Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to building a middle class economy in honor of Black History Month
Guest blog post by Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development
Outside of my parents, the most influential person in my life was the late Bishop Norman L. Wagner. Bishop Wagner served as the pastor of the church I attended virtually my entire life. Some of his most powerful lessons focused on service to others and living a life of purpose. One of Bishop Wagner’s quotes that continues to resonate with me today is that “significance is paramount to success.” Those words have guided me in my career and life. I strive to do things that have significance and affect real change.
After graduating from Youngstown State University in my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, with a business finance degree, I worked in the banking industry for several years, until leaving to pursue a career in public service – leaving to pursue significance. In 2005, I was elected as the youngest and first African-American mayor in the City’s history. I am proud to have been given the opportunity to help change the dynamics and the conversation about Youngstown. Not just because it’s my hometown, but also because the issues facing Youngstown were not unique. My work at EDA allows me to focus on critical issues that affect distressed communities like Detroit, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; Fresno, California; and rural areas such as Conover, North Carolina.
As Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, I have the privilege of leading the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which is the only federal agency with a mission focused solely on creating economic opportunities in distressed communities throughout the United States. Distress is something I understand on a very personal level.
It strikes me as somewhat poetic that I was born and spent most of my life in a community that was, for many years, defined by economic distress. Youngstown was often at the center of the U.S.’s “post-industrialization” debate for nearly three decades due to its historic economic dependence on the declining steel industry. While the city still faces many challenges, in recent years, it has become defined less by its problems and regarded more for its recovery efforts.
In my role at EDA, I often travel across the country and am afforded the opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds. They may differ in age, race, and wealth, but they share a common thread - a shared sense of purpose and a desire to create better prospects for their communities and themselves.