Annual Conference 2018 Speakers

Jim Durrett

Executive Director
The Buckhead Community Improvement District

Jim Durrett is executive director of The Buckhead Community Improvement District (CID) – a local governmental entity with taxation power. The mission of the Buckhead CID is to create and maintain a safe, accessible and livable urban environment in the heart of the Buckhead commercial area in north Atlanta. They meet the challenges of growth by investing tax dollars collected from commercial property owners within the district, as well as other funds they leverage from outside the district, to make meaningful improvements in the transportation network and public realm that connect people and places. He has in-depth expertise in transportation, land use and creating livable communities.

Prior to heading up the Buckhead CID, Durrett was founding executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition, a not-for-profit organization formed in 2005 to promote smart growth development in the Atlanta region. Prior to that, Durrett served for five years with the Urban Land Institute (ULI), an organization dedicated to land use and real estate development issues, as the first executive director of ULI's Atlanta District Council, and the second district council executive director in the U.S.
In addition, Durrett was with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce as the vice president of environmental affairs, and was the senior vice president and chief operating officer of The Georgia Conservancy. Durrett began his professional career as a hydrogeologist in the DeKalb County office of Golder Associates, an international geotechnical and environmental engineering consulting firm.

Amy Holloway

President and CEO
Avalanche Consulting, Inc.

Amy Holloway is the energetic leader of Avalanche Consulting, Inc., one of the nation’s leading economic development strategy firms. Avalanche creates targeted economic development strategies, custom research, workforce analyses, and communications platforms for the most dynamic communities in the country.

In her 23 years of experience as a strategist, Amy has advised more than 150 communities across the US, including work for the Atlanta Regional Commission, Charleston Regional Development Alliance, Charlotte Regional Partnership and Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Columbus 2020, Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, JAXUSA Partnership, Miami-Dade Beacon Council, Provo City Utah, and Sonoma County California, just to name a few.

Amy resides in Austin with her husband Chris and their two tenacious terriers. She currently serves on the board of the Golden Hornet Project, and has served on the boards of the Fusebox Festival, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Leadership Austin, and the Austin State Hospital. She was a 2007 graduate of Leadership Austin’s Emerge program, 2009 graduate of Leadership Austin’s Essential Class, and a 2010 McBee Fellow for the Austin Area Research Organization. Amy received Austin Under 40′s 2010 Austinite of the Year award in the field of government and public affairs. In 2012, the Austin Business Journal named Amy one of the five most influential women in Austin.

Amy’s BBA and MS degrees in Environmental Economics are from Baylor University.

Ashley Rivera

Managing Director of CATLYST
Atlanta Regional Commission

Ashley Rivera works in the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Community Partnerships Division, as Managing Director of CATLYST. CATLYST is the 10-county Atlanta region’s Economic Competitiveness strategy, developed with regional partners to identify the various opportunities and challenges that the region needs to address in order maintain a competitive economy that works for all the region’s residents.

Ashley earned her Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Agnes Scott College. She earned a Masters in City and Regional Planning and an MS in Public Policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Before beginning her career in planning at ARC, Ashley worked in sales and business development for a financial services firm and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine where she worked in business education. Ashley and her husband have two sons, and live in the City of Atlanta.

Misti MartinMisti Martin

President, Cherokee Office of Economic Development

Misti Martin is a native of Georgia and has been in the Chamber and Economic Development field for over 25 years. She has served as the President of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development since 2004.

In the 1990s, Martin worked for the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce & Development Authority and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. She served as President & CEO of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce in east Atlanta from 1998-2004 before returning to Cherokee. Ms. Martin graduated from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia and earned her MBA from Troy University. She is also a graduate of University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute (EDI) as well as the Institute for Organization Management at the University of Georgia.

Misti has held numerous positions on state boards for Chamber and Economic Development organizations, serving as Chair of the Georgia Economic Developers Association in 2012.  She earned her Certified Economic Developer status from the International Economic Development Council in 2000 and has also been featured as one of Georgia Trend Magazine’s “40 Under 40” and as a “Notable Georgian.”  Martin was recognized as one of the “Top 50 Economic Developers in North America” in 2016.

Misti is married with three sons.

Jason DunnJason Dunn

Director, Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority

Jason Dunn is director of the Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority.  Prior to returning to his hometown in 2015 to assume that role, he worked as for 17 years as regional commercial and industrial real estate broker and site selector with Webb Properties, Inc. in Albany, GA.  Jason is currently the board chair for Locate South Georgia and serves on various boards.  Married to his wife Dana for 19 years, he is proud Dad of Jacob (16) and Jenna (14).

Natalie JonesNatalie Jones

Manager, Global Programs, Metro Atlanta Chamber

Natalie Jones is the Manager of Global Programs for the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC). In this role, she is responsible for the management and implementation of the Metro Atlanta Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Plan—as part of the Global Cities Initiative (GCI). Natalie works to provide metro Atlanta’s foreign-owned companies with aftercare services for global growth and also works to integrate mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s) into the Region’s FDI efforts. 

Prior to MAC, Natalie worked for Georgia State University’s Annual Programs department. She served as the project manager for the Class Gift Campaign where she managed a successful marketing and social media strategy. Her content creation for various annual fund direct mail and online giving campaigns helped result in fundraising over $1.1 million for the first time in the University’s history. Natalie has also worked on a U.S. Senate campaign and served on the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Millennial Advisory Panel.

Natalie holds a baccalaureate from Georgia State University in English with a concentration in Advanced Composition and Rhetoric and a minor in Political Science. She lives in West Midtown with her husband and teenage son and is an active member of the Junior League of Atlanta. 

Stacey AbramsStacey Abrams

Democrat Gubernatorial Candidate

She put her education to work to better the lives of Georgians through the government, nonprofit, and business sectors. Dedicated to civic engagement, she founded the New Georgia Project, which submitted more than 200,000 registrations for voters of color between 2014 and 2016. Under the pen name Selena Montgomery, Stacey is the award-winning author of eight romantic suspense novels, which have sold more than 100,000 copies. As co-founder of NOW Account – a financial services firm that helps small businesses grow – Stacey has helped create and retain jobs in Georgia. And through her various business ventures, Stacey has helped employ even more Georgians, including hundreds of young people starting out.

Brian KempBrian Kemp

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate

Brian Kemp is a conservative small businessman with a proven record of fighting - and winning - for Georgia.

In the State Senate, Kemp fought to cut fees, taxes, and mandates on job creators and Georgia families. As Secretary of State, Kemp used technology and innovation to cut bureaucratic red tape, slash spending, and streamline government. Kemp fought the Obama Justice Department and countless left-wing organizations attempting to undermine Georgia's elections.

Kemp is not finished fighting for Georgia.

As our Governor, Kemp will fight to make Georgia #1 for small business. He will ensure that all parts of our state - including rural Georgia - have opportunities to grow and thrive. Kemp will fundamentally reform state government and will always put Georgians first - not the special interests.

While serving in public office, Brian Kemp has remained a small business owner with companies in agribusiness, financial services, real estate management and investment. A lifelong resident of Athens, Kemp is a graduate of the University of Georgia, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture.

Kemp, 53, is married to the former Marty Argo of Athens. They are the proud parents of three daughters and are active members of Emmanuel Episcopal Church.

Jody Lentz

Jody Lentz


Jody is a catalyst for better teams, meetings and decisions. His artistic communication and low-key demeanor create fertile ground for teams to create meaningful experiences and memorable artifacts. The organizations he is privileged to work with often cite his ability to think both creatively and strategically as a reason they turn to him. As a facilitator, he is committed to getting more from a team than they think is possible, and his calling cards in that arena are graphic facilitation, design thinking and LEGO Serious Play. 

Craig LesserCraig Lesser

Managing Partner, The Pendleton Group

Craig Lesser provides advice, connectivity and strategic planning services to corporations, institutions and government entities in the areas of economic development and governmental affairs.

He served as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development from 2004 to 2007.

As chief marketing officer for the State, he led efforts to recruit new businesses and industries to Georgia and expand global trade and tourism. During his tenure as Commissioner, Georgia announced nearly 500 new investments and business expansions, which totaled more than $8 billion and created more than 40,000 new jobs.

Lesser led expansion of Georgia’s international presence by adding representatives in Germany, Chile, Brazil, China, and France, which were additions to existing representation in other international offices. He also served as president of Hemisphere, Inc., a public-private partnership that brought the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas Secretariat to Atlanta. He was recently named to the advisory board of Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.

Prior to founding Pendleton Atlanta, Lesser served as managing director of McKenna Long & Aldridge where he headed International Affairs consulting services. He served as vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs for Georgia Power Company; president and CEO of Mirant, New York; and senior vice president of external affairs for Mirant Americas.

Amy Stone

Planning & Development Director, Odlethorpe County, Georgia

Amy Stone is the Planning and Development Director for Oglethorpe County, Georgia, a rural county just east of Athens. Amy graduated with a degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia and has experience in city planning, real estate development and project management.  Her focus in Oglethorpe County is on expanding broadband access to all Oglethorpe citizens, master planning the county's 600 acre mega-site and paving the way for every child in Oglethorpe to receive a high-quality early childhood education.

Christopher NunnChristopher Nunn

Commissioner, Georgia Department of Community Affairs

Christopher Nunn was appointed Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) by Governor Nathan Deal in September 2017. At DCA, he leads state efforts to ensure that by creating and supporting workforce housing, community infrastructure, downtown development and economic development, communities are prepared for opportunities to meet Governor Deal’s top priority of creating jobs across the state. DCA manages nearly $300 million each year of state and federal dollars through its 65 programs, providing funding and technical assistance throughout Georgia, and partnering with local communities to create a climate of success for Georgia’s families and businesses.

Prior to his role at DCA, Commissioner Nunn served as Commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services (DOAS). And before joining DOAS, Commissioner Nunn was Deputy Commissioner for Community Development & Finance at DCA, where he led efforts to support community and economic development activities.

John ScottJohn Scott

Vice President & Director of Economic Development, Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce

Although John didn't grow-up thinking he wanted to be an Economic Developer, he considers himself extremely lucky to have landed in this Profession. 

John's journey in Economic Development started in 2009 when he enrolled in the University of Southern Mississippi's graduate degree program in economic development. Since then he's had the opportunity to work in a broad range of industry segments from the state to local level. 

John's experience has taught him that he enjoy working with industrial businesses, marketing and communications, and workforce development. For John, the best aspects of the job are working with short deadlines in an extremely competitive environment, building consensus, creative problem solving, and seeing the magnitude of benefits to a community from successfully completing a project. 

Mark Arend

Mark Arend

Editor in Chief, Site Selection

Mark Arend is Vice President of Publications and Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine, the leading U.S. economic development publication. On the editorial staff since 1997, Mark leads an award-winning team of writers and graphic designers in the bi-monthly delivery of global location analysis for senior management at corporations worldwide. Airport-related economic development, talent acquisition and foreign direct investment are among his areas of expertise. Prior to his more than 20 years at Site Selection, Mark held editorial positions in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. A native of Ontario, Canada, and raised in Connecticut, Mark is a graduate of the University of Hartford and lives near Atlanta.

Matt MunsonMatt Munson

Executive Pastor of Community Care

Everyone needs a coach that’s in your corner! For more than two decades, Matt Munson has served as a coach, mentor and leader, desiring to impact people’s lives for the better.

Throughout a fifteen-year career as a collegiate track and field coach, Matt had the opportunity to impact athletes ranging from the grassroots level to Division I All-Americans to Olympic gold medalists. Championships and awards aside, Matt’s reward has been seeing young men and women continuing their drive to reach their potential in life and living victoriously in their personal and professional lives.

As a pastor, Matt continues to do the same, helping others uncover and engage in a new trajectory for their life. He brings the same energy and enthusiasm to the speaking platform, coupled with humor and practical nuggets of wisdom.

Matt Munson serves as an executive pastor at Valley Family Church, a dynamic and growing church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. As part of his role, he oversees a weekly food pantry that has helped to provide over 1.6 Million meals to hungry and hurting people all over Southwest Michigan. The very best parts of his life are his “24/7 hats,” which he wears as a husband and a dad. Matt is married to Colleen, a Division I collegiate volleyball coach, and is a dad to their son, Jacob, and daughter, Bryn. He loves collegiate sports, exploring the globe, and helping people win.

Richard WoodsRichard Woods

Georgia's State Superintendent of Schools

Richard Woods was born in Pensacola, Florida and while growing up in a military family, lived in California, Hawaii and Virginia before moving to Georgia. He graduated from Fitzgerald High School, and went on to receive a Bachelor’s Degree from Kennesaw State University and a Master’s Degree from Valdosta State University.

Woods has over 25 years of pre-k through 12th grade experience in public education. Woods was a high school teacher for 14 years, serving as department chair and teacher mentor. During his tenure, he was also selected as Teacher of the Year. For eight years Woods served in various administrative roles such as assistant principal, principal, curriculum director, testing coordinator, pre-k director, and alternative school director.

Woods also brings a business background to the superintendent's position, having been a purchasing agent for a national/multi-national laser company and a former small business owner.

He and his wife Lisha, a retired 30-year educator, are long-time residents of Tifton and have been married for 27 years.