Consultant Connect, a Kalamazoo, Mich., consulting agency designed to bridge the gap between economic developers and site consultants, has announced its 2017 list of North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers. Walker and the other 49 economic development professionals selected for the list were nominated by their colleagues in both the economic development industry and the site consultant community for excellent practices, innovation and success in building the communities they serve.
“I am certainly not surprised that Clay was recognized for this achievement,” Sullivan County Mayor and former NETWORKS head Richard Venable said. “It truly reflects the great job that he has done since taking over the leadership role at NETWORKS. I think the recognition is also representative of his ability to form relationships and work closely with regional and state economic development groups.”
Walker, NETWORKS CEO and president, joins Jessica Breaux, TVA regional development specialist for Middle Tennessee, as an honoree from Tennessee. Past honorees from the state include: Doug Lawyer of the Knoxville Chamber, Courtney Ross of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, and Cal Wray of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Economic Development Council.
“I’m humbled to be among Jessica and the economic development professionals honored this year and to join past winners such as Courtney, Doug, and Cal — three people who exemplify the highest of ethics and professionalism within our industry,” Walker said in a news release. “I’ve spoken to some of my colleagues who have been on this list, and they told me of the attention it brought their organization and community, and I hope that is the result of me being on the list as well.”
This year, NETWORKS worked with its partner organizations on successful projects that created 1,540 jobs and more than $70 million in new investment.
“I am thankful to Consultant Connect and its member site location consultants for this recognition,” Walker said. “I am seldom at a loss for words, but this honor has left me speechless. I am just fortunate to have worked with such outstanding colleagues and community leaders throughout my career, especially here in Northeast Tennessee. This recognition really belongs to my staff, board of directors, elected officials, and community partners; I merely represent their collective works and vision.”
“This annual list recognizing North America’s Top 50 Economic Developers is designed to acknowledge the hard work of the top leaders in this field and elevate the conversation around economic development and job creation,” said Ron Kitchens, managing partner of Consultant Connect. “Each of the leaders represented on this year’s list are beyond deserving of this recognition for their efforts in building our communities.”
Walker leads the joint economic development efforts of Sullivan County, Kingsport, Bristol, Tenn., and Bluff City and the marketing and recruitment for neighboring Hawkins County and its Phipps Bend Industrial Park near Surgoinsville. He has been in his position since January 2014. Over the past three years, NETWORKS and its community partners have been involved in the generation of more than 2,800 jobs. It promotes itself as “Where Tennessee Begins Its Business Day!”
Walker has some 20 years of economic development experience, having worked at the community and regional levels as well as leading his own consulting firm. He moved from Kentucky, where he last worked as vice president of economic development for West Kentucky Corp., a 45-county regional organization, to Tennessee in 2005 when he accepted the position of executive director for the Gallatin Economic Development Agency, prior to joining NETWORKS.
Walker was born and grew up in Paducah, Ky. He is a graduate of Murray State University, Oklahoma University’s Economic Development Institute and is a certified economic developer (CEcD). He serves as chairman of the Tennessee Economic Partnership and is a member of the Tennessee Economic Development Council, the Southern Economic Development Council and International Economic Development Council. He has been published in several site selection magazines over the years on topics such as workforce evaluation and development, labor laws and regional marketing.
Walker has a son, Ty, who resides in Leadville, Colo., where he works in computer gaming when he’s not skiing with his dad on one of his visits. Walker also enjoys outdoor activities in Northeast Tennessee, along with NASCAR and Racer basketball.