COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – The Greater Columbus, Georgia Chamber of Commerce made a historic announcement Thursday morning, naming its first black President and CEO.
At a news conference, the Chamber announced Jerald Mitchell, who is currently Vice President for Economic Development for the Atlanta BeltLine, as the new President and CEO in Columbus.
The Atlanta BeltLine is a transportation and economic development project in the City of Atlanta aimed at connecting the 45 intown neighborhoods of Atlanta with a 22 mile loop of trails, streetcars, and parks, based on railroad corridors that formerly surrounded the city.
He has 12 years of experience as an economic developer, prior to that he worked in the telecommunications industry. Mitchell replaces Brian Anderson, who left almost a year ago to lead the Chamber of Commerce in Richmond, Va.
“When you are in the business community and you are a minority in the business community — whether it’s the first African-American in a position or not — I think that you have to address things prudently,” Mitchell told News 3. “You have to act and traverse with a certain degree of professionalism and character at all times.”
Chamber Chairman Pace Halter says if you are focusing on Mitchell’s race you are making a mistake.
“First of all, I just don’t know that it’s relevant,” Halter said. “And second of all, I think if that is the focus, the issue then becomes that the rest of his accomplishments and what qualifies him for the job immediately become less important and secondary. At the end of the day, the decision was made based on that only.”
Mitchell has been vice president of economic development at the Atlanta Beltline Inc., a 4.5 billion project. Prior to that he was Director of Innovation for the Savannah Economic Development Authority.
Mitchell was the choice to lead the Chamber of Commerce back in March. He had been offered the job, and it looked like he was going to accept it but withdrew from consideration.
You have to understand the timing. This was happening at the COVID crisis was shutting down the nation, Georgia and Columbus.
“We were in some terrain, so to speak, that there is no playbook for. And as things started to get more under control and we started to feel a different level of confidence about being able to make that change.”
Mitchell was the man the Columbus chamber search committee wanted all along.
Billy Blanchard led the search to hire Mitchell to replace Anderson. He was hoping when the air cleared that Mitchell would reconsider.
“I could tell he wasn’t 100 percent convinced that was the long-term right decision,” Blanchard said. “It’s going to take us a while to get a new slate of candidates. If you wake up in a week or two or a month or two and feel like maybe you didn’t make the right decision, please call us back. Because you are the guy we want. And that’s what happened.”
The Columbus Chamber of Commerce has been in existence for 173 years. It represents the local business community but the Chamber is also charged by the city to lead economic development and job recruitment activities.
The city funds the economic development arm with tax revenue.