Ted Abernathy

Ted is the Managing Partner of Economic Leadership LLC, a consultancy that is currently working in more than a dozen states to develop economic and workforce strategies. Ted has 35 years of experience in directing economic development and workforce development programs. From 2008-2013, Ted was the Executive Director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, a 42-year old public policy think tank that provided economic development research, strategy and marketing advice, to states and communities across the South. He also served as economic development policy advisor to the Southern Governors Association.

Before coming to Southern Growth, Ted was a practicing economic developer for 28 years. From 2000-2008, he served as Executive Vice President and COO for the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. During his eight years directing RTRP’s operation he worked with hundreds of clients and helped generate 65,000 new jobs and almost $10 billion in investment.

Ted’s current projects include developing economic and workforce strategies in more than a dozen states and regions across the country, designing an economic development and innovation ecosystem for a new science city in Kenya, evaluating cluster opportunities ranging from value added agriculture to advanced technologies, building dashboards using advanced data analytics, and producing the annual Home of Future Thinking conference.

Over the past five years Ted has worked on close to 100 projects. He has developed plans for the eight states that comprise the Mississippi Delta, coauthored Reimaging Workforce Development, conducted a southern citizen input process on economic vitality for the Kettering Foundation, developed best practices in manufacturing and innovation for the U.S. Economic Development Administration, helped the Organization for International Investment create an economic development coalition to better attract foreign investment and help launch a new company that assesses and improves Group Leadership.

Ted speaks to groups across the country and internationally on many topics including the economy, the future of work, trendspotting the future and organizational leadership. In the past year, he keynoted conferences for the International Economic Development Council, The Southern Economic Development Council, The Southern Regional Education Board, The National Association of Workforce Professionals, The International Eisenhower Fellowships, the Society of Industrial Realtors, The Seattle Eastside Futures Conference and dozens of private business retreats and gatherings.

Born in Dallas, NC, Ted received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; his Master’s from Johns Hopkins University, is a graduate of the Economic Development Institute and is an Eisenhower Fellow for global economics.


“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Ted for many years and can highly recommend him. He is nationally recognized expert on innovative approaches to economic development. He knows the latest trends, but more importantly, he has the practical experience and street smarts to take those ideas and make them a reality on the ground. He’s a great colleague and an excellent advisor.” – Erik Pages (President, EntreWorks Consulting)

“Ted is truly the “Swiss army knife” of economic development consultants. He has so many different talents it’s hard to know where to begin. He is an awesome speaker. He is a great writer. He is a deep thinker and strategist. He is a superb problem solver. Best of all, he is a pragmatist and knows how to get things done. I’ve worked with him in multiple settings and he always delivers!” – Andrew Levine (CEO, DCI)

“Ted is a seasoned professional and leader with tremendous insight into how communities and regions function and what they require to advance.” – Michael Cassidy (CEO, Georgia Research Alliance)

“Ted gave an outstanding presentation to our community leadership earlier this year on the competitive realities of today’s economy. The information was strategic, easily understood, actionable and engaging. We received rave reviews and requests to share the information with key decision makers in the public policy and business planning sectors. His in-depth knowledge and perspective are second to none about trends in today’s challenging economy.” – Bonnie Renfro (President, Randolph County EDC)

“Ted is a “thought” and a “do” leader in the area of economic development in the 21st century knowledge economy. His work and vision at the Research Triangle Regional Partnership were key ingredients in plotting a successful and high impact strategy for the RTP cluster. At Southern Growth, Ted’s leadership, skill, insight and thinking about have become key assets helping to fuel the economic development strategy and trajectory for the entire southeastern US.” – Mark Crowell (Principal, Academy Innovators Advisors)

Greg Payne

Greg Payne joined Economic Leadership as Vice President in 2015 following lengthy experience in commercial real estate, economic development, and land use planning.  His work over the previous 13 years was as a commercial and investment real estate broker in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. Prior to that he assisted local governments in North Carolina with economic and business development efforts, and did land-use planning work in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Greg brings strong data collection, research and analysis skills to Economic Leadership.

Greg received his bachelor’s degree from Duke University, and his master’s degree in Urban and Environmental Planning from the University of Virginia. He is also a Certified Commercial Investment Member and graduate of the Economic Development Institute.

Sara Casey

Sara Casey is a consultant specializing in data collection, conducting stakeholder interviews, and data analysis for a variety of energy and economic topics. Her research efforts have included conducting economic impact analysis, evaluating international energy efficiency programs, and characterizing emerging clusters in regional economies.

Sara has worked with clients ranging from federal government agencies, international NGOs, research foundations, and local economic development groups. Prior to starting her consulting service and joining with Economic Leadership LLC, Sara worked for RTI International as an Associate Economist in the company’s Environmental, Technology, and Energy Economics group.

​Sara grew up in North Carolina but last year moved to Colorado and is an avid outdoor enthusiast.

Carly Abernathy

Carly Abernathy is graduate of North Carolina State University with a Bachelors Degree in Program Management. She specializes in large scale event planning and management, data research and analysis and web survey design and analysis. Prior to her work at Economic Leadership, Carly was the manager at a Raleigh based event planning and design company, ThemeWorks. She oversaw all event management and design.