Executive profiles

“I’m a facilitator, first and foremost.” Racine’s new development director leverages a passionate community

The waterfront plays a pivotal role in Racine’s economic development. Photo courtesy City of Racine.

Walter Williams began his role as the development director for the city of Racine in July. Since then, he’s worked with community members and developers in the area to begin creating new opportunities in the area. 

Williams is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and while there, he worked with the Greater Cleveland Partnership–Chamber of Commerce. He worked as an extension educator and attributes this role to leading him to his current position with the city of Racine. 

He talked with Blueprint365 about how he has always worked around water and understands the value of water in economic development. 

Walter Williams. Photo supplied.

“I was part of an initiative that looked at drainage issues,” Williams said. “Water has always been in (the) background so that when I saw the opportunity to be in a community that has beaches along the Great Lakes, I jumped at it because I know the importance of water and economic development, that is an attractive force.”

Before working with Racine, Williams served as the president of the local NAACP chapter in Edwardsville, IL. He says his background is in inner city development and his work as chapter president he worked on issues surrounding equity, inclusion and affordable housing. He plans to bring this approach to his position, although he is still getting adjusted to the role. 

“My role is to enlighten people, making people aware of what the resources are,” Williams said. “Thinking about how we can get the resources to the needed population, there are challenges in that and how we do it. I am still discovering avenues to get the message out. I have only been here for a month. I’m still in the infancy stages of getting the word out about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.  I believe I bring a little bit of authenticity to the area, because I’ve worked in this area before, and I’ve had success in this area.”

Since he is so new to this role, he is actively working to get involved with community groups to start sharing information and resources about the work the city of Racine is doing. 

Williams is looking forward to continuing in this role because the Black and brown communities in Racine are passionate about creating positive change and impact in their city. His focus is getting on the ground floor and building relationships with community members. 

“My job is easy because the people who are passionate have made me keenly aware of the assets of the community,” he said. “They have made me keenly aware of the opportunities that we’re looking for. That makes it easier to speak with outsiders about the opportunity. I’ve always said, (in) my role, we are looking for projects to build investments in the community.”

He is excited to be part of the magnificent community in Racine and continuing to find ways to tell the stories of those in the city. He is focused on telling the story and history of Racine to help make developers and site selectors aware of why they should invest in the community. He is also hoping to work with business owners and help them find opportunities to expand as well. 

“It’s always been my position that if I facilitate the connection between a project and opportunity, the city of Racine will have more projects in its funnel,” he said. “We are evaluating more projects, we are processing more projects to fruition to actually when there is an investment made.  I am a facilitator, first and foremost. I am now capturing the community voice so that when I speak, it feels like I’ve lived here for the past 30 years.”