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North Carolina's new Commerce secretary: A woman of faith and a passion for people

Taylor Batten, editorial page editor at The Charlotte Observer, recently talked to Sharon Decker, North Carolina's new Commerce secretary, about her unconventional background.

Here's his piece:

You never know what Sharon Decker will do next. Then again, neither does she.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s selection for secretary of commerce, a divinity student bound for a university chaplain job, would be beyond unusual – if it were anyone but Decker. Given this 55-year-old’s unconventional career path, though, the unpredictable has become expected.

McCrory’s invitation has turned Decker’s life upside down and she now finds herself in a crucial role: leading the Commerce Department and creating jobs in the state with the nation’s 5th-highest unemployment rate. What, you may ask, does a former small-town pastor know about that?

Decker spent 17 years at what was then Duke Power and became its first female vice president. At age 39 she left for a vastly different role and one she thought she would keep forever: Leading the Lynnwood Foundation in Charlotte and its Lee Leadership Institute. Three years, one Charlotte Chamber chairmanship and one Charlotte Woman of the Year Award later, another change: She moved to tiny Rutherfordton to lead Doncaster, a women’s apparel line with $100 million in annual revenues.

Six years later, she zigged once more, leaving Doncaster and forming The Tapestry Group, a ministry for women. She also served as a part-time pastor at two rural churches and studied for her master’s in divinity from Gardner Webb. By the time McCrory called in December, Decker was preparing to move this year to Charlottesville, Va., to be a chaplain at UVA.

I talked with Decker last week about her career moves, what drives her and what her plans are for boosting North Carolina’s economy. Here are highlights of that conversation:

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