Cockram Named North Carolina Economic Developer of the Year

Left to right: Leigh Cockram, Rockingham County Economic Development Director and Randall Johnson, NCEDA President

Rockingham County, NC (June 9, 2021) – Each year, the North Carolina Economic Development Association (NCEDA) presents an annual award to the individual who best exemplifies leadership in the state’s economic development efforts.  The North Carolina Economic Developer of the Year award is given in recognition of the winner’s contributions to expansions and projects completed during the previous calendar year.

The Rockingham County Center for Economic Development, Small Business, and Tourism is excited to announce their very own Leigh Cockram, has been named NCEDA’s 2021 Economic Developer of the Year.

“I am very proud of Leigh for all she has accomplished in such a short period of time,” stated Lance Metzler, Rockingham County Manager. “I had the pleasure of meeting Leigh several years ago when she was working with another organization I knew immediately, she was a go-getter and would be a tremendous asset to Rockingham County. After a few conversations at various times, the right doors opened, and in February 2019 she became an integral part of the Rockingham County team. The news of Leigh’s award comes as no surprise to myself because there is truly no one more deserving of being honored with such a noble recognition.”

Prior to coming to Rockingham County, Cockram was director of business development and strategic initiatives at Danville’s Institute for Advanced Learning and research. Additionally she had held economic development posts and private-sector jobs in southern Virginia, including two years as founding director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance, a regional partnership, and was an entrepreneur herself with her own highly successful sportswear company. Needless to say, success in her field has never been obstacle and something she has found often.

While Cockram’s first year (2019) in her position in Rockingham County was highly successful, year two proved to be one for the books. As 2020 began, Cockram and her economic development team, found Rockingham County at a pivotal point and were already working diligently to gain momentum in the coming year.  Just after the turn of the first quarter, Ontex Group announced their $93 million investment which would also create more than 450 jobs. Ontex, a Belgium based manufacturer of affordable, disposable hygiene products, would soon call the new South Rockingham Corporate Park (SRCP) their new home and serve as its first occupant, which spurred interest in the area and led to the addition of a 174,000 square foot shell building in the park as well. Cockram’s strong negotiation tactics were instrumental in the much needed infrastructure expansion to the park which made industrial development in this area a reality.

As the third quarter came to a close, the largest economic development announcement in the County’s history was revealed; Nestle Purina would invest $450 million in the former MillerCoors site and with it bring just over 300 new jobs. The loss of MillerCoors in 2015 was a devastating hit to the entire county and to have this building occupied once again, was exactly the economic win the County needed, and Cockram knew it. Cockram worked non-stop, including nights, weekends, and even while on vacation, to secure Rockingham County as this Fortune 500 Company’s new home. With her amazing skill set and impeccable negotiation skills, she was able to put together an impressive incentive package for the company that ultimately sealed the deal.

But Cockram was not done yet; in early December 2020, Farmina, an Italian based pet food company, announced they would invest $28.5 million in their first U.S. facility to be located in the Reidsville Industrial Park (RIP). This announcement was the first announcement for RIP in over two years. Additionally days after Farmina’s announcement, a number of existing industries announced expansions to their current Rockingham County facilities which, also created not only new investment but jobs as well. These announcements came as a result of the CDBG grants Blow Molded, Night Owl, Acrow, and Sturm Ruger were awarded, which Cockram played a hand in them obtaining. To say 2020 was an amazing year for this “Rock Star” is an understatement!

“I was happy to contribute to the nomination of Leigh Cockram for this prestigious award,” stated Mike Dougherty, Director of Economic Development, City of Eden. “She and her staff worked tirelessly to bring unprecedented success to our county in 2020.”

Rockingham County looks forward to seeing what the future holds with Cockram behind the reigns and is beyond appreciative of the amazing work she has already accomplished.

For more information or questions, please contact Tara Martin, Economic Development Marketing Manager at