By: Erin Smith
Returning home after a few years spent working in other towns and states has been a joy for one Bladen County resident. Michael Leinwand said the decision to return to Bladen County was actually an easy one to make.
Leinwand said returning to Bladen County to help with the operation of Leinwand’s Department Store, was one that he does not regret. He said returning home has actually made it easier by affording him more flexibility of his schedule and having the support of family nearby.
Upon leaving for college, Leinwand said at first he didn’t really see himself returning to Bladen County to pursue a career. “When I left Elizabethtown, I had no intentions of returning to Bladen County. I don’t have anything against Bladen County, it has always been home for me,” said Leinwand.
He said he worked at Leinwand’s Department Store while he was attending high school and he also worked there during holidays and assisted with special sales and events. “At that time, I didn’t think I was a good fit,” said Leinwand.
He graduated from East Bladen High School in 1999. The school was located on US Hwy. 701 South across from the Board of Education and the mascot then was the Cougars. Leinwand attended college at UNC Chapel Hill where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Geography.
“Initially, I wanted to major in Computer Science but I decided that wasn’t for me. I took some geography courses to fulfill some requirements and decided instead to major in it,” said Leinwand.
He added that he enrolled in some Geographic Information System courses and enjoyed those classes as well. Leinwand said upon graduation from UNC Chapel Hill he decided to attend graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where he earned his Master’s degree in Urban Planning.
While attending graduate school, Leinwand said he accepted an internship for the city of Graham. While working with Graham, their Planner was offered another position elsewhere, and Leinwand said he stepped into the position. That is where he developed his passion for local government. Leinwand said he then enrolled in the University of Georgia where he earned a master’s degree in Public Administration in 2009.
He was offered a position in Conway, South Carolina as the town’s planning director in June 2009 and was employed there for about 6 years. Leinwand said compared to Graham, there were greater job responsibilities and he was dealing with elected officials and was also responsible for a staff.
When asked what influenced his decision to return to Bladen County, Leinwand said he had been working in Conway for 5 years and felt it was time to move on from there. He said he and his wife left Conway in 2015 and his wife had just found out she was pregnant with couple’s first child.
“I was helping my family part-time at Leinwand’s and going to Graham and working 3 times a week because their Planner had left,” said Leinwand. He said he had the opportunity to apply for Graham’s position, but opted not to apply.
Leinwand said now, compared to when he was younger, he better understands what it takes to run his own business plus he is able to take advantage of his background and becoming involved in the community in a different way. He said he is still learning things about operating his family’s store.
Leinwand said as he got older, he had a sense of duty. He said growing up in Elizabethtown his parents never put pressure on him to return.
“It was a very difficult decision because I was still looking for other local government jobs,” said Leinwand. “I wanted to be closer to family especially with our first child.”
Leinwand has served on town of Elizabethtown Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee.
When asked to compare his two careers, he said it was really difficult to compare them. He said in local government you are working with elected officials as well as the public. At Leinwand’s, you deal with the public as well as suppliers and employees.
Leinwand said when he returned to Bladen County, not much had changed. He said he still recognized many customers. He added Elizabethtown’s downtown area has greatly improved during his time living away from Bladen County.
His advice to others who may be planning or considering a return to Bladen County: “If you have aspirations to do it, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it. There is nothing wrong with coming back home to do it (work or start a business). But, don’t come home just to come home.”
When asked what his parents thought of his decision to return home, Leinwand said, “For the most part, it was comfortable talking to them about it.” He added his parents never put pressure on him to return home. He said they supported his work in local government and they supported him when he made the decision to return home.
Leinwand said now he is working to make things easier at Leinwand’s with the use of new technology. He said he feels the addition of the use of technology will be a benefit to the future success of Leinwand’s.