John O’Toole, Executive Director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation is thrilled to add Blakely Williams, Melissa Azallion Kenny, and Joel Braun to the Beaufort County EDC Board of Directors.
“We’re excited to have these accomplished professionals join our board, enriching our focus with their unique perspectives. With our track record of success, we eagerly anticipate their valuable insights as we continue to advance economic development, diversify our county’s economy, and collaborate with industry to cultivate life-changing job opportunities in our region.”
Recently, we had the opportunity to chat with each of them about their backgrounds, careers, and roles as new board members.
Blakely Williams grew up in Clinton, South Carolina and attended Presbyterian College majoring in psychology and political science. She moved to Beaufort with her husband in 2006 and worked for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce for 13 years, nine as their CEO (Chief Executive Officer).
“My Chamber experience in public policy, military affairs, community and economic development, tourism marketing and governmental relations have been influential in the position I have today. I am proud of the work we did to establish the Beaufort Regional Chamber’s credibility as the center of influence and leadership within the business community,” said Blakely.
For the past three years, she has served as the Economic Development and Local Affairs Manager for Dominion Energy. Blakely continued,
“The work I’m called to do in economic development for Dominion Energy is centered around enhancing the economic well-being of communities we serve, to create a thriving large commercial and industrial customer base that makes those communities better places to live, work, and play.”
Blakely shared that she is a solution provider and loves to meet others to hear what their plans are and then be able to provide excellent customer service, leveraging the existing relationships that they already have in place in order work to find a solution to make that business comfortable. This ensures their sustainability and growth in the Dominion Energy service territory.
When asked about her new role on the BCEDC board she said,
“As I begin to serve on the board, my goal is to provide solutions, connecting businesses with the reliable, clean energy they need to be successful. John O’Toole and Charlie Stone have a great strategic plan and a roadmap for the future that I am excited about. I love working with those guys and look forward to contributing in any way possible for years to come.”
Melissa Azallion Kenny
Melissa Kenny is Chair of Burr & Foreman law firm’s Immigration Practice Group. She has over 25 years of experience providing business immigration counsel and employment advice to multinational, domestic, and local companies.
That experience makes Melissa a crucial ally in economic development efforts, as workforce issues are often cited as the most challenging aspect of a new project or expansion.
Raised in a small town on the Ohio-West Virginia border, Melissa attended Bowling Green State University then went on to Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio,
“After I graduated, I worked for the University of Dayton. They were hiring a lot of international faculty members and that is when I realized my love for not only employment law but immigration law as well.”
She continues to represent public and private education clients today, along with clients in numerous other industries, including health care, manufacturing, technology, food and beverage, and hospitality.
Melissa has lived in Hilton Head Island/Bluffton community since 2002. She has enjoyed seeing the Island and the broader Beaufort community’s growth and is eager to contribute to those efforts through her service on the BCEDC Board.
“Back in the early 1990’s, I worked in telecom business in Cleveland, Ohio. I was in to the wireless and cellular space when it was just a couple of years old. It is a whole different world now and a lot of people will not remember those days of the big bag phones and the dollar per minute rates,” said Joel Braun.
Back then, Joel held roles in finance, marketing, and sales with GTE, which ended up becoming part of Verizon.
“It was a high growth business, so there were opportunities to do new things about every couple of years, until there was not. And then it got really competitive, and we went from having two providers in a market to eight providers.”
His last position in Ohio was with Alltel Wireless, also later purchased by Verizon, as vice-president and general manager.
Joel moved to Beauford County in 2013 to work for Hargray as the Director of Commercial Sales. During that time, the City of Beaufort was one of their big customers. He inherited some of the issues around service and billing and started working very closely with the former city manager and then city council member, Stephen Murray. “We cleared everything up and started to develop a really good, positive relationship. At that time there was a vision for economic development to bring businesses to the area. We invested in fiber optic technology which gave us the opportunity to partner with the city and bring much needed high speed broadband connectivity to the commerce industrial park long before any companies were coming in,” Joel said.
Joel left Hargray in 2019 for a brief stint with Geismar, a company in the railroad business headquartered in France and near Chicago. He met John O’Toole during that time because the company needed more space for its headquarters and wanted to move its manufacturing to the U.S. Joel missed the telecom business, so in 2021, Hargray welcomed him back where he now serves as General Manager of Sales and Operations responsible for everything that affects the residential customer base. He also works closely with the commercial sales team. Joel has also continued his great relationships with John and now Mayor Murray and many other community and business leaders.
“I was excited to join the BCEDC board because I take personal satisfaction in trying to grow the economy here to help create jobs and make things better. I want Hargray to be a great resource for companies that are interested in moving to this area. Also, I am not the most knowledgeable person about how a lot of this stuff works, so I do tend to ask a lot of questions and I have found that asking a lot of questions generates more questions and some good dialogue. I know that the business community, the school district, and the various municipalities depend on our services and as a board member, I will be just a phone call away!”