WATERLOO — The Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber’s board of directors has tapped a familiar name as its new CEO.
Cary Darrah, who has been interim CEO of the economic development group based in Waterloo for the past seven months, officially was named to lead the group.
“Cary was the best candidate for the job, and we’re very pleased to drop the interim from her CEO title,” said GCVAC Board Chairman Eric Johnson of Beecher Law Firm.
He called her not only qualified, but a “bridge-building collaborator.”
“Cary knows the Cedar Valley and has relationships with many of the players in local, state and national economic development and government. Considering diversity and inclusion are important factors in building the best workforce, it’s an added benefit to having a female CEO leading our economic and workforce development initiatives,” said Johnson.
The board of directors named Darrah interim director in February after the departure of Steve Dust, who was CEO since the Alliance was founded in 2004. According to Johnson, the board sought proposals from companies to conduct a national executive search for the CEO position. After seeing research results and Darrah’s accomplishments as interim CEO, the board unanimously decided it was not necessary to conduct a search.
Darrah, 60, is the first woman to head the Alliance or any of its predecessor organizations since Kristi Ray headed the Cedar Falls Chamber of Commerce from 1997 to 2002.
“As we went through the research and goal-setting process, we received positive feedback from investors, community leaders and staff of Cary’s collaborative approach and visionary leadership. In a short time frame, she has made changes to stabilize, strengthen and position the Alliance & Chamber to grow in the right direction. It became very apparent to the board that Cary is the right fit at the right time to lead GCVAC through the next phase and accomplish our 2020 vision and goals,” Johnson said.
A native of Cedar Falls and Iowa State University graduate, Darrah was named general manager of Techworks, an Alliance subsidiary, in 2007. She was then promoted to GCVAC executive vice president of community development in 2012 and TechWorks president in 2016. Prior to joining the Alliance & Chamber, Darrah was director of Cedar Falls Community Main Street from 1997 to 2007.
For a concentrated focus on economic and talent development with limited resources, Darrah said the Alliance may need to revisit some of its programs and subsidiaries to determine which have been “properly incubated and ready to be spun off” into their own entities.
“Our staff is made up of a fantastic team of experts who are laser-focused on recruiting and retaining talent for area businesses and implementing the community and economic development initiatives that contribute the greatest value to the Cedar Valley’s economic health,” said Darrah. “You’ll see us out in the community celebrating our businesses at ribbon cuttings, working alongside government officials and community leaders as trusted partners on important issues, and being the loudest cheerleaders and strongest advocates for the Cedar Valley in Des Moines and Washington.”
Darrah said she strongly believes in collaboration, building long-term relationships and trust, and that the best successes are credited to a meaningful mission and team efforts. She is particularly fond of the Alliance’s new mission to: “Elevate the economic vitality of our businesses and communities.”
“Our board and staff are all really engaged in this revisioning, cultural realignment and brand repositioning process. It’s such an exciting time to be the CEO of the Alliance & Chamber, and I look forward to working with all our partners to ultimately help create a shared vision for the Cedar Valley. We are ready to get to work to make the greater Cedar Valley even greater.”