Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development: Who Is Jay Williams?

Monday, March 24, 2014

On September 10, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Roy Kojo Jawara (Jay) Williams to be assistant secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. Williams was renominated on January 13, 2014, to head the Economic Development Administration (EDA), because the Senate failed to confirm the nomination before the end of the previous year. The EDA, with an annual budget of about $220 million, helps economically distressed communities, including those hit by natural disasters and closures of military bases, by providing grants for infrastructure projects.


Williams currently serves as executive director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, or “auto czar.”


Williams was born September 26, 1971, in Youngstown, Ohio, where he has spent most of his life. He attended Youngstown State University, while working part-time as a bank teller, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. He started his career as an examiner with the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, working there from 1995 to 1997. He then worked at an Ohio bank before becoming executive director of the Community Redevelopment Agency in Youngstown in 2000.


In 2005, he left the agency to campaign for mayor of Youngstown. Running as an independent, he won and became that city’s first African-American mayor in 2006. While mayor, he worked to transform Youngstown from a decaying rust-belt city to a tech hub. One of his programs urged the removal of abandoned buildings in the city, accepting the idea that Youngstown wouldn’t be as big as it once was. Williams won re-election in 2009 running unopposed.


President Obama tapped Williams in 2011 to be his auto czar. In that post, he worked to help communities and workers hurt by the contraction of the auto industry. In June 2012, he was named to serve as deputy director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, a post he held concurrently as director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers. There he worked as a liaison with elected officials from other jurisdictions.


Williams and his wife, Sonja, have one son, Ethan.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Sen. Brown Introduces Jay Williams at Hearing, Urges Senate to Confirm him for Administration Post


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