4 min read

James Chavez never meant to enter into the world of economic development. In fact, his degree in childhood development from the University of New Mexico could not be further from his responsibilities today as the president and CEO of the South Carolina Power Team.

Chavez has been leading the South Carolina Power Team for five years now. Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Power Team.

But as chance would have it, it was actually his roommate in the Lambda Chi Alpha chapter house at New Mexico who suggested he try his hand in economic development. So, shortly after college, Chavez took a job with the Chamber of Commerce in Colorado. Chavez has been hooked every since.

Now, in his fifth year as the leader of the South Carolina Power Team, Chavez could not imagine himself anywhere else. The mission of the South Carolina Power Team is to represent the state’s 20 consumer-owned electric cooperatives. In essence, Chavez and his team are responsible for building economies at the local level to help people find better job opportunities. In the Charlotte region, many of these jobs come from manufacturing facilities. In addition to the initiatives that Chavez and his team tackles as an organization, they also partner with communities to develop industrial parks and speculative buildings.  In the last five years, the South Carolina Power Team has invested more than $36 million into communities across South Carolina.  This investment has leveraged an additional $150 million from other resources and has led to the creation of nearly 5000 jobs and $1 billion in new capital investment from companies opening operations in South Carolina.

It is Chavez’s job to help people build better careers for themselves. Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Power Team.

Chavez also works with allies and markets around the world, talking one-on-one with different companies in order to help them expand to North America, and ultimately produce more opportunities for the people of South Carolina.

One example of this is Samsung. Recently, Chavez and his team traveled to South Korea to meet with the leaders of Samsung to see how the South Carolina Power Team will be able to help them build their operations in the state.

But what means the most to Chavez through the many different interactions in his job is the chance to give back to his community, a value that he still remembers from his undergraduate days in Lambda Chi.

“Our chapter really worked hard on community engagement and campus engagement,” said Chavez. “That early exposure to volunteerism helped on the other side, when you are trying to recruit volunteers.”

Chavez credits his time on staff at Lambda Chi Alpha as an Educational Leadership Consultant in teaching him a valuable lesson about working with people from all walks of life. And that is exactly what his job today requires.

“As a chamber of commerce CEO and an economic development professional, you have to be involved in local issues,” said Chavez. “But then, there are things that you choose to do, whether that’s the United Way Board of Directors, serving in your church, or serving local needs.

“The exposure as an undergraduate and as a staff person really laid the groundwork for the kind of things I wanted to be involved with.”

No two days are the same for Chavez or his team, but one thing remains constant: the idea that through the work and economic development initiatives, the collective efforts of Chavez and the other talented people working for the South Carolina Power Team help create opportunities many South Carolinians have never had before.

For instance, Volvo will be opening a manufacturing plant in the Charleston area where they will be manufacturing cars from start to finish.  It is up to the South Carolina Power Team to work with the plant, and the state and local leaders, to help them understand the local economies to fill these jobs. Chavez says it truly is the best part of what he is able to accomplish and why he has stayed in this career for as long as he has.

So from a time where Chavez never thought in a million years he would be involved with economic development to today as the leader of a company providing new opportunities to the surrounding communities, Chavez continues his love of service in his community, something he carries with him from his association with Lambda Chi Alpha.

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