Exclusive: Invest Atlanta CEO headed to metro chamber

Invest Atlanta CEO Brian McGowan is leaving the city economic development agency to join the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

McGowan, who joined Invest Atlanta in 2011, has been named the chamber’s chief operating officer and will report directly to the chamber of commerce’s recently appointed president Hala Moddelmog. In addition to leading administrative functions, McGowan will be closely involved in economic development activities.

McGowan’s addition to the chamber executive ranks is part of a raft of leadership changes announced Thursday by the business coalition.

McGowan is the third executive to leave Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration in recent months following the mayor’s November re-election. Former Hartsfield-Jackson International airport manager Louis Miller retired in January, and former city COO Duriya Farooqui left for the private sector later that month.

Searches for their replacements are already underway, with now another position to fill as Reed sets his eyes on ambitious projects including a 2015 infrastructure bond referendum.

“Brian McGowan was instrumental in the re-positioning and growth of Invest Atlanta,” Mayor Kasim Reed said in a news release. “I am confident that he will have continued success at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and believe he will continue to play a vital role in bringing new businesses to the city and the metropolitan Atlanta region.”

As head of Invest Atlanta, McGowan has been charged with economic development, job growth initiatives and oversight of tax allocation district-funded projects like the Atlanta Beltline. Under his leadership, companies including homebuilder PulteGroup, Porsche and Prince Global Sports have relocated corporate offices to Atlanta or announced their intent to do so. The economic development arm also has initiated new efforts to cultivate startup companies and help existing businesses grow.

The agency has also played a crucial role in the new $1.2 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium project, overseeing the issuance of bonds to help finance the stadium — a process now being challenged in court. Invest Atlanta is also charged with administering $15 million in benefit funds to the stadium communities of Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill.

McGowan is a former economic development adviser to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. President Barack Obama also appointed him as a U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce, in which he served as the Chief Operating Officer of the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

“Brian’s leadership reinventing the Atlanta Development Authority into Invest Atlanta demonstrates the kind of creative thinking that MAC needs as we move into year two of our strategic plan,” Moddelmog said in a news release.

The chamber has undergone a transformation of late. Former President Sam Williams retired last year. Williams, who ran the chamber for 17 years, departed after a pair of bruising episodes for the business community — support of Atlanta Public Schools’ leadership despite a cheating scandal and the failed campaign to pass a transportation sales tax in the metro area.

Hans Gant, a 15-year veteran and a senior vice president who led efforts to market the region around the globe, also recently announced his departure.

Chambers in communities including Cobb and Gwinnett counties have grown in strength, and local cities also have become more engaged in economic recruiting, a role in which the metro chamber has long been a prominent player.

McGowan’s move to the private sector could pull the metro chamber tighter to the Reed administration. Reed also has formed a close partnership with Gov. Nathan Deal over economic development.

Also, Thursday, the chamber announced promotions for several high-ranking chamber officials. Katie Kirkpatrick will shift into the role of senior vice president of policy, innovation and entrepreneurship; Chuck Meadows will move into the role of vice president of public policy; Dave Williams will be the vice president of infrastructure and government affairs; and Tanya Dunne will be the chamber’s vice president of communications.

The Chamber is also seeking a chief economic development officer.

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