Valerie Gray, executive director of the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA), has been named the 2019 recipient of the David R. Echols Distinguished Service Award for exemplary service to Alabama’s economic development.
Gray is the first economic developer from a rural county to be selected for the award that is the highest Alabama recognition in her field. It is named after Echols, a successful economic developer who died in 2010.
Gray has led the CCDA for 22 years. Under her leadership, in the past 10 years Chambers County has secured 16 industrial projects involving nearly $1 billion in capital investment and more than 3,500 jobs.
Gray has overseen a transformation in the east Alabama county’s economy, which has shifted from its textile industry roots to a diversified mix of auto suppliers and industrial operations.
“Valerie Gray is the perfect fit for this year’s recipient,” said Bob Smith, assistant director of business development at the Alabama Department of Commerce. “She has the respect of her board and elected officials, the Department of Commerce staff, utility partners and her local industry base.
“Valerie has all the qualities we speak about that David Echols practiced daily,” he said.
With Gov. Kay Ivey looking on, Gray was presented the award on Jan. 28 at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s winter conference at Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel & Spa at the Conference Center.
“When the news was delivered to me that I had been chosen for this prestigious award, I was humbled,” Gray said. “It got me to thinking about the history of Chambers County, and how far we have come as a rural community. The mentorship from colleagues and former CCDA board members over the years has proven to be so valuable to me.
“Knowing the impact that David Echols had on this community made it even more special. Having his wife Cynthia and two beautiful daughters look on as I accepted the award for work in a county where he got his start made it feel like everything had come full circle,” she said.
CCDA Board President Bobby Williams said Gray has passionately worked to secure a better quality of life for the residents of Chambers County and Alabama.
“In her leadership role, she is fair, factual and fierce in accomplishing goals,” Williams said. “Serving as the executive director of the Chambers County Development Authority is not just a job to Valerie; it is her life.”
Joining Williams for the presentation were Valley Mayor Leonard Riley, Lanett Mayor Kyle McCoy, LaFayette Mayor Barry Moody and Chambers County Commission Chairman Doug Jones.
The award is presented annually by the Alabama Department of Commerce to an economic development professional that best exhibits qualities and attributes of the late Echols, a long-serving senior project manager at the Department of Commerce’s forerunner, the Alabama Development Office.
Echols was known statewide for his relentless pursuit of industrial projects for the state and his tireless and creative ability to locate those projects in Alabama. Traits mentioned as criteria for this award are professionalism, high ethical standards and a strong passion for one’s job.
Notable projects Echols was associated with are the Toyota engine plant in Huntsville and the Hyundai manufacturing plant in Montgomery, which together have created thousands of jobs in the state. Last year, the two companies announced plans to add a combined 650 new jobs.
The Alabama Department of Commerce has been presenting the award in Echols’ honor for the past 10 years. The previous winner was Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association.
Gray said winning the honor represents a career highlight.
“I appreciate the confidence and respect I have gained from my fellow economic developers at the Alabama Department of Commerce, which translates to their knowing they can win a project for the state of Alabama when they work with our team in Chambers County,” she said.
This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.