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Latin American Coalition leader leaving for Google Fiber job

Jess George, the executive director of the Latin American Coalition since 2009, told the agency she will leave April 17, and will start as community impact manager with Google Fiber on April 20.
Jess George, the executive director of the Latin American Coalition since 2009, told the agency she will leave April 17, and will start as community impact manager with Google Fiber on April 20. Observer file photo

The head of Charlotte’s Latin American Coalition is resigning to take the lead role in reaching lower-income communities as Google Fiber rolls out new service in Charlotte.

Jess George, who has been executive director since 2009, told the agency she will leave April 17, and will start as community impact manager with Google Fiber on April 20.

In January, Google announced that Charlotte was one of four metro areas chosen to be next in installing Google Fiber, which the technology giant says is 100 times faster than regular broadband.

George’s role with the company will be to help overcome the “digital divide,” which describes the gap between well-to-do people and those who struggle for access to high-speed Internet. Providing access to reliable, affordable technology is considered to be one of the keys to breaking poverty cycles.

In the original Google Fiber rollout in 2012 in Kansas City, the company’s approach to selecting neighborhoods drew criticism. Higher-income white neighborhoods were meeting the registration requirements while lower-income primarily black neighborhoods were not.

Google and the community took steps to reduce that gap in Kansas City, and negotiations for the move into Charlotte have included access for lower-income neighborhoods.

George’s new job is part of the plan.

“I will be working directly with community members to address the issue of trying to close the technology gap,” George said.

“My role will be to make sure all communities across Charlotte understand how to advocate for digital inclusion. I think Google is committed to bridging the digital divide and was looking for someone with a social justice background.”

“Social justice” has defined George’s role for more than a decade as she’s worked with the Charlotte region’s fast-growing Hispanic community via the Latin American Coalition, a United Way agency.

During her tenure, the coalition has grown exponentially. From a staff of four and an annual budget of $200,000 in 2004, the organization is now North Carolina’s largest immigrant justice organization, with a team of 18 and a budget of $1.1 million.

The coalition also has become more assertive in state and local issues. It has been a part of the city’s Immigrant Integration Task Force that was created to find ways Charlotte can be more welcoming of immigrants. The task force recently presented the Charlotte City Council with a list of strategies, including the creation of an official municipal ID.

The coalition’s board has chosen staff member Lacey Williams as interim director of the agency. A deadline has not been set for selecting George’s permanent successor.

“During Jess’ years as executive director, she enhanced the organization’s reputation as a leader in immigrant justice,” agency board chair Michael Wong said in a statement.

“Jess will truly be missed, but she has left (the coalition) immeasurably stronger.”

George is Google Fiber’s first major external hire in Charlotte. Google employee Mary Ellen Player recently became Associate City Manager for Charlotte. The company’s web site shows an opening for a city manager and a handful of other positions.

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