By Kim Hoey
Special to Delaware Business Times
If the people of the world were lined up with extroverts on one end and introverts on the other, William Kurt Foreman would probably land at the head of the extrovert line. After spending his childhood traveling the world as an Army brat and his adult life moving around the country with work, Foreman is good at quickly adopting a new place as his home.
And now his home is Delaware, where he will serve as the new president and CEO of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership.
“Delaware has a lot to offer,” said Foreman as he packed his clothes, books and music for the drive to Delaware from his last position as the executive vice president of economic development for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. He started his job in Delaware on April 9, but in his mind had adopted Delaware as his own long before. When referring to Delaware it is neveras “you,” but always as “we.”
“We want to make sure we’re absolutely on the list [of companies looking for a place to locate],” he said of one of his marketing goals.
Foreman wasn’t looking for a job when he happened to see the advertisement for the Delaware opening and was intrigued.
“I’m a huge fan of public-private partnerships,” he said. States that are doing well in this country all have strong partnerships, he said. “Plus, I joke, it’s the only place on my [mid-Atlantic] BINGO card where I haven’t
An economic development veteran
And he’s lived a lot of places. Not including the places he lived domestically and abroad as a child, professionally he’s lived in Virginia, Wisconsin, New York, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Oklahoma.
Some people find a place and plant their flag, said Foreman. He felt like there were so many nice places in the country, “Why not learn about them and build your network?” His wife of 28 years, Julie, and their four children were game to take the journey with him.
His eclectic living history was one of the selling features for the Delaware search committee. His work in Oklahoma, where he led a team of 16 in business recruitment and business retention and expansion, is practically taken from the wish list of what the committee was looking to happen in Delaware. In earlier work in Louisiana, Foreman was the startup president for a regional economic development marketing group that successfully recruited and built businesses throughout eight of the state’s parishes. He distinguished himself for being able to bring diverse groups together behind a single economic development strategy to move economic development forward.
“I think this guy’s the real thing,” said Robert W. Perkins, executive director of the Delaware Business Roundtable and member of the partnership hiring committee. Some of the reasons Foreman rose to the top of the national candidate list were his experience with different markets, the variety of work he’d completed in economic development, his history of leadership and his passion for economic development.
“The way he handled himself in interviews, he was very confident, yet very respectful,” said Perkins. “I’d describe Kurt as someone comfortable in his own skin, forthright … as good a listener as he is experienced.”
Economic development isn’t a job for Foreman, it’s a calling. While most people get into it by accident, it was something he chose.
“I enjoy knowing that by the end of the week, month, year, we’ve probably done something as a group that’s helped people’s lives,” said Foreman. He explained that by growing opportunity in an area, he hoped his team — because he said he can’t do it alone — helped someone be able to, perhaps, buy a reliable car, put a child through school, help an ailing parent. “We don’t know who they are and they don’t know who we are,
but hopefully we’ve helped.”
He spent his first two weeks in Delaware meeting the partners, being introduced on the floor of the House and Senate in Dover and driving from place to place learning the state. His plan in Delaware is four-pronged. Tell the story of how great Delaware is outside the state to get people to come, tell the story of Delaware inside the state to get companies to stay and grow, and then work on innovation by creating an asset map of what Delaware has and what is being worked on and work on talent. Many people think the most important thing for businesses is real estate, he said, but more important is access to a talented pool of people.
He was simply the best fit for what the partnership wanted to accomplish, said John Riley, DPP search team member and interim CEO. In his job experience, Foreman has already run two different public/private partnerships, built teams, hired staff, raised funds, created strategic plans, and worked with boards. Add his broad base of national contacts and leadership experience, and Foreman just naturally rose to the top, said Riley.
Plus, he can sing and act. He loves community theater. He played Thomas Jefferson to Delaware Secretary of Finance Rick Geisenberger’s John Adams in the musical “1776” in college, and met his wife singing in an a cappella group in their church. He also likes finding “hole in the wall” restaurants and spending time with his family. So far.
His youngest son is a freshman in college, so, he said he might be looking for new hobbies now that
he and his wife are empty-nesters.
William Hearn, of Atlanta, a friend and colleague of Foreman’s for more than 20 years, wasn’t surprised that Foreman got the job or by any of the positive things people had to say about him.
He described Foreman as a person with both a good head and a good heart.
“He’s someone who is going to be forthright and honest. He’s going to do the right thing. He’s someone I can rely on to give me good advice,” said Hearn. “Those are increasingly difficult qualities to find these days.”