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News: Member Portrait

Courtney Driver: Embracing Opportunity

Thursday, May 3, 2018  
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Originally published in the Winter 2017-2018 edition of NC Currents

 

I take great pride in the fact that I’m part of an organization that provides essential services every single day,” says Courtney Driver, Utilities Director for the City of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Part of that passion involves volunteering for NC AWWA-WEA, which she joined when she became a city employee in 2008.

 

 In 2010, when the Annual Conference was held in Winston-Salem, she chaired the Host Welcoming Committee, as part of the local arrangements committee (LAC). Three years later, she served as the co-chair of the LAC, becoming chair in 2014.

 

 Driver was also part of the inaugural Leadership Development Class. At around the same time, she was asked to be the chair of the Utility Management Group. That is quite the track record for someone who never intended to work in water and wastewater. In fact, when she studied Civil Engineering at North Carolina State University, her focus was on structures. But when she graduated in 2003 and started a job with Allied Design, the structures for which she was responsible were not entirely the type she had envisioned. Her work with the small Winston-Salem firm revolved around structures related to water, stormwater, gravity sewers, and pump stations.

 

 “I kind of just fell into it,” Driver recalls. “The owner of Allied Design, gave me a chance right out of college and I will never forget that.”

 

 After five years designing water and wastewater infrastructure at Allied Design, her transition to project engineer for the utilities department at the City of Winston- Salem seemed to be a natural fit. Her first project involved upgrading the Elledge Wastewater Treatment Plant. “I really enjoy taking a project from a preliminary concept and plan design to construction and operation,” she says, recalling the grit-process and the pre-treatment design that led up to the creation of a new headworks facility at the Elledge Plant. “I walked through sewer channels where no one will ever go again. It was exciting!”

 

 From Project Engineer, she progressed to the position of Senior Civil Engineer, then Capital Projects Engineer, and finally to Deputy Utilities Director, in charge of all water and sewer operations. It was then that she was offered a position as the Assistant to the City Manager. “You never want to turn down an opportunity from the City Manager, even though I never imagined that as part of my career path,” says Driver.

 

 The experience proved invaluable in giving her the broad perspective that is so useful for her current position. As the Director of a regional utility, she is responsible for water distribution and treatment as well as wastewater collection and treatment. “What is different about our utility,” she adds, “is that we have a solid waste program.” The solid waste department operates a municipal solid waste landfill, a construction and demolition landfill, and two yardwaste facilities. As part of her responsibility for the entire utilities department, Driver manages a $95 million operation and debt service budget, as well as a diverse staff of approximately 380 people, including a variety of trades and professionals.

 

 Her experience with NC AWWA-WEA has also been very helpful for connecting with people in all facets of the industry. “I’ve been able to meet so many people who I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she explains. “You are able to share experiences with your peers in other utilities and collaborate with other professionals in the field. You can share your successes, ideas, and challenges – that’s really impactful.”

 

 “We all want to be the best,” she continues, adding that she encourages her staff to think of themselves as best in class. “We try to have that mindset in everything we do.”

 

 As part of that drive toward excellence, Driver chairs the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin Association and is a member of the newly formed Yadkin-Pee Dee Water Management Group that looks at the water needs in the Yadkin Basin. “We are reviewing our drought response plans and future water supply demands,” explains Driver. “At the same time, we are trying to get some consistency in what we’re sharing and presenting to the state.” The goal of the group is to look at the river basin in its entirety, using a model currently implemented by the Catawba Wateree Water Management Group. The Yadkin Association is also interested in meeting regularly with groups from the other North Carolina basins to have a larger, more coordinated voice for the state overall.

 

Driver knows that this networking will open new possibilities both for the City and for her career. “Since graduation, my career path has not really been planned,” she reflects. “I’m not doing what I thought I’d be doing and that’s okay. I’ve had a lot of good opportunities come my way and I’ve been fortunate to have new and exciting experiences. If I’ve learned anything, it’s to be open to new challenges.”

 

 Presently, her focus is on fulfilling her position as director to the very best of her abilities, while balancing family life with a fulltime career. Driver and her husband function as a close team, raising two boys aged nine and seven. “Even with everything else we juggle, they always come first in our life,” she says. “My personal goal is to be the best working mom that I can be.”


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