GEDA 2021 Annual Conference Speaker Bios
Speakers are listed in alphabetical order.
Rachel Barnwell - Manager of Economic Development Programs for Development Authority of Bulloch County
Rachel Barnwell joined the Development Authority of Bulloch County as Manager of Economic Development Programs in July 2013. In addition to running the day-to-day operations of the Authority, she focuses much of her efforts on supporting local industry partners in their business and retention needs as well as working with Bulloch County Schools to promote industry for the improvement of workforce potential. She is currently involved in creating and implementing the new Bulloch County Workforce Development Plan and is instrumental in the Workforce Steering Committee Leadership Team.
Rachel received her Bachelor of Science degree in Sport Management with a minor in Business from Georgia Southern University. Before joining the DABC, she spent five years in the sport and entertainment industry and got the opportunity to return to Statesboro to work in the Athletics Department for her alma mater. Rachel is also a graduate of the Georgia Academy for Economic Development, Basic Economic Development, and Business Retention/Expansion courses at Georgia Tech, Leadership Bulloch, and most recently the Lynda Brannen Williamson Women’s Leadership Academy. Rachel currently serves as Programs Chair for Professional Women of Statesboro.
Rachel is originally from Pooler (before it was actually “Cooler in Pooler”). She and her husband, John, have a daughter and two fur children.
Melissa Dark - President & CEO for Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Chamber of Commerce
Melissa Dark became the President & CEO of the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Chamber of Commerce in 2020. She is a native of Fitzgerald and a 2002 graduate of Fitzgerald High School. In 2006, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Mercer University.
Prior to joining the Chamber team, Melissa was an entrepreneur and small business owner. From that experience, she brings a wealth of knowledge of e-commerce, marketing, sales, and leadership development.
She and her husband, David, reside in Ben Hill County with their two boys, Ford and Nash. In their spare time, the Dark family are avid cyclists and each year stage The Wild Chicken 100, one of South Georgia’s premier gravel cycling events.
Jason Dunn - Executive Director for Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority
Jason has been in the role of Executive Director of the Fitzgerald and Ben Hill County Development Authority since September 2015. During that time, the community has captured $100Million + in capital investment, the construction, and repurposing of 885,000 SF + in manufacturing facilities, and recruited five new manufacturing. A 1998 graduate of the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forest Resources, Dunn is the former board chair of Locate South Georgia, and currently serves as the committee chair for GEDA’s professional development committee. Jason alongside his wife of twenty-two years Dana and children Jacob and Jenna reside in Ben Hill County, Georgia.
Kevin Ellis - Executive Director, Bacon County Development Authority
After graduating from Bacon County High School in 2003, Kevin attended Kennesaw State University where he obtained a B.B.A in Economics. After graduation, he served 4 years in the United States Air Force working in cyberspace support. After moving back to his hometown of Alma, Kevin was hired as the Executive Director for the Bacon County Development Authority. Since that time, Kevin has enjoyed the opportunity to serve the community in which he grew up in. He is a Certified Economic Developer through UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. He enjoys spending time on his family’s farm with his wife, Kimberly, and their children Nathan, Evelyn, and Andy.
Bob Ganzak - General Manager of Dale Carnegie Training - Jacksonville, FL
Over 30 years of business, sales, and management experience with emphasis on sales, marketing, coaching, and training. Partners with some of the larger clients in the Jacksonville area including CSX, Northrop Grumman, Hospital Corporation of America, Bank of America, and Columbia County Sheriff's Office. Is passionate about working and strategizing with companies that understand their most valuable assets are the individuals that they employ. - www.linkedin.com/in/bobganzak
Mill Graves - Director of Business Development for Retail Strategies
Mill Graves is the director of business development for Retail Strategies working with municipal leaders and economic development agencies in Georgia and Kentucky to develop and execute their retail recruitment and community development initiatives.
He has more than 10 years of economic development and project management experience with an urban planning background. He is passionate about engaging community stakeholders and helping communities realize their unique potential.
Before Retail Strategies Mill worked as the Director of Economic & Community Development for Electric Cities of Georgia and their 52 municipal utility members. In this role, he partnered with the State of Georgia to recruit new jobs and investment to the state, and also advised and implemented strategies for rural and urban communities in the areas of retail and industrial site selection, downtown revitalization, and housing.
Mill received a bachelor’s degree in history from Davidson College where he swam competitively and a Master's of City & Regional Planning from Clemson University. Mill remains active as a Davidson alumnus – CATS are wild!
Originally from Lexington, KY he enjoys traveling with family and friends, endurance sports, and spending time in any mountain range or river within reach.
Jessica Hood - Director of Economic Development & Existing Industry for Effingham County Industrial Development Authority
Director of Economic Development and Existing Industry, Jessica Hood, specializes in business attraction and business retention for the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority (ECIDA). Her focus includes promoting the organization and community to external audiences, coordinating and executing client visits and correspondences, and serving as the organization’s point of contact for both existing industries and potential industrial clients.
Jessica is a cum laude graduate of Georgia Southern University with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Economics and a minor in regional development. She also earned her Masters's in Business Administration from the Parker School of Business at Georgia Southern University. Jessica began her career in economic development at the Liberty County Development Authority, where she served as project manager for nearly five years. Before rejoining the LCDA as the Director of Business Development, Jessica worked on the business development team at the Savannah Economic Development Authority for over a year and most recently served as the Executive Director at the Development Authority of Burke County.
Jessica is actively involved on the board of the Georgia Economic Developers Association, as well as Leadership Southeast Georgia. She is a graduate of the Georgia Academy for Economic Development, Leadership Liberty, Leadership Burke, Leadership Effingham, and Leadership Southeast Georgia. Jessica is also an Economic Development Finance Professional as designated by the National Development Council.
Bob Kosek - Director of Logistics, Energy, Agribusiness, and Food for the Georgia Department of Economic Development
Bob Kosek is the Director of Logistics, Energy, Agribusiness, and Food at the Georgia Department of Economic Development. In his role, Bob, along with the help of his team recruit and grow the logistics and food industries in the State of Georgia by marketing to companies, site selectors, and real estate brokers.
Prior to his time at the State of Georgia, Bob was the Assistant Director of Economic Development for Invest Atlanta and spent six years on the Metro Atlanta Chamber's economic development team.
In his free time, Bob is a member of the Georgia Economic Developers Association, sits on the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Alumni Council, and is a Big Brother for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta. He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, received his BA in Political Science from Ohio University and MPA from Georgia State University.
Randi Mason - Vice President of Economic Development for Decide DeKalb
Randi has over 10 years of experience in economic development in the metro Atlanta area. Prior to joining Decide Dekalb, she served as Vice President of Economic Development for Invest Atlanta, the City of Atlanta’s Development Authority.
Mason is a proud alumnus of Georgia State University where she earned her Master of Public Administration. She currently serves as a Board member of the Atlanta Sister Cities Foundation as well as holds active memberships with Georgia Economic Developers Association, International Economic Developers Council, and the Urban Land Institute.
Jerald Mitchel - CEO of the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce
Jerald Mitchell is the CEO of the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce. As the CEO of this organization, Jerald is responsible for leading strategy and operations of six entities, including 15 staff members, and consultants in the Columbus region. Prior to joining the chamber, Jerald worked as the Vice President of Economic Development at the Atlanta Beltline for nearly 7 years, developing and executing a strategy to attract and expand businesses around the Beltline’s footprint. Jerald has also spent time working in local economic development at the Savannah Economic Development Authority, as well as regional and state economic development at the Coastal Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Jerald holds a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Armstrong Atlantic State University and an Executive MBA from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Jerald is also a graduate of Leadership Georgia.
Katherine Moore - President of Georgia Conservancy
Katherine Moore, AICP, has served in the community development and natural resources fields for 25 years. She currently serves as President of Georgia Conservancy, a statewide conservation organization promoting sustainability in the built and natural environments. Katherine's interest is advancing the connection between urban design and sustainability in communities of all sizes. Her professional experience includes 13 years in the private sector as a consultant and the past 12 years with the Georgia Conservancy. In her various roles, she has provided training, technical expertise, and community engagement services on the topics of community resilience and community planning. Through Georgia Conservancy, she is putting new emphasis on the opportunities within housing choice, small-town stabilization, and prioritization of redevelopment to increase Georgia’s overall resilience, one community at a time.
Marion Phillips - Research Manager in the Community and Economic Development department at Georgia Power
Marion Phillips is the Research Manager in the Community and Economic Development department at Georgia Power. She is responsible for researching, analyzing, and visualizing a wide variety of information and data to support our business recruitment team and community development managers. She manages a team of 2 full-time and 2 part-time researchers and has been with Georgia Power’s research group for 7 years. Marion received her master’s in City and Regional Planning in 2014 from the Georgia Institute of Technology, with concentrations in Economic Development and Community Development. Originally from Memphis, TN, Marion moved to Atlanta in 2012 and now calls Midtown Atlanta home.
Travis Stegall - Economic and Community Development Director for the City of Brunswick
Travis Stegall is currently the Economic and Community Development Director for the City of Brunswick where he is responsible for facilitating economic development planning and business development, retention, and expansion of businesses into the City of Brunswick. Prior to this role, Travis Stegall served 5 years as the Regional Director of WFE Corporate a social impact investment, firm focusing on small business retention & development,12 years in commercial and residential wholesale finance where he’s negotiated over $350 million in real estate development. With his love of community and workforce, he established The T.R. Stegall Education Foundation to give every disadvantaged adult a second chance to play a valuable part in society by re-establishing themselves through education.
Breezy Straton - Vice President of Economic Development for Elevate Douglas Economic Partnership
One of my favorites quotes is from Ron Kitchens, an economic developer, he says, “The Greatest Force of Change is a Job.” He also says, if you want to change your community for the better, you must work intentionally on creating quality, family-sustaining, wage-earning jobs in your community. I believe my role is to partner with our business community to ensure Douglas County has the optimal business environment for its success with a diversity of people, of thought, and of the landscape. Our diversity will make businesses and residents want to call Douglas County home.
When we work with companies to create quality jobs across industry sectors and skill sets and work with our education partners to create training programs to up-skill or re-skill individuals to compete for those jobs, we as an organization are playing a pivotal role of bringing multiple partners to the table to achieve the goal of creating a Douglas County for all.
I work hard to ensure Douglas County’s needs are being balanced for the entire population. From 2017 - 2020, I served as the State Lead for National Skills Coalition Business Leaders United and created the model that is being used to create state chapters in 14 other states.
In 2019, the National Skills Coalition presented me with the Taking Care of Business Award. This award is presented to one individual in the country who has worked to increase the platform of skills policy at the Federal and State Levels.
I currently serve as the Advisory Board Chair of the Douglas County United Way.
And, the coolest thing so far, a large corporation who moved into Douglas County named their building “The Breezy.” I thought I would need to donate millions of dollars to get my name on a building!
Ron Tolley - CEO at Liberty County Development Authority
- A.A. in Business – Rend Lake College (IL)
- B.S. in Economics – Southern Illinois University
- M.S. in Economics – Southern Illinois University
- M.P.A. – Auburn University
- Honor Societies – Omicron Delta Epsilon, Beta Gamma Sigma, & Phi Kappa Phi
- Research Assistant at Southern Illinois University’s Bureau of Business Research
- Instructor in Economics & Management/Labor Relations at Southern Illinois University’s Vocational-Technical Institute
- Planner at Lower Chattahoochee Regional Planning Commission (GA)
- Director of Economic Development at Lower Chattahoochee Regional Planning Commission
- CEO at Liberty County Development Authority (GA) 1981 to Present
With 11 Guinness World Records and a list of never before seen death-defying feats, Nik Wallenda has written his name in history as truly the “King of the High Wire”. Nik has performed live in every state in the USA and all over the world. He has garnered support from tens of millions of live viewers in network television specials on ABC, The Discovery Channel, and others. From crossing the Grand Canyon and Niagra Falls to walking blindfolded between two towers in Chicago, Nik personifies the Wallenda Family legacy of “Never Giving Up” and has time and time again proven that “Fear is a Liar”.
Hal Wiley - CEO of Fitzgerald High School College and Career Academy
Hal Wiley graduated from East Central Technical College (now known as Wiregrass Technical College) with a Diploma in Telecommunications, Abraham Baldwin College with an Associates Degree In Applied Science Technology, and Georgia Southern University with a Bachelors Degree In Applied Science Technology. He spent 26 years working in the wireless retail industry, with 16 of those years as the Vice President and Co-Founder of Digital Express Wireless, a Verizon Wireless Authorized Dealer. During his career, he held positions from installation technician, salesperson, shipping coordinator, production planner, bill collection agent, department manager, sales manager, market manager, and district manager to the business owner. Hal and his business partner sold their business in January 2019, and he now serves as CEO of Fitzgerald High School College and Career Academy in Fitzgerald, GA.