The newly hired director of the Augusta Economic Development Authority says his first plan is to, well, create a plan.
“That is probably my No. 1 priority – to get there and develop that plan and start working that plan,” said Cal Wray, a Clarksville, Tenn.-based economic developer who takes over as the authority’s executive director on Jan. 22.
The 38-year-old Alabama native will fill the vacancy left by Walter Sprouse, who announced his retirement in September and left the organization – known officially as the Development Authority of Richmond County – a month later.
The authority’s board appointed former Mayor Deke Copenhaver as interim executive director while an executive search firm screened candidates.
Wray, who currently serves as executive director of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Economic Development Council, said the county needs a strategic plan.
“Things don’t normally happen by accident – you have to have a plan, you have to have a road map to where you want to go,” he said during a telephone interview. “If you’re going after tech, if you’re going after manufacturing, if you’re going after distribution – whatever it may be – you have to know the assets in your community. You have to know the partners that can be of benefit to you and you have to tell your story. And developing that story and developing that plan is among our first orders of business.”
Columbia County’s economic development agency in 2016 unveiled its strategic plan, which targets five business sectors, predominantly the region’s growing cybersecurity industry.
Wray’s achievements in Clarksville – a three-county metro area split by the Kentucky state line – include helping recruit a $600 million Google data center and a $250 million LG Electronics plant. Before moving there in 2014, he spent 7½ years in Dublin, Ga., at the Laurens County Development Authority and was active in the Georgia Economic Development Association.
“I have a substantial state network and a substantial regional network,” Wray said. “It’s a lot easier to transition in when you already know who a lot of the partners are and have working relationships with them.”
Development Authority Chairman Henry Ingram said in prepared remarks that Wray “has the expertise, vision and commitment to move our region to a new level.”
Public entities are required to announce their final candidate at least 14 days prior to a vote to extend an official offer. Ingram said the authority will likely finalize an agreement with Wray on Jan. 11.
Wray also has held economic development positions with the Cullman Economic Development Agency in Cullman, Ala. He and his wife, Leigh, also a native of Birmingham, have six children.
Wray currently leads the parent entity of Clarksville-Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. and the Aspire Clarksville Foundation, organizations that market and support the Clarksville-Montgomery County Area Chamber of Commerce, Visit Clarksville (the city’s tourism board) and the Industrial Board of Montgomery County.
Wray said he is accustomed to working on a regional basis.
“Most people are willing to drive 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the pay,” he said. “So the region you’re really recruiting to is a much larger area, so yeah, there will have to be a regional approach to our office.”
Wray said the region needs to strengthen workforce development to help locals find work in the burgeoning tech sector.
“Whether it’s manufacturing or whether it’s tech, it’s all about the workforce base,” he said. “It’s not just warm bodies – everybody has warm bodies – it is actually having skilled or semi-skilled people companies can plug and play into their operations. You cant just say, ‘OK, we have 600,000 people in the metro, surely you can find the workforce.’ You have to show them that they can find the workforce.”
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.