by: Sarah Silberstein / The Independent Liberty Hill
Gilianne “Gili” Carter Thomas, Liberty Hill’s recently hired Community and Economic Development Coordinator, knows how to command a room. Her fiery red hair and boisterous laugh lend themselves perfectly to her larger-than-life personality.
Born and raised in Central Texas, Carter Thomas, the daughter of US Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, has always considered herself to be a “big fish in a small pond.”
At the age of 15, Carter Thomas worked at the Texas Capitol as a messenger and continued to work at the capitol during the summers while pursing a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Texas Tech University.
“I was always interested in politics,” she said. “I wanted to go into the PR side to get a major that I could apply into different areas.”
After earning her degree, Carter Thomas returned to the capitol where she worked as the office manager for House Speaker James E. “Pete” Laney from 1993-1995, Director of Public Affairs Campaign for Pohl Brown & Associates, Inc. from 1995-1996, Chief Committee Clerk for the Texas House of Representative’s Committee on Business & Industry from 1996-1997, and Legislative Assistant to Texas House Parliamentarian for the Texas Legislative Council (TLC) from 1997-1998 before deciding to move to Washington D.C. to “get a federal background.”
In Washington, Carter Thomas worked as Senior Manager of Government Affairs for EzGov Inc. from 2000-2001, Vice President of Public Finance for Bear Sterns & Co, Inc. from 2001-2002, Managing Director of Public Law & Policy Strategies Group (PL&PS) for Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP from 2002 to 2005, Vice President of Government Affairs for The LeMunyon Group from 2005-2006, and Senior Director for Emergent BioSolutions Inc. from 2006-2008.
“Oh I loved it,” Carter Thomas said of her career in D.C. “I made some great friends, had wonderful experiences, learned a lot, and it was wonderful.”
But when the opportunity was presented to fulfill her role remotely as Vice President of Government Affairs with Paxen Learning, Inc., Carter Thomas decided to move back to Central Texas.
“I came to a point in my life where there were things that I was missing,” Carter Thomas said. “It was time to go home, my whole family is here.”
Since returning to Texas, Carter Thomas married and became a mother to twin daughters.
She left her role with Paxen Learning, Inc. in 2011 and founded Carter Thomas Consulting, LLC. She reached out to her old contacts and lobbied one legislative session before deciding to change career paths.
“I discovered that life [politics] wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore,” Carter Thomas said. “I loved it but when I came back [to Texas] I wanted to make a little bit of a change.”
Carter Thomas had thought about economic development previously and decided to meet with Ben White, the Vice President of Economic Development for the City of Round Rock, to learn about his role and duties.
“I discovered it’s very similar to what I’ve been doing,” Carter Thomas said. “You have to convince someone to see it your way and help someone see the process to get to the goal.”
After speaking with White, Carter Thomas became very excited about the possibility of pursuing a career in economic development. When White informed Carter Thomas that Liberty Hill was looking for an Economic Development Coordinator, she immediately called City Hall and began the process of meeting with members of the city council and economic development board.
Carter Thomas was hired as the Community and Economic Development Coordinator for the city of Liberty Hill on Aug. 8. Her $65,000 salary is shared between the city and EDC.
“My position pretty much touches everything— Parks and Rec, developers, businesses,” Carter Thomas said. “My job is to bring everyone in the community together to all get on the same page.”
Despite her lack of economic development experience, Carter Thomas said that the EDC and city council “really liked my political background because they felt it could help the city as far as me knowing the processes.
“They know the growth is coming and they want to embrace it, but they also want to have a say in how their town develops,” Carter Thomas said.
“She has more people skills than anyone I’ve ever met,” City Administrator Greg Boatright said of Carter Thomas at the Aug. 8 city council meeting. “I want this position to help us get the buy-ins from all the different boards, everybody to buy into whatever it is that we’re putting our efforts into.”
Since stepping into her position as Community and Economic Development Coordinator, Carter Thomas has been doing a lot of listening and hopes to enroll in formal training classes to help improve her understanding of the position.
“I work with a bunch of great people; everyone has been so helpful,” Carter Thomas said. “I have gotten a lot of background, a lot of history, on what they’ve [Liberty Hill] had in the past and how they’d like to see it go forward.”
Carter Thomas’ big focus is revitalizing the downtown area and talking with local businesses to see how they’re doing and what the city can do to help. Her next steps will be to market the community to businesses and to develop one, five, and ten year strategic plans for the development of Liberty Hill.
“One day I want to look back and say, ‘I helped put that city on the map,’” Carter Thomas said. “I can say with the people I’m working with, we’re going to do it and we’re going to do it right.”