County names new Economic Development Department director


Ilka McConnell

Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams on Wednesday announced thst Dr. Ilka McConnell has been hired as the new Director of the Economic Development Department. Her first day will be April 1.

An Athens resident, McConnell has worked with the Gwinnett County Government as the Strategic and Economic Development manager since August 2018. In October 2019, she began leading the Gwinnett County Office of Economic Development, where she supported businesses, strengthened the economic vitality of Gwinnett, and piloted new community outreach methods for economically stressed unincorporated areas.

"Ilka brings a wealth of experience in economic development initiatives," Williams said, "and has also been heavily involved in strategic collaborations between government departments and with community partners throughout her career. These skill sets and her knowledge of Athens make her an excellent choice for leading our Economic Development."

Prior to her time with Gwinnett County, McConnell served from June 2016 until August 2018 as vice president of the Economic Development Division at Athens Technical College. In this role, she led efforts to develop and deliver strategic workforce development programs and community continuing education, while also fostering partnerships to support business recruitment and expansion.

"Economic development is about helping communities – including people and businesses – thrive through meaningful work and opportunities to grow," McConnell said. "There is no higher calling than serving your community, and Athens is my home. I am humbled and excited by the opportunity to work with local, regional, and state partners to serve and grow Athens-Clarke County together.

From October 2008 until June 2016, McConnell served as the Hart County Director and Archway Professional with the Archway Partnership, a unit of the University of Georgia’s Public Service and Outreach. In this role, she worked with local community members and groups to address locally-identified needs and opportunities related to planning and future visioning, tourism development, and education and workforce development.

Her career has also included a position as a project coordinator for human resources initiatives with the UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government for three years and in several positions over six years with Primerica, a private sector marketing company that sells insurance and financial services.

McConnell certified as an economic developer by the International Economic Development Council, and is a member of the Georgia Economic Developers Association.

McConnnell is a 2017 graduate of LEAD Athens and served on the Athens-Clarke County Vision Committee, an advisory body for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, from 2011-2013 and the FourAthens Board of Directors from 2017-2019.

A "triple dawg," she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, a Master of Public Administration, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Adult Education from UGA.

McConnell assumes the director position from Ryan Thornton, who served as the Interim director since when former director Michelle Nguyen resigned in December.

Thornton will remain in his role as manufacturing and industry specialist with the department.

"Ryan has performed a stellar job at the helm of the Economic Development Department in this interim period," Williams said.

.The Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Department was established as a department of the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government by ordinance of the Mayor and Commission in 2013. The purpose is to serve as the primary point of contact for industries, large commercial developments, site location consultants, and state economic development organizations interested in developing, expanding, or locating businesses in Athens-Clarke County.For more information on the Economic Development Department, visit www.whyathensga.com or call 706-613-3233.

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