Otis Williams

Executive Director of the St. Louis Development Corporation

Otis Williams is the Executive Director of the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC).  SLDC is the economic development agency for the City of St. Louis and reports directly to the Mayor.

Williams leads the agency’s economic development activities City-wide aimed at bringing people, jobs, and investment to the City.

Prior to joining SLDC, Williams served over 28 years in the U.S. Army and retired at the rank of Colonel.  Key assignments included duty as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1996-1998), Executive Director of the Corps’ Military Programs Directorate (1995-1996), and Commander and District Engineer of the Corps’ Tulsa Engineer District (1992-95).

Since coming to St. Louis in 1998, Williams has served as a Senior Project manager, Director of Major Projects, and Deputy Executive Director for the St. Development Corporation.  In those positions, Williams had a leadership role in several multimillion-dollar development projects that are revitalizing the City’s downtown and neighborhoods.

Williams previously served three years on the National Board of Directors of the Society of American Military Engineers, and currently serving on the Boards of several local organizations.  He was the 1997 recipient of the National Black Engineer of the Year Award for Government Service; received the 2016 Governor’s Award for Career Service in Economic Development; the 2017 NAACP- Frankie Muse Freeman/Norman R. Seay Commitment to St. Louis Award; received the 2018 Richard A. King Award from the Missouri Economic Development Finance Association (MEDFA); received the 2019 St. Louis Bar Foundation’s Spirit of Justice Award; and recently received the Focus St. Louis 2020 Leadership Award. He has also been honored for leadership and service by MOKAN, Better Family Life, The City’s Community Development Administration, the St. Louis Construction Cooperative, and by DowntownSTL, Inc with the 2016 J.H. Poelker Levee Stone Award.  He is a registered professional engineer in the District of Columbia, and is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers, The Urban Land Institute, and other professional and social organizations.

Williams is a native of Covington, Georgia and is married to the former Gwen Smith of St. Louis. They have two adult daughters.

What makes St. Louis a model city for other mid-size cities?

St. Louis is a model for other mid-sized cities because the challenges that we face are nearly identical to those faced anywhere else in America. The only difference might be the magnitude, which in cases like inequity, are far worse than average in St. Louis than elsewhere. In addition, while St. Louis has a solid portfolio of assets from which to draw upon to correct its economic inequalities, it does not have any silver bullets in the chamber that cannot be replicated elsewhere. What it does have is the commitment of a broad community, of corporate, small business and resident interests that are committed to solving this problem; and while I won’t say that such a state comes easily (for St. Louis it really required going through the crucible following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson), it is possible anywhere. That is why every community in the country, in some respect, has a stake in whether St. Louis succeeds or fails in this endeavor, because we are a model for what can happen anywhere.  


What do you find most inspiring about your city?

The most inspiring thing about St. Louis is the spirit of resilience found in its people. It is the wake up, put on your work boots and take another step towards building a better community mentality that never stops, day in and day out. Without the people, a community is just another place on a map. But it is the people of St. Louis that have inspired me to invest my career here. And as my career winds down, I have immensely enjoyed putting on my work boots and getting to work right alongside my fellow St. Louisans for these past 20+ years.