Columbia County Development Authority Director Zack Daffin stands next to a site plan for Horizon North Business Center.
Photo by Donnie Fetter
Zack Daffin never planned to make a career out of helping communities improve their economic horizons. It just happened that way.
Daffin, the executive director of the Columbia County Development Authority, had set his sights on becoming a stockbroker. Unfortunately, job interviews with investment firms showed him he lacked the necessary experience in his chosen field.
"I was a young African-American, and I heard them say a couple of times that I needed a little more maturity," Daffin said from behind the desk of his exceptionally tidy office on Old Evans Road. "The bottom line was that I wasn't able to do the kind of work that I wanted."
Daffin, 43, grew up in Mobile, Ala., the son of a teacher and a barber shop owner. A talk with his father inspired Daffin to seek more community-minded employment.
"I had a conversation with my father, and he began telling me about his experiences serving in the military," Daffin said. "He really felt that all young men and women should give back in some way to the country that afforded them such freedom. That was on a Sunday night. It impacted me to the point that on Monday morning I signed up for the Marine Corps."
Following a six-year stint in the U.S. Marines Reserves as an intelligence officer, Daffin spent 15 years moving through the ranks of Alabama Power. His experiences with the company taught him much about his business abilities and how to make the best of any given opportunity.
"I can think of instances when being African-American helped more than it hindered," he said. "The company had a focus on creating, in its leadership ranks, diversity. From that overall goal, I was able to excel. I believe the starting point of some of the promotions was based on the need to promote diversity."
Daffin did so well that when one of the senior officers at Alabama Power left to become president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama in Birmingham, she took him with her. He served as director of business development and corporate real estate with the group for two years.
Daffin's wife, Kashmir, a native of Gainesville, Ga., convinced him to move back to her home state. That desire led him to Columbia County.
Now living in the West Lake subdivision with his wife and 11-year-old daughter, Jennifer, Daffin took over the helm of the county's Development Authority last April.
He has since focused much of his professional energy in getting the Horizons North industrial park off the ground and creating more retail opportunities in the county.
"The spending power of the community has been a focus of mine - to get that message out beyond the region," he said. "As a result of that, you have local developers, and developers outside our region, that are keenly interested in being a part of the retail explosion here."
Despite Daffin's professional accomplishments, he said the vitality of local business and political leaders makes his job much easier.
"I've been particularly pleased with the enthusiasm that leadership in Columbia County has shown for economic development in general," he said. "There is a willingness to be open to ideas, or vision, for development. I've been very pleased with the progress we're making."
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