Four Questions with Emily Mack, Department of Metropolitan Development, City of Indianapolis

Emily Mack is Director of the City of Indianapolis’ Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD), where she oversees city planning and community/economic development projects. Prior to that role, she was a project manager at CORE Planning Strategies, and we’re grateful to continue our relationship with her through collaborative work in the community. We asked Emily to talk about how her experiences have influenced her role in the public sector—and to share a fun fact, too.

Talk a bit about your career path. How have your past experiences shaped your work for the City?

Serving the DMD was coming full circle for me, because my first job out of grad school was working for the department as a preservation planner. After that, I served as a Mayor’s neighborhood liaison under Mayor Peterson. That’s where I cut my teeth to work across disciplines and with communities to solve problems. Later I worked for what is now Downtown Indy as a real estate development manager, focusing on promoting and building up downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. I was called back to city government under Mayor Ballard’s administration and helped start the Office of Code Enforcement—now the Department of Neighborhood and Business Services—as deputy director. After the Super Bowl, I decided to do consulting, then connected with Deb Kunce and landed at CORE. In 2016, I got a call from Mayor Hogsett asking if I’d serve, and you don’t tell the Mayor no! It’s amazing to me how all of those positions connect in some way and have helped me so much in my current role.

How did your experience at CORE prepare you for your role with the City?

At CORE, I expanded my understanding of how companies and nonprofit organizations operate and gained experience in client service—both have been instrumental to my work today.

I worked with a variety of people involved in facility projects—from the owners and lending institutions to the architects, engineers, and contractors. That was incredibly valuable because—when we’re doing a request for proposals or qualifications for infrastructure or facility projects—I can now share perspectives with my staff about how these companies operate. That has hopefully helped my colleagues and helps us, as a local government, provide a better experience to those industries.

In addition, CORE helps clients achieve their ideal facilities or capital improvements, and local government isn’t really that different; the public is our client, and we serve almost one million people every day, 24 hours a day. Like CORE, we’re working in our clients’ best interest to help them meet their goals.

I loved working with the CORE team and their approach to leadership and creative problem solving. I love Deb’s philosophy on teaching and training, both within her own team and with the next generation. CORE always has an intern, and Deb is focused on having them work closely with her so they can learn and gain experience. One of the interns’ assignments is to hire their replacements, which is genius. CORE gets amazing interns who in turn find other amazing people to follow them, and in the process, the interns gain skills in finding quality people, screening applicants, and interviewing candidates.

Based on your experience working for the City, what advice do you have for architecture, engineering and construction firms?

We encourage developers, architects and the design community to push their clients for great design and materials that stand the test of time. That can be difficult because some clients don’t always embrace that. But as a community, we deserve great design to improve our built environment. Our structures are with us for decades, and every time a building goes up, it literally changes the landscape of our city. It’s what set cities apart, and as the 13th largest city in the U.S., we deserve great design for our generation and future generations.

In addition, we’re always available if you have a project you’re thinking about. Consult the City early on, especially if it’s a large or challenging project that requires more coordination and collaboration. That’s the best way to expedite it and avoid some of the challenges. For larger projects, we’ll participate in general coordination meetings and connect the project team with key people from the DMD, Public Works, Business & Neighborhood Services, etc.

Lastly, submit complete applications. That helps avoid frustrations and awkward conversations that happen when we only get some of the information about a project and can’t approve it.

What’s a little-known fact about you?

I’m originally from Huntingburg, a town of 5,000 people in southwest Indiana, and we have a big, historic baseball stadium—now called League Stadium—where the producers of A League of Their Own filmed a portion of the movie. I was 14 or 15 when Hollywood descended on my town and did a call for extras, and I begged my mom to let me go. It was fascinating—they pick your wardrobe and do your hair and makeup and all I had to do was walk by and point. Months later, the movie came out and my friends went to see it, but I couldn’t make it. Later that night, my home phone was blowing up with my friends calling to tell me that I made it into the movie. So, look for me the next time you’re watching A League of Their Own!

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