Few people understand the mechanics of rural economic development better than Valerie Gray, the executive director of the Chambers County Development Authority. After all, she and her team helped engineer a reversal of the county’s fortunes after its traditional industry imploded.
Gray has led the CCDA for over 22 years. During her tenure, she has overseen a transformation in the east Alabama county’s economy, which has evolved from its textile industry roots into a diversified mix of auto suppliers and other industrial operations.
Between 2011 and 2019, Chambers County attracted projects bringing $773 million in new capital investment and over 2,300 job commitments, according to Alabama Department of Commerce data. Before that, in 2008 alone, her team landed projects involving $137 million in investment and 883 jobs.
Gray is the only rural developer to receive the David R. Echols Distinguished Service Award for exemplary service in economic development. She’s also the incoming chairman of the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s Rural Initiative, working in partnership with Commerce.