DCI 40 Under 40

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2021 Economic Development 40 Under 40 Awards

Congratulations to the Class of 2021! Recognized on March 16, 2021 at a virtual awards ceremony held in conjunction with the International Economic Development Council Leadership Summit, these 40 young professionals are channeling their diverse perspectives and skillsets to build strong, inclusive and forward thinking communities as the economic development industry faces challenges like never before.

A selection committee of six professionals in the economic development industry independently reviewed and ranked nominees to determine the top 40 individuals under 40 years of age whose leadership, dedication and innovation have had a significant impact on their organizations, communities and the economic development industry itself.

We encourage you to congratulate and connect with these individuals, via LinkedIn or at conferences, as a way of building relationships and generating ideas across the industry.

Nominations for the 2023 Economic Development 40 Under 40 Awards will open in fall of 2022.

Danielle Casey Headshot
Selection Committee

Danielle Casey

President, Albuquerque Economic Development Inc.

Danielle Casey has more than 20 years of experience in general management, economic development, municipal and regional nonprofit leadership, business development and marketing and communications and currently leads Albuquerque Economic Development, Inc. as President.

She most recently served as the Executive Vice President for the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, where she oversaw the organization’s business development, marketing and communications, investor engagement, research and strategic initiatives critical to advancing economic growth in Greater Sacramento.  Prior to joining the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, she served the well-known City of Scottsdale, Arizona since 2013 as its Economic Development Director. Previous to her time in Scottsdale, Ms. Casey served in various executive roles at the City of Maricopa since June 2005, lastly as the Assistant City Manager.

Ms. Casey received her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University and Master of Administration from Northern Arizona University. She is both a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) as well as a certified Economic Development Finance Professional (EDFP). She is a member of the International Economic Development Council and serves on its Board of Directors. Ms. Casey is a Past President of the Arizona Association for Economic Development, a statewide professional association with more than 480 public and private members. In May 2010, Ms. Casey was the honored recipient of the ‘Economic Developer of the Year – Small Community’ award from the Arizona Association for Economic Development and in January 2017 she was recognized as a national top ‘40 under 40 Rising Star’ in economic development by Development Counsellors International. In addition, she is co-founder of the Arizona Chapter of Women Leading Government which recently celebrated its fourth annual statewide conference with more than 400 attendees. An Air Force brat, Ms. Casey has had the great privilege of living in Texas, Ohio, Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, Rhode Island and Arizona throughout her life and now resides in the Capital Region of Northern California with her trusty English bulldog Sophie.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to rising stars in the economic development industry?

Never be afraid to reach out to experts in the field for guidance and mentorship, you will find that they are extremely excited to help you and can be resources throughout your career. And no matter how experienced you become, always remain humble and a constant student of the profession – the one certainty in economic development is change.

View Danielle’s LinkedIn

Michelle Comerford Headshot
Selection Committee

Michelle Comerford

Project Director, Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Company

Michelle Comerford is the Industrial & Supply Chain Practice Leader for Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co. (BLS & Co), which specializes in site selection, location economics, and incentives negotiation for corporate clients. Based in Cleveland, OH, Michelle has advised companies across a wide range of industry sectors on location decisions across North America. In her 17-year career, Michelle has directed clients in location decisions for manufacturing, distribution, data center and back office operations by evaluating applicable factors such as supply chain logistics, labor skill availability and costs, utility infrastructure and cost, real estate availability, business climate, and other critical factors. Her services have included location strategy analysis and site selection, as well as property due diligence, property acquisition, and other aspects of project implementation. She has worked across a variety of industry sectors including consumer products, food and beverage, e-fulfillment, steel and metal products, industrial supplies, aviation/aerospace, automotive, biotech/pharmaceutical and information technology.

Drawing on her site selection experience, Michelle has also advised numerous economic development organizations on their competitiveness and readiness for business attraction. She has also been a featured speaker at a number of economic development events and meetings, and is a frequent contributor to various industry publications.

Michelle is also a member of the Site Selectors Guild, the only association of the world’s foremost site selection consultants, where she currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors. In 2012, Michelle was named one of Cleveland Crain’s Business Magazine Top Forty Under 40. Michelle holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a double major in Marketing and Logistics from John Carroll University in Cleveland, OH.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to rising stars in the economic development industry?

As economic development is arguably one of the most important components to a post-pandemic world, it is truly time for these rising stars to shine. Be prepared to be creative and innovative with new ideas to help support current as well as new and expanding businesses in your community, and be the leader that brings all the different facets to the table to help solve complex issues.

View Michelle’s LinkedIn

Adriana Cruz Headshot
Selection Committee

Adriana Cruz

Executive Director, Economic Development & Tourism Office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

In October 2019, Adriana Cruz was appointed to lead the Governor’s Economic Development and Tourism Office. The Office markets Texas as one of the world’s premier business and travel destinations. As Executive Director, Cruz provides leadership to Business and Community Development, Texas Tourism, Texas Workforce Investment Council, Texas Music Office, and the Texas Film Commission.

Cruz has more than 20 years of leadership experience in economic development, marketing, and international business. Prior to her appointment to lead the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office, Cruz was President of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, the regional economic development organization established to encourage and nurture economic growth in San Marcos, and Hays and Caldwell Counties. Previously, Cruz was the Vice President of Global Corporate Recruitment for the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

In April 2020, Cruz was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to the Strike Force to Open Texas, a team of nationally recognized private and public leaders to advise the Governor on safely and strategically reopening the state of Texas. In January 2020, Governor Greg Abbott appointed Cruz to the Advisory Council on Cultural Affairs, for a term set to expire on February 1, 2023. Additionally, he named her vice chair of the council. Cruz serves on numerous boards including the Texas Economic Development Council and the Texas Workforce Investment Council. In addition, from 2016-2019, she served on the Texas Economic Incentives Oversight Board to review the efficiency of Texas’ incentive programs.

In 2016, she won the Austin Business Journal’s Profiles in Power: Central Texas Women of Influence Award. Cruz holds a B.B.A. in Marketing from the University of Texas at Austin, has been married for 34 years to her husband Rik, and has three grown children living in the Austin area.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to rising stars in the economic development industry?

Working in economic development is extremely rewarding, because the work you do impacts people’s lives for the better. But remember, you can’t do it alone. Economic development is a team sport and relationships are incredibly important – both with clients as well as with stakeholders and partners. Work on building and maintaining your relationships and be true to your word!

View Adriana’s LinkedIn

Jay Garner Headshot
Selection Committee

Jay Garner

President, Garner Economics LLC

Jay Garner is the president and founder of Garner Economics, LLC, an economic development and site location consulting firm headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. Jay is a leader and innovator in the economic development profession, having served for 40 years as both an award-winning economic development, Chamber of Commerce CEO, and site location professional. His firm assists clients throughout the world on a wide variety of projects, offering innovative, yet real-world solutions to achieve success. Jay often lectures and provides counsel on creating and implementing proactive global business development strategies and tactics. His firm is also a leader in providing assistance to corporate clients in their site selection process, such as Anchor Glass, Academy Sports, Hatfield Quality Meats, Hill’s Pet Foods, Marel, Future Pipe Industries and others. He is a founding member and current chair of the board for the Site Selectors Guild, a prestigious group of the top site location consultants, globally. He is a co-author of the book, Economic Development Is Not For Amateurs!, a must-read for community leaders on how to achieve economic development success.

Jay is a graduate of West Virginia University with Bachelor of Arts and Master of Public Administration degrees. He is also a graduate of both the Economic Development Course at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Economic Development Institute at the University of Oklahoma, where he is an instructor in international prospecting. Jay has led over 25 trade and business development missions on four continents leading to the creation of thousands of jobs and several billion dollars in capital investment. He is a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD), a Fellow Member and an Honorary Life Member, the three highest professional designations awarded to those in the economic development profession by the International Economic Development Council. He is also a Certified Chamber Executive (CCE), a professional designation awarded to Chamber professionals by the Association for Chamber of Commerce Executives.

In 2009, the readers of Southern Business & Development magazine named Garner Economics as one of the best consulting firms in the U.S. In 2015, the same publication listed Jay as one of the “Ten people who made a difference” in economic development. As a practitioner, Jay was selected as one of ten outstanding leaders in economic development in the United States for six consecutive years by Site Selection magazine while leading the economic development program in Mobile, AL. The mayor and city council of Mobile declared July 29, 1994 as “Jay Garner Day” in the city for his nine years of exemplary service as chief economic development officer for the city/county. As CEO of the Asheville, NC Chamber of Commerce, the organization became the first Chamber in the U.S. to win a Quality Award by the North Carolina Quality Foundation based on the national Malcolm Baldrige criteria. He was honored in both 2002 and 2003 by his alma mater, West Virginia University with Distinguished Alumnus Awards within the Department of Political Science and the following year, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Jay is a past chairman for the International Economic Development Council, the largest economic development professional trade organization in the world. An avid jazz drummer, he plays in a big band jazz orchestra in the Atlanta area.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to rising stars in the economic development industry?

There is a saying, lead, follow or get out of the way. Economic developers need to lead within the geographies they serve. Leadership is the common denominator for economic development success. As part of those leadership traits, remember one key tenet: your work is your signature. Focus always on quality. Being good is never good enough.

View Jay’s LinkedIn

Jeremiah Gracia Headshot
Selection Committee

Jeremiah Gracia

Director of Economic Development, City of Grand Rapids

Jeremiah Gracia has 15 years of economic development experience and received his Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) certification from the International Economic Development Council in June 2015. In January 2017, he was recognized by Development Counsellors International (DCI) as a Top 40 Under 40 in economic development.

He began his career in Findlay, Ohio with the Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development Office and joined the City of Dublin Economic Development Office in May 2011. In May 2020, he became the Director of Economic Development with the City of Grand Rapids. He has served as the President of the Ohio Economic Development Association (OEDA) and mentored candidates seeking the Ohio Economic Development Institute (OEDI) professional certification. He has a great deal of experience working with international companies making investments into the U.S. and finds the most joy of his work coming from business retention and expansion visits.

He has an undergraduate degree in Political Science and graduate degree in Public Administration from Bowling Green State University. His favorite place to be outside of work is enjoying the beaches of Western Michigan with his wife and four young children.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to rising stars in the economic development industry?

Execution is everything! Establish your strategic plan with appropriate stakeholder engagement, stay focused on it, and execute, execute, execute!

View Jeremiah’s LinkedIn

Craig Richard Headshot
Selection Committee

Craig Richard

President and CEO, Tampa Bay Economic Development Council

Craig J. Richard is President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council (EDC), the designated lead economic development organization for companies seeking to expand or locate in Hillsborough County, Florida.

Craig is a certified economic developer with over two decades of economic development experience in major markets such as Atlanta, Houston and Dallas. He is a collaborative leader with strengths in marketing, business development, entrepreneurial development, workforce development, global commerce and strategic planning. Career highlights include more than 308 successful projects representing more than 126,246 jobs and $9.3 billion in capital investment.

Prior to assuming his current leadership role, Craig served as President and CEO of Invest Atlanta, the City of Atlanta’s official economic development authority. Earlier leadership roles included serving as President and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc. and as Chief Economic Development Officer for the Greater Houston Partnership. He has held leadership positions at Hawes Hill LLC, Arlington (Texas) Chamber of Commerce, and the Dallas Regional Chamber. He also served at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the City of Richmond, Virginia.

Craig earned his master’s of urban and regional planning degree, with a concentration in economic development, from Virginia Commonwealth University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston. He is also a graduate of the Economic Development Institute at the University of Oklahoma and completed executive education programs at Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University.

Craig served as the 2018 Chairman of the Board of Directors for the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and was designated a “Fellow Member” by IEDC for his contributions to the economic development profession. He currently serves as a board member of the Tampa Bay Chamber, Film Tampa Bay, Visit Tampa Bay and the Downtown Tampa Partnership. He was recognized as one of Florida’s 500 Most Influential Business Leaders and is a member of Leadership Florida’s – Executive Class 11.

Married with two children, Craig enjoys golf, hunting and fishing.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to rising stars in the economic development industry?

Do all you can to make the right decision, then do all you can to make the decision right.

View Craig’s LinkedIn

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Economic Development “40 Under 40” Award?

The Economic Development 40 Under 40 is a list of 40 individuals who have achieved success in economic development before turning 40 years old. The 2021 awards are co-hosted by Jorgenson Consulting and Development Counsellors International.

Who’s eligible to win?

Candidates must be under the age of 40 as of January 1, 2021.

Can former 40 Under 40 winners be nominated again?

Of course! As long as they are still under the age of 40 as of January 1, 2021.

When is the nomination deadline?

Nominations must be filled in completely and submitted by midnight December 15, 2020.

Can a person self-nominate?

Absolutely! A nominee can either self-nominate (and we encourage this!) or be nominated by a third party.

How can I nominate someone for DCI’s 40 Under 40?

Fill out and submit the nomination form by December 15, 2020.

What are the qualifications for DCI’s 40 Under 40?

We’re looking for young leaders who have raised the bar in economic development: those who have brought innovation, creativity, high standards, strong character and a track record of success to their community and the profession. Candidates must be under the age of 40 as of January 1, 2021. For this particular award, service providers to the economic development industry are not eligible.

Will the judges know who filled out a form?

No. Judges will not know who nominated who, they will just see the name of the nominee.

Does the nominee need to be a “Certified Economic Developer” to qualify as a 40 under 40 candidate?

No, however, the nominee must hold a career within the economic development industry.

Will a CEcD help the nominee during the judging process?

Having this accreditation may give the nominee a boost, but it’s completely up to each judge on how they’ll rate or grade each entry.

I have someone who is a perfect fit, but I don’t know the exact details on their success. What should I do?

Email the name and contact information directly to Nick Reshan at [email protected]. We’ll be sure to follow up with each person directly letting them know that someone thought they would be a good fit for the award.

When will winners be notified?

Winners, and all others who submitted an application, will be notified of the status of their nomination in February 2021.

When will the 2019 40 Under 40 winners be officially announced?

DCI will officially announce and recognize winners during the International Economic Development Council’s Leadership Summit.

Is 40 Under 40 an annual award?

No. We release the award every two years. After the 2021 awards, the next round of nominations will open for our 2023 class in late summer 2022.

Who decides who will be in DCI’s 40 Under 40?

Our selection committee represents a broad mix of representatives from the economic development industry including recruiters, economic developers and site selectors. For more information on the individuals on the 2021 panel, visit the Selection Committee tab.

How are the winners chosen?

After we receive the nominations, the selection committee will independently review and rank each nominee. We will compile all rankings and use an averaging system to determine the top 40.

What is required of those who are selected?

Candidates who are selected are required to send us a photo to include on the website, as well as complete a quick questionnaire. In addition, we’d love them to attend a special recognition dinner during IEDC’s Leadership Summit should the event take place in person.

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