Sweet ready to meet Grayson's challenges

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson County will welcome only its third county administrator in history on June 1, as Jonathan Sweet returns home.

Sweet moved to Grayson County in 1994, finishing his junior and senior year at GCHS. After graduating high school, he went to Radford University, where he majored in communications, with a minor in economics.

After graduating college, Sweet returned to Carroll County, where he eventually became its director of economic development. Sweet held the position until July 2002, when he became project manager in the Office of Economic Development for the City of Danville.

After spending nearly a year there, Sweet became county administrator in Bland County — where he has spent the last six years of his career. Hired at the age of 24, Sweet became — and remains today — the youngest county administrator in the commonwealth.

Youth, however, has not slowed Sweet down, as he accomplished a lot while serving Bland.

One of his biggest accomplishments, he said, was building up communication between the local government and citizenry in Bland — in other words, increasing the level of trust the community has in what their government is doing.

That, Sweet said, is one of his goals as he begins a new chapter of his life in Grayson.

But first, Sweet plans to “take an inventory” of the county and evaluate what assets and resources he has. In that process, he hopes to study the county's operating procedures and “make sure all cylinders are firing.”

While he doesn't think there will be many changes needed, a few adjustments may be made.

“We have quality staff here in Grayson,” Sweet said. “We'll just make sure everything is operating efficiently and at full capacity.”

Entering a county hit hard by the recent downturn in the economy is something Sweet felt he was drawn to do. He plans to focus on expanding the county's tax base through economic development and recruitment of businesses.

“That is my passion,” Sweet said of economic development. “It is my forte.”

He feels blessed to be able to return home and wants to give all local graduates the opportunity to do the same one day. “I want to plant trees, so our future generations can enjoy the shade.

Grayson and Carroll counties and the City of Galax already have what Sweet described as a “robust relationship,” and his focus will be to foster that even more.

“My mission is to carry out the directions of the board of supervisors, establish relationships from the state, to the region, down to the landowner in Grayson County, to look at ways to create opportunities for our young folks to come back and work in Grayson County like I'm doing,” Sweet added. “That's our hope... For all Grayson County graduates to be able to return home.”

To do that, good-paying jobs must be brought to the area.

Sweet hopes to plant those trees by getting back to the fundamentals of running a “lean, mean” local government.

“There's always room for continual improvement,” Sweet said. “That improvement is necessary as revenues are dwindling and expenses are increasing. We have got to always do more, with less.”

Sweet added that he appreciated all those that had come before him and laid the groundwork for growing Grayson County, but now is his opportunity to make improvements where he can.

While he has a work-first attitude, Sweet said he likes his staff to have fun, while at the same time being productive.

“It's very important to have fun, while being successful,” he said. “It's important to enjoy what we do.”

Part of that fun, Sweet said, is when he gets to see a parking lot that was once empty with an abandoned building sitting on it now full of employees' cars. “That excites me.”

Sweet feels that Grayson is very fertile and that there is a lot that can be planted, watered and harvested.

Another top priority Sweet brings to Grayson is the ability to make the county pro-business.

“We need to diversify our economy and increase the tax base through that diversification,” Sweet said. “In doing so, that keeps the tax rates low for our citizens and provides employment so people can work where they live.”

That same community is one Sweet and his family — wife Natalie, son Silas and daughter Palyn — are eager to join.

He plans to spend some time out on his motorcycle with his wife and get reacquainted with the landscape and beauty that is Grayson.

“I've got two kids, who will eventually be a part of the school system here,” Sweet said. “I already care greatly about my alma mater and the community where my immediate family lives.”

The family is already a member of Cliffview Church of God in Galax and have been doing double duty between Bland and Grayson during the past six years.

“I feel like it's home,” Sweet said of his return to Grayson. “I feel like I'm already a member of this community.”