Adrienne Cole, Wake County Economic Development's Executive Director, was awarded the Triangle Business Journal 2016 Women in Business Award. Cole was listed among a high caliber of women in the region, who also received the award, several of whose companies are strong WCED supporters. As part of this, we wanted to take a moment to talk to her about her role at Wake County Economic Development and her career.
- Can you describe the role of Wake County Economic Development (WCED)?
Our role at WCED is to serve as a catalyst and collaborator to help position the community to win jobs and investment. We do this through a variety of initiatives from traditional business recruitment and retention to helping companies meet their talent challenges, as well as marketing and telling the story of our area. It also means working with our partners to identify what the community needs today to succeed and what we need to be paying attention to in the future. We want to make sure there are good jobs for all of our citizens in Wake County, and that all of Wake County’s municipalities are experiencing economic development success.
- What do you do as an Executive Director and how does that play into the overall goals of WCED?
My role as an Executive Director is to help with the vision of the organization and to understand what we need to be working on to move the needle as it relates to economic development in our community. I am fortunate to work with an incredibly talented team who bubble up great ideas. Part of my job is helping them make those ideas a reality. This ranges from research into new industry clusters for our area and their promotion to our Site Assessment Program that is identifying new industrial and commercial sites around the county. It also involves new PR strategies to tell the story of our area, as well as taking our talent initiative to the next level. Continuous improvement is a big part of our focus – that and collaborating with partners to get things done.
- Why do you think it is important for a leader to be involved in the community?
I think most economic developers are mission driven, and we care about our community, winning the next project is just a piece of the puzzle. It's really about making sure the fabric of our community is strong. There is so much need out there, and I think as leaders it is our responsibility to be engaged and to give back. There are also so many ways to give back and to become involved – it’s about commitment and then finding the right fit for you.
- How did your career go differently than you expected?
When I was in graduate school, economic development wasn’t on my radar. My master degree is in Public Administration, and I was focused on city or county management, or possibly nonprofit management. When I started working, I was introduced to economic development and fell in love with it. Since then I've been blessed with amazing mentors who encouraged me to take on new challenges and opportunities. I have always been so appreciative of and humbled by the people who have been willing to support me and champion my career. The role of champions in people's career development is important, and it's certainly something I want to do for my team at WCED and for other people I meet in the community. When I was first starting out, I didn’t realize how important champions would be in my career.
- What is some advice you would give to young women with lofty career goals?
Go for it! Don't feel like you have to have all the answers or know everything before giving an opportunity a try. Never be afraid to ask questions, don't assume that people are expecting you to have all the answers because they aren’t – they do expect you to ask if you don’t know, though. You also need to surround yourself with smart people who can help advise and challenge you. Don't apologize too often, apologize if you screw up, say sorry and move on, but don't apologize when you haven't done anything wrong! I hear women apologize all the time for things that they have no business apologizing for.
- What would people be surprised to know about you?
I sang in a band in graduate school. I've gone paddling and backpacking in the Everglades and Europe; I love to hike.
- Anything else you want to share?
At my core and what drives me is the desire to make a difference. I want to help my community and my state. I feel very fortunate to be in the role I’m in, to work with an incredible team of professionals and community leaders and to be in the Triangle. I want to help maintain what makes our area so great and to help ensure a successful future.