Leadership Thurston County – part of the Thurston County Chamber foundation – last night recognized Economic Development Council executive director Michael Cade and the Rotary Club of Olympia as their distinguished leaders for 2012.

The awards banquet, which drew roughly 300 from the local business community to Saint Martin’s University’s Worthington Center, is an annual highlight of Leadership Thurston County’s 10-month training program, which has produced 450 graduates in its 20 years. Keynote speaker, former state Supreme Court justice Gerry Alexander, noted the prevalence of women in the organization’s training track, as well as growing numbers of women across business industries in general.

“The legal profession isn’t alone in experiencing this change; (it) has gone on everywhere, and has made our society fair in the sense that this artificial barrier has largely removed,” Alexander said. “And, on top of that, this change has been very good for the economy. Think about what the entry of all these women into the workforce has meant.”

As EDC director since 2000, Cade has worked in tandem with the Chamber, the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau and local businesses to heighten economic development throughout Thurston County. Highlights of his work include attracting companies such as Trader Joe’s and Harbor Wholesale foods to the rapidly developing Hawks Prairie area.

Fundraising efforts were the reason The Rotary Club of Olympia received the award: locally, for creating West Bay Park’s Rotary Point site on Budd Inlet in Olympia; regionally, for matching high school students with opportunities to play musical instruments; and internationally, for helping bring clean water to countries in Africa.

Previous award-winners include commercial real estate company The Rants Group, developer Tri Vo, former Olympia councilman Jeff Kingsbury and Business Examiner publisher Jeff Rounce. Community Youth Services, Capitol City Press and Grays Harbor Paper were also past winners.