City hires economic development and mobility directors

Published on May 09, 2024

A photograph of City Hall taken at dawn.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Following an extensive nationwide search, today City Manager Mark Washington announced two new hires to fill director positions on the City’s administrative team. Sarah Latta Rainero, a 16-year veteran at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), fills the City’s vacant economic development director position. Jessica Smith, a 15-year transportation professional at a private engineering firm in Anchorage, Alaska, fills the City’s vacant Mobile GR director position.

Economic Development Director Sarah Latta Rainero Economic Development Director Sarah Latta Rainero

Sarah Latta Rainero, an experienced leader at the State of Michigan will return home to lead Grand Rapids’ economic development efforts as the City’s next director. At the MEDC, Rainero has served a variety of roles ranging from managing director of regional development to regional director and manager for the community assistance team, as well as starting out as a brownfield specialist. Her roles included administratively shepherding deals to approval for statewide programming (grants/loans/brownfield tax increment financing), championing investment, driving policy and serving State customers across 32 Michigan counties. Rainero cultivated complex real estate transactions, like the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. She also led a statewide field team for placemaking projects in some of Michigan’s fastest growing counties, for both the business and community development portfolios. Rainero has covered West Michigan in her MEDC territory for the past 14 years. During that time, she collaborated with developers and community stakeholders across many projects, including the transformational riverfront projects of the amphitheater and soccer stadium.

Her selection is a homecoming of sorts as Rainero grew up in Kentwood and, for the past two years, has volunteered on the board of directors for Uptown, Inc. Uptown is the fiduciary for planning and corridor management in four neighborhood districts in Grand Rapids. She also sits on The Rapid’s Transit Master Plan Steering Committee.

City Manager Mark Washington said the City is fortunate to have such an experienced state-wide leader join the City’s team of eight economic development professionals.

“Sarah has a solid understanding of the State toolbox and can help our City team continue its excellent work in navigating the development process and encouraging economic growth. Our team is in the midst of assisting in the development of several transformational projects. I’m confident that under her leadership, the team will continue to successfully pursue our objectives of inclusive, equitable economic development with all who seek support and guidance through the process of starting or growing business or other economic opportunities in Grand Rapids.”

Rainero said she is excited to leverage her skillset to further advance the "wins" the economic development team has made on behalf of the City.

“I am thrilled to join the City in this capacity and eager to have more of an impact in my backyard,” she said. “My work at Uptown Inc., ignited a passion to be more ingrained at the City level. This service has afforded me an opportunity to get more involved locally with the business community and weigh in on investments in my favorite ‘place.’ It’s an awesome opportunity for me to take my career and passion to the next level - locally. In addition, I want to help move my hometown of Grand Rapids forward with the vision to be more equitable and welcoming. Getting more faces in the economic pipeline of projects can overlay the city's priority to use incentive tools to help create truly equitable economic development.”

Rainero earned a Master of Public Policy and Administration in Urban Studies and a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from Michigan State University.

Mobile GR Director Jessica Smith Mobile GR Director Jessica Smith

Jessica Smith, a native of North Carolina, comes to Grand Rapids fresh from her role as a transportation planning manager with DOWL Engineering based in Anchorage, Alaska. For the past decade she has headed up a transportation planning team that acts as augmented staff to DOWL clients at the Federal Highway Administration, Departments of Transportation in five states, and several municipalities. She pivoted into transportation planning and policy work for public agencies early in her career after working a few years as a roadway/bridge designer and asset management researcher. For the last 15 years, Smith split her time between public service and consulting for public agencies in communities from Florida to North Carolina to Alaska. In her various roles, Smith has served as business development leader, performance and development consultant, chief of planning/deputy director, senior transportation planner, communications and public involvement manager, transportation engineer/planner, and an instructor and research assistant.

Washington said Smith is a strategic, collaborative transportation leader with experience in developing long range transportation plans, corridor studies and capital improvement plan development.

“Jessica will be an asset and will help Mobile GR and its mission to expand people's mobility choices here in Grand Rapids,” he said. “She has deep expertise in creating processes and programs that increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and positively impact people and organizations. I am confident that she will deliver transformational, operational concepts for the City of Grand Rapids and help us continue to drive a positive impact.”

Smith said she is ready for this new challenge and has an ardent desire to return to public service after five years in transportation consulting.

“The successful and progressive work the Mobile GR department is doing for the community is the ideal opportunity for the next chapter of my public service career,” she said. “I find my most significant contribution to the communities I serve is leading a team where I get to engage, inspire, and direct the work of passionate professionals around transportation systems design, policy, planning and implementation.

“Individual mobility is one of the most difficult yet integral challenges facing transportation professionals today. I am excited to join the Grand Rapids team and its advancement towards equity in mobility options. I am inspired that Grand Rapids has heard this cry for individual mobility and recognizes a dynamic, successful city can only grow if we take everyone with us on that path. I want to collaborate with people who aspire to and pursue a thriving community for all.”

Smith earned a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Specific start dates for each director are not confirmed at time of announcement.


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