Keena M. Smith, MPA
Catalyst Strategic Impact Advisors | CEO
* Award-winning DEI strategist
* 25 years of public service experience
* Expert in economic DEI Strategy
Keena M. Smith, MPA is an award-winning DEI strategist whose expertise spans employee/workforce and economic development and entrepreneurial ecosystem building. With over 25 years of public service experience, she is committed to creating spaces and systems in the public, private and social sector where all people feel a sense of belonging and empowered to reach their highest potential.
Before starting her own consulting firm, Catalyst Strategic Impact Advisors, she most recently served as the first Chief Economic Equity and Inclusion Officer for Franklin County, Ohio, the state’s largest county, serving over 1.3 million residents.
She previously served as the county’s first African American woman Deputy County Administrator, overseeing four county agencies, including the new Small and Emerging Business Enterprise Office. Prior to her county appointment in 2017, Ms. Smith worked in Columbus city government for 18 years in various in key DEI leadership positions serving in the administration of the city’s first African American and longest serving mayor, Michael B. Coleman. Throughout her career, she has dedicated herself to developing and executing strategies that engage employees and build wealth in marginalized communities to close racial and gender wealth gaps.
Ms. Smith is recognized for her strategic policy development and leadership on diversity, economic equity and inclusion, economic development and workforce development initiatives. Most recently, she developed and managed Franklin County’s first economic inclusion task force. Members include the County’s most prestigious economic development organizations such as the Columbus Partnership and One Columbus; the region’s largest minority community development organization, the Columbus Urban League; and several of the County’s largest employers such Huntington National Bank. Her additional accomplishments include design of the County’s Construction Inclusion Plan, a community stakeholder engagement program for a $500 million capital project which has resulted in 24% utilization of small and emerging businesses, doubling the projects’ 12% utilization goal. Ms. Smith led the County’s equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem optimization initiative. She was selected as one of just three County representatives from across the country invited to attend the nationally recognized Kettering Foundation’s National Convening of City Managers.
Ms. Smith served for five years as Diversity Officer for the Department of Public Utilities under Mayor Coleman. There she developed and directed implementation of the department’s employee engagement and inclusion platform for the 1200-member, majority union-organized staff, inclusive of development of a diversity scorecard, mentoring, coaching, implicit bias and equity training and succession planning programs as well as Equal Employment Opportunity compliance. She managed a 15-member intra-governmental executive Steering Committee, 10-member community-based Diversity Roundtable and 25-member employee Diversity Committee. Under her leadership staff diversity increased by over 15%. She is especially proud of her efforts that resulted in the promotion of women and African Americans.
Ms. Smith created the department’s economic inclusion & workforce development program for a $2 billion Environmental Protection Agency Sewer Overflow Consent Decree and Green Infrastructure Agreement, for which she was awarded $50,000 implementation grant from Ohio EPA.
A passionate small minority business advocate, Ms. Smith directed the department’s small business economic inclusion and development programs for the agency’s average annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Under her leadership minority- and women-owned business utilization increased by average of 25 -50% annually. Ms. Smith served as the Chief Planner for the Mayor’s Small Business Conference and Expo. She developed content, branding and a marketing strategy that drove every conference to sell-out sales, with attendance increasing of over 120% from the previous year’s event in 2012 (670 participants) and in 2014 set an attendance record of over 1250 participants – the largest in the city’s history. She raised public and private funding support of over $250,000 as well as creating the first Women’s Small Business Conference as part of the suite of programs.
An economic development professional, Ms. Smith has worked on the local and national levels to improve low-wealth communities by leveraging place-based strategies. In Mayor Coleman’s administration as Assistant Director for Neighborhoods and Community Development, she directed a successful multi-agency implementation of a $50M neighborhood Arts and Entertainment District project, leveraging $35M in private sector investments in catalytic housing and job creation in the central city. Revitalization elements included an historic theatre restoration and 72,000 sf of office space development. Facilitating financing strategies including public bonds and New Markets Tax Credits, she attracted new retail development to the area – the first in over 50 years.
Ms. Smith also negotiated with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development the City’s $18M investment and participation in a $52M private mixed-use development project including environmental remediation (brownfield), demolitions, re-zonings, infrastructure improvements and tax incentives. And she led the government relations strategy that engaged multiple stakeholder groups including Columbus City Council, local business community, banks, developers, CHDOs, CDCs, HUD, neighborhood civic and business groups and residents.
On the national level, Ms. Smith used her expertise in community economic development as a subject matter expert as part of a team of national development professionals led by a former Director of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund), part of the US Treasury. She leveraged her extensive project management skills to lead the application management process that resulted in the award of $40 million in extremely competitive and highly coveted federal New Markets Tax Credits for the Kroger Company (Cincinnati, OH) and the Oakland Renaissance Community Development Corporation (Oakland, CA).
Engaging her work in economic equity in her volunteer work, Ms. Smith founded and chairs The Women’s Center for Economic Opportunity, a 501c3, located on Columbus’ near southside neighborhood. Since 2014, WCEO has reached over 1,000 women of color to help them start and grow small businesses by providing financial education that prepares them to access more capital, better customers and larger contracts as s well as inspirational networking events and conferences that help them make the connections they need to succeed.
In 2020, Ms. Smith co-founded The Alliance of Black Businesswomen and Entrepreneurs. ABBE is a statewide coalition of Black businesswomen who have come together during the pandemic to support other Black businesswomen and entrepreneurs. They created the Ohio RISE Survey to measure the impact of COVID-19 on Black women-owned businesses. ABBE’s goals are to elevate the data and the stories of Black women with policy makers, resource distributors and others to access the resources needed to survive the pandemic and thrive beyond it.
Ms. Smith holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, where she also earned a B.A in Economics. She was recognized with the college’s Mary Katchmar Award for Public Service upon her graduation in 1998 and the Outstanding Alumnus award in 2006. Locally, Ms. Smith has served as a Board Member for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the Rebuilding Lives Funding Collaborative for the Community Shelter Board of Central Ohio, Impact Community Action Agency’s Finance committee and currently, the YWCA Advocacy Committee.
She serves as national Director for the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, the country’s largest association of Black government and public-sector officials, located in Washington, DC and she is a co-founder and first president (now past) of the local chapter, NFBPA Greater Columbus.
In 2016, Ms. Smith received the Outstanding Head of Diversity award from Columbus Business First newspaper in their (now) annual, regional Diversity Awards. A certified DiSC facilitator and personal development coach, she is a proud mom of two physicians, Keeanna M. Smith, MD and Stewart A. Smith, MD.