2023 Conference Speakers


Civil Rights Director, Mississippi Department of Transportation

Carolyn Bell currently serves as Civil Rights Director for the Mississippi Department of Transportation. She has held various positions in state government for the past 36 years with the Department of Education, State Personnel Board and now MDOT for the past 30 years. The last 22 years as Civil Rights Director for MDOT, her division is responsible for all the civil rights functions of the agency to include the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Contract Compliance, On-the-Job Training (OJT) Program, Title VI, and American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA) Program. She graduated the Certified Public Manager Program in June, 2007. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix.



Rans Black has over 28 years’ experience with the FAA’s Airports Division, having served in staff and management positions in both the Atlanta and Jackson Airport District Offices. He has been the manager of the Jackson Airports District Office (JAN-ADO) since 2003. The JAN-ADO assists communities with the planning and development of 150 airports in Alabama and Mississippi to ensure a safe and efficient system of airports. His work experience also includes 6 years as an Army Officer and 2 years as an airport engineering consultant. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, a registered professional engineer, and a private pilot.


Assistant Adjutant General and Commander, Mississippi Air National Guard

Major General Barry A. Blanchard is responsible to the Adjutant General for directing Air National Guard operations, formulating, developing, and coordinating all programs, policies, and plans ensuring the mission readiness of the 172d Airlift Wing, 186th Air Refueling Wing, and the Combat Readiness Training Center.

General Blanchard was commissioned through the United States Air Force Academy in May 1992. He attended Undergraduate Pilot Training at Columbus Air Force Base and received his wings in August 1993. He then attended Graduate School at Texas A&M University earning a Master of Science degree in December 1994. He served eleven years active duty as a C-17A Instructor/Evaluator, Air Mobility Command and Air Education and Training Command, before joining the Mississippi Air National Guard. He currently has 19 years in the MSANG and has held command at all levels of the 172 AW. A Command/Evaluator pilot with more than 4400 hours in the C-17A, General Blanchard has participated in Operations SOUTHERN WATCH, ALLIED FORCE, ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM, NEW DAWN, served two tours as Director of Mobility Forces supporting domestic hurricane relief, and served as Dual Status Commander JTF-MS supporting COVID operations in Mississippi. Prior to assuming his current position, he was the Chief of Staff, Mississippi Air National Guard, Jackson, Miss.


Aviation Director, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development

Bradley Brandt is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a bachelor’s degree in Aviation Management and a master’s degree in Aeronautics. Additionally, he has earned an Aviation Law Diploma from the International Air Transport Association.

Brad began his aviation career in 1998 in Airport Operations at the Denver International Airport. He then relocated to Louisiana with the W.D. Schock Company where he managed the Noise Mitigation Program for the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. He joined the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development’s Aviation Division in 2001. He currently serves the aviation community in Louisiana as the Aviation Director for DOTD where he serves with a staff of 11 administering a $1.3 million Operations Budget and a $28.5 million capital outlay construction budget.

Brad served as a member of the National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO), where he held numerous positions with the organization as a Regional Director for the Southwest Region, Chairman of the Finance Committee, and Chairman of the NASAO Center for Aviation Research and Education. He also served as Chairman of the NASAO Board of Directors in 2017. He also serves as chairman of the Louisiana Drone Advisory Committee.

He is married to his wife Julie of 23 years. They have twin boys. One is a junior in college at Full Sail University and the other is serving in the United States Air Force in Washington, D.C.

Mary Geter

DBE Specialist

Mary Geter is a dedicated and results-oriented professional passionate about ensuring inclusion concerning minority and disadvantaged businesses in the aviation industry. With over a decade of experience in business management, construction, and contract management, Mary brings a wealth of knowledge to the operational process of aviation. Her keen eye for detail, analytical mindset, and thorough understanding of legal and regulatory frameworks make her an instrumental asset. She is committed to upholding DOT’s commitment to ethical contracting, ensuring the highest quality, safety, and fairness standards.

Beyond her technical expertise, Mary’s passion for continuous improvement shines through in building capacity for DBEs and W/MBEs. She actively seeks opportunities to enhance DBE’s contractual involvement concerning federally funded projects. Her commitment to staying updated on industry trends and regulatory changes ensures that DBEs and W/MBEs remain at the forefront of contract compliance.

Mary holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s from Mississippi State University, focusing on Human Relations. Her dedication to professional development is evident in her roles. She has served as a board member of the Mississippi Airports Association and a member of the Mississippi Department of Transportation Civil Rights Committee. She is a freelance consultant working for inclusion in the aviation industry.


Federal Security Director of Mississippi, Transportation Security Administration

Kim D. Jackson is the Federal Security Director (FSD) at Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport (JAN) in Jackson, MS. His role with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) places responsibility under his care for the day-to-day screening operations, at six federalized airports (including one SPP) and in the state. Mr. Jackson became the FSD at JAN on November 1, 2019. He began his service with TSA on July 10, 2016, as a Human Resources Specialist at JAN where he provided guidance on a wide range of areas, including staffing needs, disciplinary actions, compensation and benefits.

Prior to working with TSA, Mr. Jackson built an impressive 33-year career of achievement and advancement in a variety of command and staff positions. In his last assignment, he formalized action plans that led and directed over 3100 personnel in completing daily directives and overall missions. He developed and implemented security, emergency procedures and policies key to protecting high profile personnel and assets worth over $2 billion. He also served as a Brigade Executive Officer, a Military Police Liaison Officer and a Commander. He completed one combat mission in Iraq, in support of the Global War on terrorism. Mr. Jackson retired at the rank of Brigadier General.

Mr. Jackson earned a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from the University of Southern Mississippi. He is a native of Hattiesburg, MS, is married to Sheila, and is a father of two sons and a proud grandfather of two. As an avid cyclist, he enjoys biking on the Natchez Trace and tailgating during football season.

Taffy Pippin

President, Taffy Pippin Consulting, LLC

Taffy’s experience took root more than twenty years ago in her father’s aviation consulting firm, FAC, Inc. Col. Bobby Valdez had served as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and vice president of an engineering firm before establishing FAC, Inc. He also served the state of Alabama as the aviation representative to the Governors Transportation Committee and Executive Director of the Alabama International Airport Authority. Working alongside her father at FAC, Inc., Ms. Pippin not only became a specialist in the development of DBE/ACDBE plans, but also absorbed the values of hard work and integrity. After Bobby passed in 2011, she founded Taffy Pippin Consulting, LLC, encouraged to do so by clients and aviation officials as well as family. Today, husband Clayton has joined the team, and their son Zachariah has come on board part time.

Pippin’s longstanding professional relationships with federal and state officials, airport directors and engineers are built on mutual respect, founded in expertise and genuine interest in the aviation industry and its people.

Since 2012, Taffy Pippin Consulting has prepared more than two hundred DBE Plans/Updates for airports throughout Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont.

Pippin is a member of the Aviation Council of Alabama, Inc., the Florida Airports Council, the Georgia Airports Association, the Mississippi Airports Association and the New York Aviation Management Association. She has been a guest speaker at the Aviation Council of Alabama Conference, and the New York Aviation Management Association Conference highlighting DBE Plans and FAA Compliance.

Taffy Pippin Consulting, LLC is a certified DBE in the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.

Brigadier General Robert L. Stewart, Ret.

U.S. Army, NASA Astronaut

PERSONAL DATA: Born August 13, 1942, in Washington D.C. Married to the former Mary Jane Murphy of LaGrange, Ga. Two daughters, four grandchildren. His interests include woodworking, photography and skiing.

EDUCATION: Graduated from Hattiesburg High School, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in 1960; received a bachelor of science degree in Mathematics from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1964, and a master of science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington, in 1972.

ORGANIZATIONS: Member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Association of Space Explorers past member of Phi Eta Sigma, and the Scabbard and Blade (military honor society).

SPECIAL HONORS: Awarded Army Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, 2 Legion of Merit, 4 Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service Medal, 33 Air Medals, the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and “V” Device, 2 Purple Hearts, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the U.S. and Vietnamese Vietnam Service Medals, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry; Recipient of NASA Space Flight Medal (1984 & 1985). Other awards include: Army Aviator of the Year, 1984; AHS Feinberg Memorial Award; AIAA Oberth Award; John B Medaris Award, 1990; Distinguished Graduate, University of Texas at Arlington, 1990; University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame, 1993; Air Force Command and Staff Gathering of Eagles, 1990; Elected to the Army Space Pioneers Hall, 2005; and the Army Aviation Hall of Fame, 2007.

EXPERIENCE: Stewart entered on active duty with the United States Army in May 1964 and was assigned as an air defense artillery director at the 32nd NORAD Region Headquarters (SAGE), Gunter Air Force Base, Alabama. In July 1966, after completing rotary wing training at Ft. Wolters, Texas, and Ft. Rucker, Alabama, he was designated an Army aviator. He flew 1,035 hours combat time from August 1966 to 1967, primarily as a fire team leader in the armed helicopter platoon of “A” Company, 101st Aviation Battalion (redesignated 336th Assault Helicopter Company). He was an instructor pilot at the U.S. Army Primary Helicopter School — serving 1 year in the pre- solo/primary-1 phase of instruction and about 6 months as commander of methods of instruction flight III, training rated aviators to become instructor pilots. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Air Defense School’s Air Defense Officers Advanced Course and Guided Missile Systems Officers Course. Stewart served in Seoul, Korea, from 1972 to 1973, with the 309th Aviation Battalion (Combat) as a battalion operations officer and battalion executive officer. He next attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, completing the Rotary Wing Test Pilot Course in 1974, and was then assigned as an experimental test pilot to the U.S. Army Aviation Engineering Flight Activity at Edwards Air Force Base, California. His duties there included being chief of the integrated systems test division, as well as participating in engineering flight tests of UH-1 and AH-1 helicopters and U-21 and OV-1 fixed wing aircraft, serving as project officer and senior test pilot on the Hughes YAH-64 advanced attack helicopter during government competitive testing; and participation with Sikorsky Aircraft test pilots in developing an electronic automatic flight control system for the new Army transport helicopter — the UH-60A Black Hawk. Additionally flew “quick and dirty” evaluations of the Bell YAH-63 and Boeing YUH 61 to evaluate fixes proposed by the airframe manufacturers to alleviate problems discovered in competitive tests.

He has military and civilian experience in some 40 types of airplanes and helicopters, including over 1200 hours of jet time, 1035 combat flight hours, and logged over 6,000 hours total flight time.

NASA EXPERIENCE: Stewart became a NASA Astronaut in August 1979. His technical duties in the astronaut office have included testing and evaluation of the entry flight control systems for STS-1 (the first Space Shuttle orbital mission), ascent abort procedures development, and classified payload coordination. He also served as support crewman for STS-4, and Ascent/Orbit CAPCOM for STS-5. He served as a mission specialist on STS-41B in 1984 and STS-51J in 1985, and has logged a total of 289 hours in space, including approximately 12 hours of EVA operations.

In 1986, while in training for his scheduled third flight to be known as 61-K, Col Stewart was selected by the Army for promotion to Brigadier General. Upon accepting this promotion General Stewart was reassigned from NASA to be the Deputy Commanding General, US Army Strategic Defense Command, in Huntsville, Alabama. In this capacity General Stewart managed research efforts in developing ballistic missile defense technology. In 1989, he was reassigned as the Director of Plans, US Space Command, Colorado Springs, CO. General Stewart retired from the Army in 1992 and currently makes his home in Huntsville, AL.

SPACE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE: STS-41B Challenger (February 3-11, 1984) was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and returned to land there 8-days later. During the mission, Stewart participated in two extravehicular activities (EVA’s) to conduct first flight evaluations of the Manned Maneuvering Units (MMU’s). These EVA’s represented man’s first untethered operations from a spacecraft in flight.

STS-51J Atlantis (October 3-7, 1985) was launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, and after 98 hours of orbital operations returned to land at Edwards Air Force Base, California. It was the second Space Shuttle Department of Defense mission, and the maiden voyage of Atlantis, the final Orbiter in the Shuttle fleet. During the mission he was responsible for a number of on-orbit activities.


Director of Aeronautics and Rails, Mississippi Department of Transportation

Josh Stubbs has been at MDOT since 2009. After a short stint in highway safety, Josh spent the next 11 years working on railroad related matters, primarily focused on railroad crossing safety issues around the state of Mississippi. He began serving as the Director of the Aeronautics and Rails Division in September of 2021. He is a 2008 graduate of Mississippi State University and a registered professional engineer.

Gray Swoope

President & Chief Executive Officer, VisionFirst Advisors

A recognized leader in economic development and site selection, Gray Swoope is President and CEO of VisionFirst Advisors. After a successful 30-year career in economic development, Gray launched VisionFirst in 2015. In just four short years, the firm’s clients include five Fortune 500 companies in a variety of industries including data centers, automotive, manufacturing and distribution. Still economic developers at heart, VisionFirst understands what it takes to perform at high levels during extremely difficult times such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the 2008 Great Recession.

Prior to starting VisionFirst, Gray served in Florida Governor Rick Scott’s administration (2011-2015) as Secretary of Commerce and President & CEO of its public/private economic development organization, Enterprise Florida. Under his leadership, Enterprise Florida elevated its economic development presence and delivered the best results in the organization’s history. Florida announced competitive project wins during his tenure that included Amazon, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hertz, Navy Federal Credit Union, Northrop Grumman and Verizon.

Before joining Governor Scott, Gray served as Executive Director of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) under then Governor and current VisionFirst board chair, Haley Barbour. During his tenure, Gray played a vital role in recruiting companies such as Toyota, PACCAR, GE Aviation and SeverCorr (now Steel Dynamics). Gray’s leadership following Hurricane Katrina was critical to Mississippi’s recovery efforts. MDA acted as the state’s fiscal agent for $5.4 billion of the federal recovery package. The MDA team created many of the recovery programs being used today for natural disasters. Gray earned both undergraduate and graduate–degrees from Mississippi State University.

Eric Tomasovic

Environmental Protection Specialist, Jackson ADO, FAA

Eric Tomasovic is with the Jackson ADO office. His background includes a wide variety of experience in environmental fields.

  • Graduate of the University of North Alabama – ’99 – Physics and Biology
  • Virginia Marine Resources Commission – Biologist – 4 years
  • Forest Exterminating – Entomologist – 3 years
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Upper Mississippi Wildlife and Fish Refuge – Biologist – Infectious Diseases and Field Surveys – 6 years
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento, CA – Environmental Manager – Field Surveys and NEPA – 3 years
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans, LA – Biologist – NEPA – 3 years
  • FAA, Jackson, MS – Environmental Protection Specialist – NEPA – 1 year and 2 weeks



Jeff Wagner, a shareholder in the Firm’s Jackson office, focuses his practice on public/governmental law and commercial transactional work. Mr. Wagner has extensive experience in public law matters, including the financing of public projects, public procurements and construction matters. Mr. Wagner regularly works with airports on all types of procurement, contracting and regulatory issues. Mr. Wagner served as counsel to the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority for over twenty years and has served as special counsel to the March Joint Powers Authority and the March Inland Port Airport Authority (Riverside, California) on Federal Aviation Administration regulatory issues. Mr. Wagner is general counsel to the Mississippi Airports Association. Mr. Wagner also helps clients in complying with regulatory requirements in other transportation infrastructure projects.

In addition to his public/governmental law work, Mr. Wagner helps clients in structuring and closing all types of complex financial transactions. Mr. Wagner has significant experience working with lenders and borrowers using federal and state loan guaranty programs, including programs through the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the United States Small Business Administration. Mr. Wagner also represents clients in all types of affordable housing development.

Mr. Wagner’s experience has allowed him to develop an understanding of the organizational and practical considerations necessary to the achievement of a successful and timely result in all types of large and complex projects.

Carey Welsch

Manager, South Central Region, GovDeals

Do you ever wonder what to do with unwanted/unneeded airport assets? Ever wish there was an “eBay for Airports” type option available to you? Literally everything from “As Is” aircrafts, vehicles, scrap and parts you no longer have a need can be legally sold through online public auction. Did you know you can also publicly auction these items at no cost (given the winning bidders at auction are wholly responsible for all fees – and all removal elements) to over 5M Bidders? The State of MS, and many of your neighboring cities and county officials have been implementing online public auction services for over two decades.

Representing MS Government Agencies, Carey serves as a “Force Multiplier”, ensuring you have a resource to compliantly liquidate assets. Why tackle these assets final disposition on your own or in any other way? Learn how other airports are efficiently handling this low priority, yet very important task, while driving the industry’s highest returns for maximum revenue. Carey serves as a no fee consultant on your options. She works directly with government agencies throughout MS with asset liquidation, supporting these leaders when they need to sell any surplus/excess item, while maximizing returns. By examining your airport’s individual needs and desired outcome, she has in-depth knowledge of the state and region’s surplus market and will recommend best practices and processes, a step-by-step approach centered around your timing and objectives.



The Mississippi Transportation Commission appointed Brad White Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation effective July 1, 2021, and he received unanimous confirmation from the Mississippi Senate the following Legislative Session. A native of Simpson County, White is a four time Chief of Staff having previously managed the staffs of the Mississippi Department of Audit, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, US Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves.

During the administration of Governor Haley Barbour, White served as Chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party and as a member of the Republican National Committee.

White has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management from Belhaven University and resides in Madison where he is a member of First Baptist Church serving on both the Church Council and the Personnel Committee. He is past President of the Southern Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (SASHTO).