Throughout the PROPEL WOMEN series: Women in Central government, I have had the pleasure of learning much about the lives of women whose stories I may not otherwise have known. However, much of what I will share in this article, I knew prior to my PROPEL interview with Amanda from conversation and firsthand experience.
While her current position suggests otherwise, Amanda Moody originally hoped to pursue a career into crime scene investigation. As Amanda began her studies in Forensic Anthropology at Louisiana State University, she also worked through the massive culture shock marked by the transition from Bethany Christian School to LSU. “I graduated with 26 people in my class,” she explained, “Bethany was a very small, private school that had very strict rules. Coming from that environment into a completely secular, liberal university environment really makes you question your world views.”
With rising costs of university tuition, deciding your life path at eighteen years old is emphasized now more than ever, which is problematic for many high school graduates who may be academically inclined but unsure of their path or for those better suited to a technical trade skill than a learned collegiate study. Moody felt the effects of this conundrum, as many do, when she realized she did not want to pursue a career in her field of study. “I pretty much knew by my junior year that what I had wanted to do with the education I was getting really wasn’t going to get me there, but I was already so deep in it,” she explained, “I was ready to finish at that point.” Later, this conflict helped drive her passion for workforce development. “There is a lot to be said for just having a saleable skill set,” she explained. Though she did not ultimately pursue a career in Forensic Anthropology, she remarked that anthropology gave her the background to build a marketable set of people and communication skills.
In 2007, Moody began her career in Economic Development as Special Projects Coordinator for the Baton Rouge Area Digital Industries Consortium or BRADIC, which was a cooperative endeavor focused on recruiting digital media companies to the Baton Rouge Area. “You really had to fight for your voice to be heard, as a woman, as a young woman,” she said, “Especially here in Louisiana, you kind of face that ‘good ole boy’ mentality.” Despite working in an historically male-dominated field, she finds strength in her more traditionally feminine qualities. “Women are more emotional than men,” Moody asserted, with the same conviction someone might say, ‘the sky is blue.’ She continued, “They don’t like to hear that, but it’s true, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think it gives women more empathy and compassion when leading.”
In 2010, BRADIC restructured and Amanda's position shifted under LSU's Center for Computation and Technology. “When I first started, I hadn’t been out of college long,” she explained, “People always underestimated me, but you can’t be afraid to speak your mind.” Her outspokenness and dedication to her work gained her the respect of higher authorities and a reputation for boldness.
Anyone who has conversed with Moody for more than a minute knows very well that she is not afraid to speak her mind. “I come from a family of strong, independent women,” she explained, noting her grandmother as a huge influence. “She was sort of born before her time. She was born in the twenties and went through these eras of women really not having certain opportunities, but she went to college. She got her education. She became a teacher, and she always worked.” As she grew up, Amanda’s grandmother, like many of our grandmothers, offered bits of wisdom. “If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times,” Moody said, recalling the words of her grandmother “Act like you’re somebody. Be somebody. Be about something.” Her own mother was a homemaker. “She is extremely independent and headstrong,” Moody said, describing her mother, “so I got to see both worlds.”
As her career and family life blossomed, Amanda Moody balanced promotions, pregnancy and marriage. “There was a period of my life where I was pregnant at some point during the year for five years straight,” she said, “It was extremely competitive field… you’re expected to travel and work these long extended hours and when you’re pregnant, you’re sort of seen as not being as dedicated, so it was challenging at that point.” In 2011, Amanda was promoted to Manager of Economic Development. “By the time I worked my way up, I was managing the entire department of Economic Development for the center, which is a multi-million dollar research facility,” Moody said, reflecting on her professional achievement, “However, for women, even though they may be working and have a profession, half of their heart is with their family and their kids. So no matter where you’re at, you always feel like your attention should be somewhere else.”
In May of 2013, she decided to take a step back and began working with her husband in his company. “I had a three year old, a two year old, and newborn,” she remarked, “so it was extremely difficult to juggle.” While this change allowed her more time at home, she felt that having a career was integral to her identity as a woman and to her appeal as a wife to her husband. “He’s always supported me, especially in my career,” she explained, “That’s one of the reasons why he was attracted to me in the first place. I was independent. I had a career. I was working toward something.”
Earlier this year, Mayor Jr. Shelton assembled an economic development committee for the City of Central. “Mayor Shelton had knowledge of my experience and asked me to participate,” Moody explained. At the first meeting, the Economic Development Committee collectively asked Amanda to spearhead the initiative and become Director of Economic Development. On February 23, 2016, the City Council passed a resolution to hire Amanda Moody as an independent contractor who provides economic consulting services for the City of Central.
Because her children were older and enrolled in school and daycare respectively, accepting the consulting position as Economic Development Director for the City of Central was simple. “It’s not often that you have the opportunity to make a difference in the place you live and the place you raise your kids,” she said, “I did grow up in Central too. It’s a friendly place, you know, I brag on it all the time. If my car broke down on the side of the road, there would be someone to stop and help me within ten minutes, and you don’t get that everywhere.” Furthermore, she knew the challenges of starting a new business in Central and wanted to help the city reach its full potential. “You can sit here and complain about it,” she stated, smiling, “or you can do something about it.” The amount of attention her position has garnered has surprised Amanda, especially since she is not a public official. “Economic Development programs are happening in every municipality across the US. I’m like a worker bee, and my comfort zone is definitely in the background, so this position has definitely pushed me way beyond the boundaries of my norm,” she said laughing.
Since mid-summer, I have shared an office with Amanda at City Hall. I have watched as she has filled her enormous white board with strategic plans for business recruitment, workforce development, business retention and city events. Fluffy though that list of words may sound, her effect on Central is tangible. The Birthday Bash transformed from an idea over a Subway sandwich to an event attended by over one thousand citizens. The old library building on Hooper Road will likely become a children’s museum in 2017 because of her efforts. She has cultivated strong partnerships with groups like BRAC and strengthened the connection with local, environmentally friendly agencies like BREC. Amanda has worked with BRCC and CHS to highlight workforce development opportunities within Central and showcase the educational assets that make Central competitive and viable. Amanda puts it simply: “Economic development is about promoting the wealth of a community and having a sustaining, long lasting economy. It’s really just supporting that. It’s not about the community growing as it is understanding the challenges that we face as a community and correcting them.”
Over the past ten months, Amanda has navigated through the tenuous facets of city politics and business development with incredible energy and leadership skills. “You have to have a vision,” she began, “You have to give people the freedom to do what they do, and foster an environment of creativity and allow people to excel. You have to let people live in their strengths.” She has enjoyed working with the City Council and Mayor Shelton whom she regards fondly: “Mayor Shelton is probably one of the most empowering, supportive, respectful men I’ve worked with. He’s the opposite of sexist, whatever that word is <see feminist>,” Amanda said, laughing.
As Amanda has journeyed from an entry-level coordinator to the Director of Economic Development of a municipality, an onlooker would likely deem her successful. However, Moody feels that it is vital to continuously strive for betterment, no doubt a result of her commitment and unabashed stubbornness. “Success is about whatever goal you set for yourself, whatever that is, and if you’re achieving that or not,” she said, “People value different things, but I’ve always been sort of a career driven person, so my success is having that balance between reaching certain goals in my career and having a happy healthy family life.”
Throughout everything, faith holds the most important position in her life. “My faith defines me because I think, first and foremost, before you answer to your boss or a husband, you answer to the good Lord,” she said. “I try to approach everything in my life in the light of of my prayer and faith. Am I always successful? No. I’m human. I would never claim to be perfect. But I serve the One who is!” Prior to her acceptance of the position, Amanda and her husband participated in a twenty-on day prayer fast and completed an in-depth study on the book of Nehemiah. “I kind of think of Nehemiah as the first economic developer,” she explained, “He spearheaded the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, and he managed food distribution to help bring the city back to life. The types of things a modern day Economic Developer might do.” That study of Nehemiah helped Amanda to decide on accepting the contract with the City of Central. “I grew up in Central and was aware of the history and intricacies of Central becoming a City. I knew the political ins and outs, and was aware of how politically divisive many issues can be in Central. Nehemiah was someone who faced much opposition, in the form of lies, accusations, and intimidation. There was much political divisiveness surrounding his accomplishments.” She has found great comfort and inspiration in the story of Nehemiah, especially in the passage of Nehemiah 6:1-9.
Her passion is for the children in the Louisiana Foster Care System. She volunteers her time to serve as Foster Care Events Coordinator for His Heart for Orphans and The Louisiana Heart Gallery, and has previously been a volunteer for the A21 campaign's Shine Program. It was through the Shine Program that she became aware of the programs created by Christine Caine, an international evangelist and pioneer in women’s ministries. Caine’s program for women in leadership, Propel Women, caught Amanda’s attention and sparked her interest in partnering with a faith based group to bring a local chapter to the Central Area. “At lunch one day with my dear friend Angie Roberson, who is also the youth pastor at Blackwater UMC, we talked about this program and dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have an organization like this for women to have a place to get encouragement and to foster their passion, potential, and purpose, especially in a faith based setting,” Amanda explained, “We can’t wait for the first meeting and for this group of women to come together.”
Please contact Amanda for further information regarding the PROPEL women’s luncheon.