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Louisiana Economic Development Assistant Secretary Mandi Mitchell, center, answers questions relating to a bill being presented by Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, right, during special session action in the House Ways and Means Committee, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018 at the State Capitol.

Mandi Mitchell, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Economic Development, has been named the new president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

The agency’s 12-member board of directors voted to hire Mitchell out of the four remaining candidates following an hour-long executive session to replace outgoing president and CEO Gregg Gothreaux during a special meeting Thursday.

The position, one of the highest paid in parish government, will pay an annual salary $250,000 plus benefits.

Board members selected Mitchell out of four remaining candidates, ending about a three-month process of naming a successor after Gothreaux announced his retirement in June.

Mitchell was selected over Monique Boulet, chief executive officer of the Acadiana Planning Commission; Verdell Hawkins, economic development manager at Gulf Power Company in Pensacola, Florida; and John O’Toole, executive director at Beaufort County (South Carolina) Economic Development Corp.

"I am thrilled to have this awesome opportunity bestowed upon me," Mitchell said. "To be in a position to bring together my years of experience, knowledge, resources and connections is truly a blessing. I look forward to getting to work on growing jobs, capital investment and our tax base and bringing forth economic opportunity for all corners of our parish."

Mitchell, who has experience with economic development, governmental affairs and community relations, got the edge over the other candidates for those reasons, said Ramesh Kolluru, LEDA’s board chair. Mitchell, a native of Lafayette with family roots in Acadia Parish, has been with LED since 2012 and led the office’s local, state and federal governmental affairs activities.

Mitchell, according to her resume, was the project manager for the Amazon fulfillment center in Carencro and is state resources lead liaison for Amazon projects in Baton Rouge, Slidell and Shreveport. She was also lead project manager for Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2019 signature program, the Veterans First Business Initiative.

“Dealing with different administrations — both Republican and Democrat leadership — and using policy levers that economic developers have at their disposal was something that carried the day,” he said of Mitchell. “I thought we had four extraordinarily good candidates, and any of them could have been chosen. Her experience and true sense of economic development as community development/economic development, I think, is what put her over the top.”

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The move was also one that showed the organization’s interest in diversity in hiring Mitchell, a Black woman, Kolluru said. She could be the only person of color leading an economic development or chamber of commerce in Louisiana. Internet searches indicate among chambers in each of the state’s major cities, all but one are led by White men.

Mitchell is co-chair of the workforce and economic development committee for the Louisiana Historically Black Colleges and Universities Advisory Council, a panel created by lawmakers to engage the state’s HBCUs as strategic development partners.

“We know that economic development cannot leave certain communities behind and focus on certain parts of our community,” Kolluru said. “I think this was an opportunity to send a very strong message in that direction that what this board wants and what LEDA stands for is economic development at its most inclusive best. We seek to lift all boats, and when that happens, our community is a better community.”

Said Mitchell: "It means the world to me to be given an opportunity to demonstrate my talent regardless of my gender or race and ethnicity. I am truly heartened by the board’s decision purely based on experience, skills and competency. Hopefully, my service in this role will allow the little girls and boys of Lafayette — regardless of their background or zip code — to dream big."

The move comes at a time when the Lafayette area has landed significant job-creating projects, including Amazon and the SafeSource Direct operation in Broussard. Construction could begin soon on the Westfield Hydraulics plant at LEDA’s industrial park site that will employ about 70.

“(Mitchell) is a talented professional and will be a tremendous asset for Lafayette,” Boulet said. “It is an exciting time with unlimited potential for Lafayette. I wish her the best of luck and will be here to support her in any way I can.”

LEDA operates four business parks across Lafayette Parish, has been active in promoting the completion of Interstate 49 through Lafayette to New Orleans and has been active in attracting businesses to Lafayette, including CGI and Costco.


Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.