Newton County’s had some big economic development successes the past few years, but a different kind of success occurred this past month when one of its native sons was chosen to lead the economic development efforts of the one of the nation’s largest cities.
Covington native Otis Williams was promoted to executive director of St. Louis’ 55-employee economic development agency in June after serving as second in command for the past 12 years.
Raised on Robinson Street, Williams graduated from the former all-black R.L. Cousins High School in 1964, and thanks to the tutelage of band director T.K. Adams, earned a band scholarship to South Carolina State University with his trombone skills.
Though Williams excelled in music, he majored in civil engineering and, after graduation, chose to enter the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a 2nd Lieutenant. With the Vietnam War in full swing, Williams figured he’d benefit from entering the military as an officer through the Reserve Officer Training Corp, as opposed to becoming an enlisted man.
Williams served for a couple of years and enjoyed his assignments enough that he continued to serve.
“I used to tell my dad, as long as I keep getting promoted, I would stay in. And I did,” Williams said Friday.
He served tours in Thailand, and Germany and worked two tours at the Pentagon, eventually being named a chief of staff at the U.S. Army Corps headquarters. He retired from the military as a full colonel in 1998.
After retirement, he was immediately recruited to work in St. Louis, his wife Gwen’s hometown.
Williams began as a project manager for the St. Louis Development Corp., and, staying true to his military form, worked his way up the chain.
Along the way, Williams has helped facilitate the building of the some of the city’s biggest cultural venues.
He started off tackling one of the city’s problem projects, a large housing complex with 15 derelict buildings.
Williams oversaw the demolition and rebuilding of the entire site.
“In doing that — I’m a Type A personality — I got involved in a lot of things,” he said.
He worked on the St. Louis Cardinal’s new Busch Stadium in 2006, the renovation of America’s Center Convention Complex and nearby Renaissance St. Louis Grand Hotel, the development of the Lumière Place Casino and Hotels on a former abandoned site and the renovation of the Peabody Opera House.
Williams has been involved in renovating many of the city’s cultural gems and repurposing some of its prime real estate, as well as working on traditional industrial recruitment to add to the city’s job base.
While he’s achieved big success elsewhere, Newton County is still home and Williams returns often to visit his brothers Charles Williams and Reginald Price, and sisters Sonya Price and Felicia Camp. Williams’ parents Charlie and Sadie are deceased.
“When you grow up in a place, it’s home and everything you do is memorable, so I have great memories of growing up in the area,” Williams said. “At the time, issues of voting rights and integration were front and center, and I do remember some of those challenges, but for the most part, I have great memories. I come back as frequently as I can.”
Charles Williams said the family was proud of Otis Williams’ accomplishments, from his military service and world traveling to his latest accomplishments. Charles Williams, 60, calls Oxford home and is subcontractor for Kroger, handling promotional signs for the Atlanta market’s 214 stores.
Otis Williams, 65, and his wife have two daughters, Lisa Williams, a pharmacist at a St. Louis hospital, and Erin Williams, an information technology professional at University of Missouri-Kansas City Medical School.