Members of the Knox County Development Corp. on Friday morning met for the first time since former president and CEO Kent Utt announced his resignation last week.
The mood, in his absence, was certainly somber.
KCDC board member Kurt Phegley, Duke Energy, toward the end of the meeting, asked board chairman Craig Kirk to offer, if possible, some kind of explanation for Utt's resignation after five years at the organization's helm.
What was the motivation behind Utt's rather abrupt departure, Phegley asked?
Kirk gave a long sigh before offering an explanation.
“It's a tough job,” he told the group, gathered at Vincennes University's Isaac K. Beckes Student Union. “Having a 52-member board is good, but it's also a lot of people to answer to.
“There is pressure with this job, just as there is with any job.”
Kirk also, however, stressed that Utt's decision to leave was not a “hasty one.”
Utt announced his resignation on Oct. 21, saying he was stepping down to pursue a career as a self-employed property appraiser.
It's a move, both Utt and Kirk said, that Utt put into motion more than a year ago as he began pursuing the necessary licensure.
Kirk, too, said many recognize that the lack of certified property appraisers is a definite “void” in the Knox County community.
“And that was always his exit strategy,” Kirk said.
Still, KCDC members seemed saddened — and even somewhat angsty — by his sudden departure.
KCDC board member and North Knox School Corp. Superintendent Darrel Bobe attempted to lighten the mood a bit by humbly offering to “be the guy who will say there is a little tension in the room,” to which everyone offered a slight chuckle.
Phegley also pointed out that Utt's departure from the KCDC would leave “a big gap” for Knox County officials to fill.
Greg Cardinal, another KCDC member, applauded Utt's efforts over the past five years. He was “one of us,” he said gesturing around the room. He was a Knox County resident, so he “shared our passion” for seeing it succeed.
Utt's shoes, Cardinal agreed, would be big ones to fill.
His comments were echoed, too, by Kirk Bouchie, general manager of Vincennes Water Utilities, who said in all his years serving the KCDC, Utt was “the most engaged, the easiest to work with and felt the strongest about moving Knox County forward.”
And Don Villwock encouraged them all to put their thoughts down on paper.
“Is a resolution in order that this board (publicly) thank Kent for his service and a job well done?” he asked, to which the group nodded in agreement, putting the wheels in motion to have such a resolution drafted and (likely) approved at next month's meeting.
But regardless of why Utt left, the organization's leaders must now move forward with the task of finding his replacement.
Kirk said the executive committee has decided it in the KCDC's best interest to find someone to serve as interim director, that way they can take their time in finding a new, permanent CEO.
“And we'll lean on you to spread the word,” Kirk told the board of the interim position. “We feel like we do need to have an interim to keep the momentum we have going.”
“We have a 52-member board for a reason,” he said. “So if you know someone, someone who is maybe retired or somebody that only works part time, let us know.”
Kirk said the KCDC's goal is to give itself ample time to find a permanent replacement; officials would like, he added, to have someone on board come summer.
The organization will likely conduct a regional — if not nationwide — search, he said, and could lean hard on the Indiana Economic Development Corp. for help.
And it may not be easy, he eluded, as he knows of three other economic development organizations, including one in Randolph County and another in Bloomington, that are in need of new CEOs.
He was also contacted, he said, by a headhunter in Indianapolis, one that specializes in talent recruitment for non-profits. It's possible, he said, that could be a useful outlet as well.
“But we have a commitment to looking outside the county,” Kirk said. “It's a high-enough level position that we feel we need to do a broad search.
“We're not going to rush it, which is why we feel we need an interim person so we can take our time and make sure we find a person we're all comfortable with.”
Utt transitioned from the banking industry into the KCDC's top role back in 2014, taking the place of former president Gary Gentry. While at the organization's helm, he worked to expand the U.S. 41 Industrial Park by more than 100 developable acres and turned an eye toward the county's young people.
He helped to launch the KCDC's Life Enrichment Foundation, which supports Knox County's CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) Program that connects high school students with local businesses and looks to foster their entrepreneurial spirits. He also led the creation of the county's Tour of Opportunity, a day-long field trip for all junior high school students to visit some of the area's largest industry and business leaders as well as Vincennes University, all in an effort to show them the opportunities available right here at home.