We had the good fortune of connecting with Carrie Kelly and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carrie, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I grew up in Crawfordsville, Indiana. It’s a small community in West Central Indiana with a population of 17,000 and an outstanding liberal arts college, Wabash College. Most of my friends counted down the days until they could leave Crawfordsville, but not me because I planned to return post-graduation and work in our family’s law firm. However, after I graduated and worked a few years in the law firm, I realized that work might not be for me.
Luckily, I had a boss who let me explore the work I enjoyed at the law firm – municipal representation. At the same time, I became involved with the League of Women Voters and was quickly thrown into the Economic Development Committee. Not having any exposure to economic development, I quickly learned from our committee members (city council members, supervisors, planning commission chairs) and partners in the community—this work aligned well with my work at the law firm, representing cities and towns. Rural economic development looks different than urban economic development. In many ways, you are navigating people and personalities at a higher rate and undertaking more community and neighborhood development work versus business attraction work, and I really enjoyed tackling that. Bringing people together to create a better quality of life quickly became a life passion. Many of the projects I worked on in my hometown are still creating opportunities for my classmates and now my classmates’ children.
My work as Executive Director of the Arizona Association for Economic Development lends itself well to my upbringing. I like to joke that my parent’s professions are the perfect convergence for my economic development profession – lawyer and used car salesman turned marketing guru. In addition, a rural community like Crawfordsville was a great place to start my professional career as I had leadership opportunities on many different projects. I do not believe I would have ended up in economic development without those experiences.
I once did a career coaching session where they asked what kind of work you would want to do if you had millions of dollars. That was easy for me – funding projects and programs that lead to a better quality of life for the communities I love. Although I don’t have millions of dollars, I feel fortunate that I get to do this type of work – and now on a statewide level. I also hope that I continue to learn and that I can share that knowledge with my hometown again.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Like so many 20-and-30 somethings, I was one of those people trying to figure out what career I wanted and how I would get there. Economic development is a relatively new profession, and not many colleges have an economic development program (or even classes offered on economic development). The Arizona Association for Economic Development is working to change that, but it is not the easiest profession to enter. I completely fell into the work by accident through nonprofit work, and I am so happy I did.
Professionally, there have been barriers I have faced. I know there have been jobs I was not offered because either I was a woman with strong opinions or anti-fat bias existed, but I choose to remain focused on the positive. I genuinely believe all of the roadblocks have led to where I am today, and I have been afforded many wonderful opportunities in many different communities.
Because economic development is such a convergence of many different things, you can bring your entire life experiences to the job. I have a background in community and rural development and strategic planning. I love bringing people together to come up with solutions and to plan for the future – just that sentence alone makes me want to run out and facilitate some meetings! Having a deep passion for creating and sustaining vibrant communities drives everything that I do, and getting to work on economic policy on a statewide and federal level is the best. The three pillars of our organization are educate, advocate, and collaborate, and that is absolutely a tagline that fits my life as well.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
All of our family lives in Indiana, and whenever they come in, we head up north to Cottonwood’s downtown for lunch and shopping and then head over to Jerome for wine and Sedona for nature and dinner. We also love exploring the small communities and downtowns around the state.
We lived in Fort Mohave for a few years, and enjoyed lazy days on the Colorado River, exploring Route 66 from Kingman to Oatman, and riding motorcycles on the backroads down to Lake Havasu City and back.
We moved to Greater Phoenix in March of 2020 and have not explored as much as we would like. I love everything music and secondhand, so it’s Stinkweeds and Wooden Tooth Records (Tucson), Bookmans, and Rocket a Go-Go. I miss going to galleries and exploring the art scene (send suggestions my way), but I want to give a shout-out to Cahokia PHX. What has been created in that space and fostered is really incredible.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
The Arizona Association for Economic Development is a fantastic organization filled with some of the most gifted economic developers globally. I have never worked with another Board of Directors, especially an Executive Committee, that has been as dedicated to the cause and clear in understanding their role as Directors of the organization. Specifically, Past President Mignonne Hollis, President Lori Collins, President-Elect Wendy Bridges, Vice President Skip Becker, and Secretary/Treasurer Karla Moran.
Brian Kelly (all)