Richmond policy advisor Matt Welch named acting economic development director

Matt Welch

Matt Welch

A city administrator familiar with Richmond’s economic development department has been tapped to temporarily lead it.

Matthew Welch, a senior policy advisor for planning and economic development for the past seven years, has been named acting economic development director following the departure this month of previous director Leonard Sledge.

In a special meeting Monday, the board of directors for the Richmond Economic Development Authority appointed Welch to also serve as the EDA’s executive director and secretary, roles that Sledge also filled. City code requires that the department director also serve as EDA director.

With the appointment, Welch, 39, said he will be focusing solely on economic development and stepping away from his role as senior policy advisor, which he has held since 2017.

A city employee for 13 years and a licensed attorney, Welch previously served six years as an assistant city attorney, providing legal counsel on real estate, economic and community development, procurement, and zoning matters.

Welch said he was identified for the acting director role through discussions with Sharon Ebert, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for economic and community development who oversees the department.

“In talking with Sharon leading up to Leonard’s departure, we thought there was a good chance for me to step in and help us through some of these larger projects,” said Welch, who has advised on the ballpark-anchored Diamond District project and the planned but slow-going City Center redevelopment of the Coliseum area.

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Welch, left, at a press conference in 2019 for Navy Hill, one of several economic development projects he has advised on at City Hall. (BizSense file)

Lincoln Saunders, the city’s chief administrative officer, pointed to Welch’s experience on such projects in describing him as a good fit for the role.

“Matt Welch has been an integral part of the economic development team and heavily involved in delivering game-changing development projects for the City of Richmond including the Diamond District and the Richmond Amphitheater,” Saunders said in a statement.

“His expertise on the subject matter and his can-do attitude will be instrumental in continuing to build on the historic economic developments this administration has delivered. I appreciate his willingness to step up and fill this key position supporting the Economic Development team and the EDA.”

Welch will be leading the department alongside J. Katie McConnell, the department’s deputy director who joined the city two years ago. Welch said McConnell would help run the office side and described the setup as “a good combination to really keep the momentum going with the great work we’ve been doing towards equitable economic development.”

Asked during Monday’s meeting about his priorities for the EDA, Welch noted Diamond District and City Center but also stressed a need to reach out to and support existing businesses in Richmond.

“I’m really excited to work with Katie and the entire team on business attraction and development, thinking about how the department is structured and how we can be more available out in the community for some of the current businesses, not just the big projects,” he told the board.

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Welch fields questions from EDA board members during Monday’s special meeting. (Jonathan Spiers photo)

After the meeting, Welch noted that the acting director role is temporary and that a regular replacement would be decided at a later date.

He fills in for Sledge, who gave notice in April that he was taking a similar role with the City of Hampton. Sledge had led the Richmond department for five years.

Before joining City Hall, Welch worked as a law clerk for Greehan, Taves, Pandak & Stoner in Woodbridge and was a post-graduate fellow in the city attorney’s office for the City of Virginia Beach, according to an announcement.

An Old Dominion University and William & Mary graduate, Welch graduated magna cum laude from ODU with a bachelor’s degree in history and received a law doctorate from William & Mary Law School in 2010, when he also received his state law license.

Welch has filled at least one other temporary position in recent months. Earlier this year, he was named interim FOIA officer for all city departments until individual officers were re-established for each department to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. The move followed the dismissal of a previous FOIA officer who has since filed a $250,000 lawsuit against the city.

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