About The Oconee Economic Alliance
The Oconee Economic Alliance (OEA) is a public-private nonprofit dedicated to bringing jobs and capital investment to Oconee County. Serving as the Economic Development arm of Oconee County, the OEA focuses on increasing per capita income, diversifying the local tax base and generating awareness of Oconee County as a business location. Going beyond the stereotypical role of recruitment and retention of industry, the OEA also assists with downtown revitalization of our municipalities. This additional focus on quality of life and sense of place gives the OEA a unique perspective to analyze economic development from multiple angles. With workforce becoming such an important part of economic development, the OEA understands the importance of creating a community that people of all ages will want to call home today and in the future.
Meet the OEA Staff
Over his career, Gilbert has facilitated the recruitment and expansion of hundreds of global businesses in a variety of sectors including advanced manufacturing, aerospace, customer and financial services, food processing, headquarters operations, information technology, life sciences and metal fabrication. In 2019, Gilbert was named one of the Top 50 Economic Developers in North America by Consultant Connect.
Gilbert has a lifelong passion for economic development as his Father was a city planner, economic developer and private developer. Growing up around economic development he saw first-hand the positive impact it made on communities and chose to make it his career path. He holds a Master’s Degree in City and Regional Planning from Clemson University and a Bachelor’s Degree in political science from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). He is a South Carolina Certified Economic Developer (SCCED) and a designated Economic Development Master Practitioner by the Advanced Economic Development Leadership Program.
Tyler James is a South Carolina native, growing up in Laurens SC. He attended Anderson University for his undergrad and Clemson University for his MBA. He started his career working for Congressman Jeff Duncan as his Regional Director here in South Carolina for a number of years before entering the finance world in 2019. After 2 years in the industry, Tyler decided to return to the world of government work and begin his career in economic development, something he has always been passionate about.
Tyler married his wife Katelin in October of last year and now lives in Seneca. He is an avid hiker and backpacker and loves spending time in the Oconee mountains and on the Chattooga River. Some of his hobbies include BBQ judging, his is a master judge with the SC BBQ Association, and martial arts where he is a black belt in karate.
Meet Our Board of Directors
Mr. Kyle Thomas is a graduate of Clemson University and the Graduate School of Banking at LSU. He serves as the President and CEO of Blue Ridge Bank and has over 30 years of experience in the banking industry. Kyle has spent much of his career in Upstate, South Carolina and has served in multiple roles at the South Carolina Bankers Association, including Chairman of the Economic Development Committee, member of the Community Bankers Council, and member of the Federal Legislative Committee. Mr. Thomas is actively involved in the community as a current board member of the Oconee Economic Alliance, Vice-Chairman of the Prisma Health Hospice of the Foothills, a member of Seneca Rotary Club, and a former chairman of the Oconee Medical Center Foundation. Mr. Thomas is a native of Pickens County, and he, his wife and children reside in Clemson. Kyle Thomas currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for the Oconee Economic Alliance.
Joey Hawkins is a 1989 graduate of Wofford College and is the Director of Industrial Relations and Gas Control at Fort Hill Natural Gas Authority. For over twenty years, Joey has served on the boards of the Economic Development agencies in Oconee, Pickens, and Anderson counties. He is currently serving as the President of the Carolinas Public Gas Association. The father of two was born and raised in the Upstate and currently resides in Anderson. In his free time, Joey enjoys traveling with friends and serving in the youth program at his church. Joey serves as the Vice Chairman for the Oconee Economic Alliance Board.
Chuck Perry currently serves as the Treasurer of the Board for the Oconee Economic Alliance.
Bio coming soon!
Rush Thrift is the oldest son of Gary Thrift and was raised working for his family’s business on the construction side as well as in the hardware stores. Rush graduated from Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Building Construction. He received his Juris Doctor from Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama in 2015. After graduation, Rush was admitted to practice law in Alabama and began working as an associate attorney for Laney & Foster, P.C., a civil defense firm specializing in defending architects, engineers and general contractors. He lives in Seneca with his wife, Blaire, and their son, Clayton. Rush serves as Secretary on the Oconee Economic Alliance Board of Directors.
Zach Hinton is a native of Pickens, South Carolina and a graduate of Wofford College. Following several years working as a police officer and for a US Representative, Zach took his talents to Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. As the Vice President of Economic Development and Support Services, Mr. Hinton works alongside many BREC partners forming strategies to bring new companies and opportunities to Upstate, South Carolina. Zach is also in charge of a BREC renewable energy initiative involving solar power. Zach, along with his wife, son, and dog, still call Pickens home. Zach Hinton currently serves as the Immediate Past Chair for the Board at the Oconee Economic Alliance.