Like most of the staff, volunteers, and stakeholders of the Atlanta BeltLine, Jerald Mitchell was attracted to the opportunity for the continued ability to do something good when he left his career in the private sector to become an economic developer and later join Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) as Vice President of Economic Development. Job growth and private investment have always been at the forefront of ABI’s strategy to build transformative public infrastructure. When Mitchell came onboard in 2014, his job was to figure out what that would look like.
“Traditionally, economic development is focused on transactional opportunities leading to attraction of investment to create jobs, but Atlanta already has people doing a great job with that,” explained Mitchell. “Based on my research, I determined that ABI would be most effective in achieving its economic opportunity and job creation goals by taking on a non-traditional approach, focusing on capacity building and a product development role.”
A graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong campus, the Savannah native describes himself as a “bit of a business geek that likes numbers and data to tell stories”. After thirteen years in the telecommunications industry, “well positioned organizations position themselves even better”, he realized that economic development was a better fit for him.
“It has everything I love about business, but for a good cause.”
Leading a small team of three and managing consultants, Mitchell directs a considerable amount of the team’s energy towards focusing on existing industry retainment, that is to say, supporting local businesses in the BeltLine geography to connect with resources that help them grow and thrive. They build and cultivate relationships with partners and the local business community through regular door-to-door outreach and organize numerous programs and activities throughout the year. Business attraction also plays a role. The team provides information about opportunities along the BeltLine and works with developers to build capacity and help bring more building product inventory to market. These efforts all add to the narrative of the Atlanta BeltLine as a tool for commerce and economic mobility, encouraging people to invest commercially in the BeltLine geography.
“We are building something that is different everywhere. What you find on the Westside is very different from what is on the Eastside because we want these outcomes to reflect the best of the communities that they are in; I think it’s being curated well. The Atlanta BeltLine is a very rare, raw opportunity to reshape a city and impact so many people,” Mitchell shared. “[In economic development] we continue to innovate, and lately, there is more significant interest in workforce development—even more so with the economic impact of COVID-19. We are trying to stay ahead of the curve by collaboratively developing solutions to help get people back into the workforce. One of those ways is helping partners pull together additional workforce cohorts.”
Passionate about innovation, inclusive capitalism, and place making, Mitchell is pleased with his decision to come to Atlanta eight years ago. The Oakhurst resident—who enjoys biking, all sports, finding new restaurants around the BeltLine, and discovering businesses in all parts of the Atlanta BeltLIne geography.
“For me, the narratives about Atlanta prior to living here, were wrong. There’s a lot of culture, creativity and life here and it’s hard to describe it until you’re here.”
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