Professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Former Community Developer at the Federal Reserve Bank
Milliken is your maiden name, a name rich with Southern and textile history. Where did the family name originate?
The Millikens have been in North and South Carolina since 1697 when they came over from Ireland and Scotland.
Is there a responsibility with the Milliken name?
There is, and I think the family fulfills it well in terms of sustainability and philanthropy, no matter where they are in the country.
Is the Milliken heritage the reason you’ve kept your maiden name?
My husband’s name is equally special to him and well respected in his home state of Mississippi. When we married, I had already published material in my maiden name, so I felt it was important to keep my name.
Who had the greatest influence on you growing up and why?
My dad was in the construction business. I spent a lot of time on work sites helping him with time sheets. I met his employees and other people that worked for him, and along with that, learned some of the crafts involved in home building and historic preservation. My father taught me a major lesson: you might be a girl, but you can do anything you want.
You were very young, age 23, when you lost your father to brain cancer. Because he had such an influence on you, did it shake your world?
It did. He provided structure in our lives. He told me I could break new ground and do things that had not been possible for women before. I still carry that with me. I had enough time with him that the knowledge is engrained in me.
And your mother was a traditional homemaker?
Your father raised a strong woman, saying you can be and do anything, and yet his personal choice was more traditional?
It is interesting. Nurturing is equally important. I learned that from my mom by the way she took care of the family. I learned to read long before I went to school, and she was there as a reinforcement, motivating me and pushing me just like my father.
You are married with no children, other than your fourlegged adoptees? Tell me about your pet bull.
I have a pet bull. I regularly adopt and rescue animals, mostly dogs and cats. I did happen upon a situation with a little bull. I really fell in love with him and wanted him to live out his life on a farm.
How old is he now?
He is four.
Is he very trainable?
He is. I have videos of him. He responds. He’s like a very large dog. He’ll come when you call him and run along beside you. But you must be careful because he’s about 2,000 pounds.
Does he love you?
Yes, I believe he does. He definitely responds to my voice.
And does he respond to anyone as much as you?
If someone has honeysuckle vines, that’s pretty much the way to his heart. He responds to food equally well.
Do you foster animals, adopt or both?
We are failed fosters. Every time we foster, we end up adopting. Therefore, we have four dogs.
What did you do between college and post-graduate school?
After undergrad, I worked for a little while as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., which probably heightened my interest in going back to grad school. I then attended the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and enrolled in the graduate school’s public administration and public policy program.
What did the stint as lobbyist entail?
I lobbied for small oil and gas producers located primarily in the South, many of which were in Louisiana and Texas. Several were family businesses run by women who had worked their way up through the ranks to the highest level.
For the four years you lobbied in D.C., how did Senator Long help you define your interests in tax?
As I lobbied, I learned the Tax Code from senators who knew it quite well including Russell Long from Louisiana. I’m a little bit nerdy in terms of reading Tax Code. Senator Long and other Senators definitely took an interest and helped me understand the tax structure while also introducing me to some attorneys in D.C.
What year was it, and how many female lobbyists were in D.C?
That was 1986. There were only 22 registered female lobbyists. Now there are about 600.
Did you know many of the female lobbyists?
Yes. I was 23, and the youngest registered female lobbyist. I met all the other women when we had to wait in line for pay phones to call back to our offices. Any tips that you got or any cuts in line would come from that tiny group of women.
Did you make lifelong relationships with any?
I did. Today, there is a group in D.C. called Women in Government Relations that formed from that very small group of female lobbyists.
Are any still in play from 1986?
They are. A lot of them are still working, although most are probably not lobbying now.
Do they still convene in that group?
They do. The group has more than a thousand members now.
Do you ever participate?
I’m still a member, and I still attend events.
What prompted you to leave a successful lobbying career and head to graduate school?
I learned in Washington that a graduate degree would be invaluable in analyzing legislation and making policy impact. I came back to Chapel Hill and worked as an economist at the Research Triangle Institute while I was getting my degree. During the day, I went back and forth between work and graduate school classes. It was the best decision I ever made. I used my graduate schoolwork to enhance my job, and I used my job as examples in graduate school.
You were married just after graduate school. Can you give us some details for perspective, like your age when you married, where your husband lived and what is his occupation?
I was 27. He had been in Atlanta but then moved to Charleston, SC. He is a banker.
After you graduated from graduate school in ’91, what did you do?
I went to work for a large nonprofit called the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center.
When did you start contemplating a foray into politics?
The idea has probably always been there. All during school, I ran for office. I interned for Congressman Charlie Rose, my hometown Congressman. I was canvassing in seventh and eighth grade for him. The Rural Center was started by a group of politicians. When I went to work there, I traveled to all 100 North Carolina counties, meeting each county’s leadership. This continued to build and heighten my interest in politics.
When was your first run for public office?
That was in 1993. I lived in Knightdale, a small town outside of Raleigh, N.C. I went to a town council meeting to help negotiate a resolution to an issue between neighbors and the police about speed limits. It was not my intent to run for office, but a week later, there was a vacancy on the council, and I was appointed to fill that vacancy. I ran after that.
And your husband was comfortable with the campaigning?
Campaigning for me, absolutely. My whole family campaigned for me.
What did he think about you entering politics?
He loved it. He’s from a much more political family than I am. His dad was a judge, his grandfather had been in the Mississippi Legislature, and his grandmother was one of six women in the Legislature in the ‘60s. She took her husband’s seat when he passed away, and later, she ran. So, he loved it.
And super proud of you doing it?
Very proud. Called himself the First Man. Loved it. Very comfortable.
Does he ever talk to you about getting back into politics?
All the time. He thinks I should run for Governor. His latest is he thinks I should run for President. He is very supportive.
Is life serendipity, or is it will?
It is a lot of serendipity. In my job now, I find that you can’t replace the serendipity that occurs.
Is that God?
You became a City Council member. When did you become Mayor?
When I ran for office, I ended up being the only woman that ran and won. When the Mayor was elected to the County Commission, I was appointed to fill that office. I struggled with being Mayor because I had to control the council with a gavel. I had no vote. I think my professional training probably put a burden on the manager. But that really is when I learned to do a lot of the creative financing that I do in my position today.
What is the population of Knightdale?
The population, when I first was appointed, was 500. The population now is about 14,000. So, that was a period of rapid growth.
How did you campaign? Old style, “door to door” or digital?
It was old versus new because of the rapid growth. The people that were the originals in town really expected you to go door to door. And so, I went door to door. I also decided to try something new and was the first person on a local level to do mailers. I still did my walking, and by going door to door, I knew everybody in town and knew something about them. They knew me. When they came into the chambers, I could call people by name. I knew where they lived. I knew what they were interested in. You know the old saying, “how you express yourself is what really makes an impression on people.” Knowing their names really made an impression on people.
You served for more than 10 years as Mayor and left in 2007. Why?
I left because while it is a part-time job, it can easily become a full-time job. I was also working for a Chief Justice during that time as his special assistant.
How did that come about?
When I was at the Rural Center, I worked with former Governor Bob Scott who introduced me to the person who had just become Chief Justice. He wanted a special assistant, a public information person. The position later turned into a lobbyist for the Court system. The General Assembly in North Carolina was once dominated by attorneys, but at that time, it was down to about 15 attorneys in both chambers. He felt it would be better to have a non-attorney explain the Court’s budget to the General Assembly.
How did your constituents handle the decision to leave your post as Mayor in 2007?
They were fine. At that point, the town had grown. Although I encouraged women to run, I am sad to say there hasn’t been another woman elected since then.
Was there the dirtiness that you see today?
Not at all. It was very civil, like what I experienced in Congress in the late ‘80s. Very civil.
Do you pay attention to the political divisions and the consequential negativity?
Always. Because in my job today, I meet with members of Congress, their staff attend my events, and I brief City Councils and work with them. So, I very much take notice, but I try to stay above the divisiveness and set an example for how it really should work.
Does it affect and bother you to watch the discord?
Yes. It is almost to the point where it is difficult to maintain friendships. Because it’s so divisive, you find a lot of decisions are made in terms of one upping or out strategizing the other side, instead of basing the decisions on policy.
Can that be changed?
I think it could be changed if a whole new set of people ran for office, were elected and made that their number one goal.
Let’s talk about women in leadership roles, specifically in politics.Why don’t women enter politics?
I think it’s because women tend to be negotiators. They want to find the middle ground, and the middle ground’s not popular or electable right now. So, everything’s being driven to the extreme. There are a majority of people who want to consensus, but their voices are drowned out by the opposition.
And is that what keeps you from getting back into politics?
Yes. Who wants to spend 70 hours a week being attacked over the length of your hair or what you wear? I did TV shows, and my correspondence from women was so much crueler than it was from men. Your whole persona is attacked. Who can really focus on policy when you are faced with these attacks? I want to work in a more positive environment.
Between 2007 and 2014, what did you do?
I worked for the Courts, and then I had my own business. I was a lobbyist and an economic developer.
You joined the Federal Reserve Bank in 2014. Working in such an expansive private-sector institution is a big shift. Can you explain your role in layman’s terms?
The Federal Reserve Community Development was created because when the Community Reinvestment Act passed in 1977, part of a series of pieces of Legislation; it focused on redlined neighborhoods. We were created to help banks and help communities navigate the Community Reinvestment Act. Every bank, no matter its size, has an obligation under the CRA. This does not include credit unions. The way the Community Reinvestment Act works is you can leverage it with all the other tools of the Tax Code. This whole field of community economic development has come into being as a subset of economic development.
What banks or other institutions have a strategic position like the one you have with the Federal Reserve Bank?
All 12 Federal Reserve Banks have the function. The Banks work together as a system. The FDIC is another regulator, and they also work on this. Then, in Treasury, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has a role in it as well.
How many of these positions exist in these institutions?
Less than 200.
From a practical standpoint, you go into communities and “fill in the blank?
”The Federal Reserve’s focus is on low and moderate-income communities. They work with the banks to help the banks figure out how they can invest and lend and offer services. They go into the community to make sure they understand what the bank can do. So, together, they can make an investment connection.
The Federal Reserve Bank role is what exactly?
The Federal Reserve Bank has a monetary policy function and there is a payment system function. They are a regulator. So, on one side of our Reserve Bank, individuals regulate the banks. Community Development serves as a bit of a liaison for community banks and their own examiners.
So, when you are in a presentation, who is the audience?
The audience can be local government, community groups, banks, different types of investors, institutional, social impact investors.
Who has the largest stake?
It’s really all of them. Local governments are still learning about how this works. The banks obviously know because they are required to find out what they can invest in in a community. And then the communities and investors, that in general, are just now learning that this option exists.
Who is your primary customer?
Probably banks and the community at large.
That’s what I was thinking.
Yeah, it’s kind of 50/50.
And the investors?
The investors, more because of Opportunity Zones. In the past three or four years, as they’ve learned about the investment side of CRA, they’ve entered the picture more and more.
The Opportunity Zones sunset in 2027. Where is the program today, and can you predict long-term?
There are 8,700 plus zones. I think we’ll probably have projects in 2,000 of those zones in five years. There will still be tax breaks until the sunset, but probably in the next four years, as the first investors maximize their benefits and kind of lock in on their projects, you will see the most activity.
Are there any current success stories?
Oh, yes. Rock Hill, South Carolina is a success story. They already had development going in. They already had investment, but they’re able to use that Opportunity Zone and add to the development that they’re doing.
Had the Opportunity Zone not come about?
They would still be able to do it, but I think some elements have made it financially easier for the city to accomplish projects that are critical, like adding parking, for example.
In three years, will you be doing this?
I will be doing an iteration of this, but I won’t be doing exactly what I’m doing now because my passion is in social impact investing. I will be explaining to corporations and foundations how they can achieve the same types of results financially by working on the social and environmental side. It’s just that the evaluation looks slightly different.
What is social impact, and can you give me examples?
A social impact would be one that invests in a longer-term solution to a problem and yields some social or environmental returns in exchange. Examples of social impact can be found in programs – reemploying the formerly incarcerated, early childhood development, generational workforce development (children and parents) and affordable housing/workforce housing and healthy communities.
Is that a private or public sector?
It is both private and public. It usually takes some combination of funding. So, on the public side, tax credits and subsidies, but private investment and philanthropy will be a huge piece of it. There have been several initiatives to bring national foundations into the South, and that’s starting to happen. Soon, there will be more investors. Hospital systems and corporations are next. In most cases, it is 50/50.
Without the private sector, is it possible?
No, it is not scalable and really not possible to make that transformation.
And without the public sector, is it possible?
It probably is possible but a lot more difficult because the sectors leverage each other.
Is social impact in the South where you are focusing the rest of your life’s energy do you think?
I think in terms of transforming Southern communities to make sure that the structure and the ability to have good jobs and acquire wealth for a changing population is pretty critical. If we want to see this country flourish into the next century, and these communities to be strong communities, then it’s essential that we remake a lot of them. The South just has some of the more difficult situations.
Concentrated poverty in areas, laws that were passed over decades that really restricted ability to acquire wealth or keep wealth or even the lack of proper education and skills.
Was it done purposefully do you think?
I think in some communities it was absolutely done purposefully. In others, it may have just been replicating what was being done at the time. But it was done without a lot of foresight.
How long will it have to be tackled before there is a fair playing ground for everyone in the South?
I think 20 or 25 years before there’s some common ground. Depending on immigration issues, with newcomers into the country, the cycle easily will repeat itself.
If you could ask God one question, what would it be?
Why are there so many people in poverty in the United States of America in 2019?
What piece of advice would you give a young woman that’s breaking into a world where they have real opportunity to make change?
When you go into communities, really get to know the people, know the history, and know the context. Do that very slowly so that you build trust, and then you can gradually assert yourself as a leader. You cannot lead unless you know the context of the conditions and know the history.
How do you build trust?
By talking with people, making sure you show them your authentic self and what your goals and aspirations are and investing time in them.
Can you build trust without time?
It is easier with time, but I think you can. If you walk the talk, then you can acquire the trust pretty quickly.