Taneshia Nash Laird

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Director of Economic Development, City of Trenton
Trenton, N.J. Age: 37

A famous quote says the pen is mightier than the sword, but little did Taneshia Nash Laird realize that the pen could also open doors. She wrote an editorial in the Trenton Downtowner–just in time for the November 2004 presidential elections–suggesting three approaches the mayor of Trenton, Douglas H. Palmer, could take to revitalize his city. “Mayor Palmer called me a day after the presidential elections,” says Laird, who at the time was a co-founder of a successful real estate consulting firm. “[He] said, ‘My wife shoved this [the editorial] under my nose this morning, and you’re 70 percent right.’”

He suggested she interview for a position that, frankly, she never would have considered. But as the director of economic development for the city of Trenton, she would have an opportunity to help Trenton follow in Atlanta’s and Harlem’s footsteps toward economic revitalization. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

She had put her bachelor of business administration degree from Baruch College to full use, opening her own boutique marketing and public relations firm, The M&M Group, in New York in 1999. Her list of projects included several high-profile new construction developments in Harlem, including 1400 Fifth Avenue, The Hamilton, and Classic Condominiums.

Her entrepreneurial ventures were perfect training grounds for the job of director of economic development, a role in which she leads Trenton’s economic growth through job creation and an expansion of the tax base. She already has a feather in her cap: the Trenton Town Center, a $179 million mixed-use complex that is backed by private investors, including the Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds, one of Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s companies.

Laird and her husband are expecting their first child in August. Her grandparents were South Carolina sharecroppers, and her single mother, Ella Mae Dawson, worked several jobs to give Laird and her brothers a better life in New York. Ella Mae Dawson’s baby girl is doing mighty fine.