Each spring, the South Carolina Economic Developers’ Association (SCEDA) recognizes a local developer who has made a significant difference in his or her community. This year’s winner of SCEDA’s Local Developer of the Year award is Will Williams, president and CEO of Economic Development Partnership (EDP) — a non-profit, public-private development corporation focused solely on serving the needs of new and existing businesses in the Aiken, Edgefield, and Saluda Region of South Carolina.
Since 2005, the SCEDA Local Developer of the Year Award has been earned by hard working and dedicated developers in the Palmetto State. The award criteria include leading innovative programs, overcoming obstacles, impactful efforts in the community, consistent involvement with SCEDA, professional development and personal traits.
Williams received the award in May during SCEDA’s Annual Conference at the Sonesta Resort on Hilton Head Island. The three-day conference was attended by more than 250 industry professionals.
A member of SCEDA for close to 20 years, Williams has a long list of accomplishments, with “Fostering a strong apprenticeship program at manufacturing companies across Aiken, Edgefield and Saluda counties” at the top of the list. Over the past seven years, Williams has landed more than $1.8 billion in capital investment in the region with close to 2,200 new jobs. In fact, in 2011, Williams helped win a Bridgestone Americas’ $1.2 billion investment in an off -road radial tire plant in Aiken County — still regarded as the largest single capital investment in South Carolina’s history.
While not someone who seeks recognition, Williams is very appreciative of the award. “It is very humbling to be honored by your peers,” he said. Past recognition for Williams includes the W. D. Workman III Buffalo Hunter Award, presented by the Greenville (S.C.) Area Development Corporation (GADC) for his leadership in facilitating Cytec Industries’ $150 million expansion in Greenville 10 years ago.
Jeff Ruble, director of the Richland County Economic Development Office, has worked with Williams over the years and considers him a role model in local developer circles with consistent contributions to economic development. “The EDP region has thrived under Will’s leadership,” Ruble contends. “Locally, he is a pillar in the community in Aiken and serves on a number of local boards. He is an ordained elder at First Presbyterian Church in Aiken,” said Ruble.
Williams is a native of Georgetown, S.C., and a graduate of The Citadel with a bachelor of science degree in business administration. He was among the first to earn the professional designation of South Carolina Certified Economic Developer from the state.
Williams relocated to Aiken from the Columbia area in 2010 when he joined the Economic Development Partnership(EDP) as associate director. He was promoted to president and CEO the following year. Williams’ recent career history includes director of business development for a design-build construction firm, and project manager for global business development for South Carolina’s Department of Commerce.
While working for the S.C. Department of Commerce, Williams gained in-depth knowledge and familiarity with a wide range of market sectors and industries. Through effective relationship building, Williams’ efforts led to more than $950 million of new capital investment in the state of South Carolina over a three-year period. This resulted in creation of 3,000-plus new jobs spread across 38 of South Carolina’s 46 counties.
Previously, as the area director for the South Carolina Technical College System’s Center for Accelerated Technology Training (CATT), Williams developed specialized expertise in the area of workforce recruiting and training. Earlier career positions included manager of industrial engineering and quality assurance for Mohawk Industries in Bennettsville, S.C., and management training with Burlington Industries in Raeford, N.C.
In addition to his longtime membership in SCEDA, Williams is actively involved with The Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce, and the Aiken Technical College Foundation. In addition to being President Elect of The Rotary Club of Aiken, Williams is Secretary of the Southern Economic Development Council and that organization’s projected Chairman for 2020.
Outside his work life, Williams enjoys playing golf, hunting, and fishing along with long distance cycling and running. He and his wife of 25 years, Ellen, a native of Columbia, S.C., have two sons — Jacob and Luke — who attend Aiken County Public Schools.
What are the biggest challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?
Prioritization. Every client and call is important in economic development… you have to be able to discern which one needs to be addressed first.
What are you working on/focusing on today?
Workforce! We have more people working than we have had in almost 20 years. We also are faced with the “gray tsunami” of retirements. We have to maintain and increase the volume in the workforce pipeline to keep our existing industries staffed as well as new companies that come in. This is not just in manufacturing, but also in the construction trades.
Name some of the projects or achievements of which you are most proud.
I am proud of every project we help cross the finish line, but I am especially proud of the project that led to the $1.2 billion capital investment by Bridgestone. This was a huge project with a very short window of opportunity and that investment is today still the single largest capital investment in SC history.
What’s one of your goals yet to be achieved?
When everyone who wants a job has a job.
What are the 3-5 Leadership Principles that you have discovered and executed that have contributed to your success?
Never expect my team to do something that I would not do, work with enthusiasm, share any credit received with my team, and treat people like I would want to be treated.
How do you empower your employees?
Give them a task and then get out of their way. Never micromanage their work.
How do you maintain your and your team’s daily motivation and inspiration despite obstacles, pushback or setbacks?
Encourage them to work hard, keep their heads down, when setbacks occur reflect on them briefly then drive on. Bad times never stay around. I always tell them you can get bitter or you can get better.
What are you doing daily to ensure your growth and development continues as a leader? If so, how?
I try to read and listen to podcasts. I watch people and see what they are doing right and wrong, and adjust myself accordingly.
What are your favorite questions to ask those you lead?
Are you having fun? What can we do to make a process better?
What are the keys to developing the next generation of leaders in your world?
Giving them exposure to situations, mentoring, job shadowing and internships.
What behaviors and performances do your best employees demonstrate?
Friendly, thorough, and committed.
What was your first job (ever, or professionally)?
I cut grass as a teenager. Had 15 regular customers in my hometown. I learned about being a small businessman then and made great money.
How long have you been in the construction industry? What inspired you to pursue a career in construction? Tell us your story. How did you get your start?
I have been in economic development for 20 years. I got into this field because I saw the impact of that work on communities and families, and I have always wanted to make the world around me better than it was when I got there.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest difference in this industry today compared to when you started?
Capital investments have gone up as technology has improved and the number of people needed has gone down. But the skills needed now are greater than 20 years ago.
Career advice you would like to give others.
Never think you are too old and too high up in an organization to learn something. Never stop listening and trying to improve yourself. Accept free advice willingly, whether you like it or not.
Person you most admire.
I admire Harry Truman. His saying “the buck stops here” speaks volumes about stepping up and being accountable.
Person you would most like to meet.
I would like to meet both of my grandfathers. They were both deceased by the time I was born, but I have heard some incredible stories about them and the fine men they both were.
Who is a person that you considered as a role model early in your life? How and why does this person impact your life?
My Dad has always been my role model. He was a mortician for 50 years and also was Georgetown County (S.C.) Coroner for 20 of those years. I learned how to deal with people, and in his case, at a very emotional and low point in their lives, by watching him. He has always been the person I want to be like, even to this day.
Most influential book, favorite book, or best-read lately.
Setting The Table by Danny Myer and Failing Forward by John Maxwell.
Pat Conroy. Like me, he is a Citadel graduate and his descriptive and colorful writing really gets you into a story.
Favorite vacation spot.
A favorite quote.
“In this world of give and take, there are not enough people willing to give what it takes.” And “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I am an only child and I grew up living over a funeral home.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
What three adjectives best describe you… according to people who know you (what would they say)?
Perceptive, impatient, energetic.
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
The good Lord has given me another day on his earth to make a difference.
Relationships – How do you continually deepen your personal relationships with your clients/customers/staff/peers/leaders?
With friends, I try to call/text email regularly just to see how they are doing. With clients. I reach out once a month just to see how they are and if they need anything. With staff, I am always talking with them, joking, cutting up, and asking how they are – and if anything is bothering them.
What do you do to keep your family Priority #1?
I get up at 4 a.m. during the week. I read my devotional and skim the newspapers. Then I am out running or working out at 4:45 a.m. Back home by 6:15 a.m. so I can take my sons to school. Also, we try to eat dinner together as a family every night when I am in town… whether at home, or at a restaurant in between meetings.