A closer look at the leaders of AEDC

ATHENS, TX: As stated in last week’s article, it is imperative that EDC’s be responsible financial stewards of the half-cent sales tax they receive to fund the economic growth in their communities.

At its helm, AEDC is fortunate to be led by volunteers that have a clear understanding of what drives and grows the local economy, in addition to its seasoned executive director.

The AEDC Board serves at the pleasure of the Athens City Council to include Mayor Monte Montgomery, Place 1 Councilmember Toni Clay, Place 2 Councilmember Aaron Smith, Place 3 Councilmember/Mayor Pro-Tem Edward McCain and Place 4 Councilmember Robert Gross.

As a Type B Corporation, AEDC’s governing body must consist of a seven-member board, according to Chapter 505.051 of the Texas Local Government Code.

Former AEDC board of directors had the foresight to identify qualifying guidelines to follow when recommending new directors to serve on the board. These guidelines ensure board of directors have the level of knowledge and experience necessary to provide useful input to the board and council when making economic development decisions.

According to AEDC’s bylaws, each director may serve a maximum of three consecutive two-year terms.

Once a director’s term expires, or in the event of an opening due to an unexpired term, the nomination committee vets applications and makes a recommendation to the board. Board approved nominations then go before City Council for final approval and appointment.

Let’s take a look at each of the seven directors that serve on the AEDC board.

AEDC board president Jeaneane Lilly has been on the board since 2014. She and her husband own and operate McDonald’s in Athens, along with 22 other locations in East Texas. Lilly has been an approved owner/operator for 17 years and is actively involved in the Athens community, including Kiwanis Club of Athens, where she served as past president.

As the board president, Lilly says she enjoys serving on the board and collaborating with other board members that are business minded. “All board members bring different strengths to the table,” she said. “We have achieved many milestones and awards based on the decisions we made when spending tax dollars to benefit the city of Athens and its citizens.”

During Lilly’s four-and-a-half-year tenure on the board, she feels the most noteworthy accomplishment is when she and former Athens Mayor, Jerry Don Vaught, traveled to San Jose, California to help entice HVAC Manufacturing to move their business to Athens. “Building relationships with people is the name of the game,” she said. “We let them know how important HVAC was to our community.”

John Trent, AEDC’s vice president, was appointed to fill an unexpired term in 2015. Trent is now serving his second consecutive term on the board.

Since 1984, Trent has been an Allstate Insurance agent in the Athens community. Prior to his career in insurance, Trent began in electrical trade for a construction company, where he advanced to electrical general foreman. During his last two years with the company, he served as power plant inspector and wrote power plant maintenance reports. In addition, Trent has experience in real estate where he was formerly a real estate agent. His experience in these arenas prove invaluable to AEDC and industry construction projects.

Trent is an active member of the community and serves on the City of Athens Civil Service Commission, along with other areas of service such as the Athens Rotary Club, where he served as past president, in addition to serving on the board of the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Henderson County United Way.

Trent said, “our mission is to serve the citizens of our community by cultivating an environment attractive to business enterprises through employing strategies which both recruit new business and support the growth and stability of our existing businesses. We aspire to accomplish this objective without forfeiting the coveted lifestyle we currently enjoy.”

Trent said he believes AEDC’s accomplishments include the “capacity of AEDC to function with the cooperation of our governing body, the Athens City Council, and other public service entities to attract new industry and support those businesses that are currently located here.”

“One example of that cooperation and support is the successful effort of the AEDC to gain Freeport tax exemption for several of our largest employers who had expressed an interest in acquiring this exemption,” he said. “Also, for many of the prospects that we approach, or that reach out to us, one of the first inquiries they make is whether we have a Freeport tax exemption. We believe that this resource will be fundamental for the long-term economic soundness of our community,” said Trent.

AEDC board secretary Carmen Hunt was appointed in 2014 to fill an unexpired term. Hunt is currently serving her third consecutive term on the board.

Hunt and her husband have owned Texas Ragtime, a textile recycling business in Athens, for more than 20 years. She and her husband formerly had a major restaurant franchise that later lead them to Athens, where they started their business.

“I was honored to be invited to join the AEDC board, and it has proven to be challenging, rewarding and interesting. Fellow board members brought a wealth of experience and business background from a broad spectrum of industries; their input proved invaluable to decisions regarding business recruitment and expansion,” Hunt said.

“AEDC has contributed a pivotal role in the funding and acquisition of additional land for the airport expansion, industrial park expansion, investment in labor training programs, as well as its traditional role of assistance with business growth and retention,” she said. “This is the history and tradition of AEDC in Athens, which was supported and fostered by so many city fathers before us. The businessmen and women who serve on the board always look to the future of our city and are dedicated to its growth and prosperity.”

Cliff Barrett, AEDC’s treasurer and longest standing board member, has served on the board since 2013. Having moved to Athens in 1987, Barrett’s former work experiences include insurance and banking. Barrett joined Edward Jones as a financial advisor in 1997, and 22 years later, continues to serve in this capacity. Barrett has been a long-standing member, as well as former president, of the Athens Rotary Club, along with having served as past president of the Methodist Men organization.

“Serving on the AEDC board has allowed me the opportunity to give back to the community by working to assist our existing businesses and to attract new businesses to strengthen the local economy,” he said.

“During my five-and-a-half years on the board, I have had the pleasure of being involved in numerous success stories,” said Barrett. “We are committed to continuing to work with city leaders and citizens in being good stewards of taxpayer money, and in doing so, making sure that Athens continues to have a very bright future.” 

Will Traxson is serving his second consecutive term on the board, after being appointed to fill an unexpired term in 2015. Before moving to Athens seven years ago and purchasing Hannigan Smith Funeral Home, Traxson was the assistant vice president of manufacturing with Eckel Power Tongs.

“The manufacturing experience that Will possesses, from growing up in a family owned machine shop to his time with Eckel Power Tongs, is a great asset when meeting with prospective companies,” said Lisa Denton, AEDC executive director. “His breadth of knowledge adds credibility to the relationships we build with industry clients, both new and existing.”

Traxson is an active member of the community and served as chairman of the Athens Chamber of Commerce from 2012-2013, and was a board member and chair of the Athens Central Business Association.

Although Traxson was unavailable to comment at the time of this article, Barret said “Will has brought a unique set of skills and experience to our board. It was obvious to me from the beginning that he was a quick study, and added valuable perspective to the board’s discussions. As a family man, business owner and community leader, his genuine concern for the welfare of Athens is apparent in the energy and insights he brings to the AEDC board.”

Two of AEDC’s newest board members are Cliff Bomer and Randy Jones.

Bomer was appointed to serve on the board in 2017. He is the senior vice president and regional manager of VeraBank and has extensive experience in finance, with nearly 30 years in banking. Bomer has been actively involved in the Athens community for many years serving on various boards including his time as president of the Henderson County United Way, Cain Center, and Friends of the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center. In addition, his involvement includes other local service organizations, such as the Athens Rotary Club.

“Serving on the AEDC board allows me to be involved in decisions for the community that help with job creation and growing the economic base,” said Bomer.

Athens benefits from AEDC’s service to “provide incentives to companies that bring employment to the community, by providing business assistance grants to help in certain circumstances, and helping to keep employers that are being recruited by other cities, to stay in Athens,” he said.

Jones was appointed to the AEDC board in 2017. He too has broad experience in finance and has worked as a CPA for more than 35 years. Currently, Jones is the chief financial officer and business manager at Athens Independent School District. In addition, he is an active member of the Athens Rotary Club, volunteers with Labor of Love and has served as past treasurer and board member of Henderson County Red Cross.

Jones says, “serving on the AEDC board provides an excellent opportunity to work with a team dedicated to helping vital core businesses remain in Athens, while actively assisting desirable businesses to locate in Athens.”

Overseeing all aspects of economic development for the city is AEDC’s executive director Lisa Denton. Serving in this capacity since 2015, Denton’s managing responsibilities include primary employer retention and expansion, recruitment, marketing, property development and sales, budgeting, project finance and incentives, and property management.

Last year, Denton earned the credential of Master Practitioner through the Advanced Economic Development Leadership Program. She is a graduate of the Basic Economic Development Course at Texas A&M and holds certifications as Economic Development Finance Professional (EDFP), Professional Community Economic Developer (PCED), as well as Business Retention and Expansion Professional (BREP).

Before coming to Athens, Denton was the assistant director of the Kilgore EDC for more than 10 years. She currently is a member and holds positions with the Texas Economic Development Council, East Texas Regional Development Company board member, I-20 Corridor Marketing Association president, Northeast Texas Economic Alliance Marketing Association secretary, Rotary Club of Athens, as well as serving as an ex-officio board member of the Athens Chamber of Commerce.

AEDC’s board of directors are true public servants that volunteer their time to make Athens a better place by serving the community in which they live, using their expertise to grow the Athens tax base by bringing primary jobs and investment to the city of Athens. Looking back through the years, every director has brought great business acumen to the AEDC board, which has helped contribute to the growth experienced in Athens.