is, and then at times feels smaller than it is. It's not like a typical small place. I think there's more here than there was in Fayetteville with probably a quarter of the traffic. Everything's convenient.
What do you enjoy most about living here?
All the activities. For instance, I've gone to play disc golf. I've been to Baker's Mountain. My wife and I love being outdoors. Our favorite thing about living here is that any day you can leave the house, go do something, and you can never get tired of doing things because there's so much. Sometimes we'll just go to Tasteful Beans coffee shop downtown and sit there for a few hours, maybe reading or working on our computers. Other times we'll walk around and get some wine downtown, or stop in for trivia night at Craft Beer Cellar. There's endless things to do and time to do them, which has probably the greatest impact on our lives because it's creating memories. I don't think driving in a lot of traffic necessarily creates a memory.
Have you met a lot of people since you moved here?
Yeah, slowly. I'm really, really, really busy with work. I'm actually having to travel a little bit too. My wife and I started hanging out with one of my coworkers and his girlfriend. They're just wonderful people, and through them we’ve met some other folks as well. They've been here in Hickory all their lives. I never would've discovered Amos Howards if it weren’t for them.
When you think about the idea of Making. Living. Better., what does that mean for you and your life here?
That's definitely a tough question to answer, because it’s almost a feeling. You know it, but it's hard to describe.
Do you think moving here has made your life better?
Oh, yeah. It's quieter, more peaceful. My apartment is better for the money than it was in Fayetteville, and we’ll probably be looking for a house this fall. Things are more convenient, and when things are more convenient, it's less stressful to plan things. The people I meet are more friendly, so when I go out, it's just a better experience with generally everything here. Socially, when you’re hanging out with friends, there’s so much to do that you never just end up going over to someone's house or doing the same thing. It’s a more dynamic social experience.
I hadn't played disc golf since college, and I come here and find an amazing disc golf course in the community. That's incredible. I think there's more opportunities to learn as well, especially with the art and science museums here. There's a lot more volunteer opportunities. My wife and I can be engaged in the community in so many more ways here than we were before.
What about your future here? Do you picture you and your wife living here for a long time?
Yeah. We don't have any plans to leave. We see this as a place to create a life. We’re close to the mountains, and we can go to Charlotte if we want. Yeah, it's a perfect place to be.
[Editor’s Note: Welcome Home Hickory Metro is a local job recruitment event for transitioning veterans from Fort Bragg coordinated by the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce and the Catawba Valley Economic Development Corporation. The weekend-long experience is designed to help transitioning veterans explore career and relocation opportunities in Catawba County. For more information, visit https://www.welcome-hky-metro.org/.]
Interviewed February 27, 2018