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story.lead_photo.caption Trae Reed stands at the intersection of Center and Front streets in downtown Lonoke. Reed, 36, was elected Lonoke mayor during the Nov. 6 general election, defeating incumbent Wayne McGee, who has been mayor for 12 years. Reed, who is originally from Tennessee, is married to the former Ashley Emory, who graduated from Lonoke High School in 1996. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

Trae Reed’s mission statement is “Love, Life and Opportunity.” Reed said he intends to live by that when he is sworn in Jan. 1 as Lonoke’s mayor.

Reed, who is married to the former Ashley Emory of Lonoke, moved to town in January 2017 after retiring from active duty in the Air Force. He defeated 12-year incumbent Wayne McGee, 768-676, in the Nov. 6 general election.

“I want people to love this place,” Reed said. “I want to provide a quality of life that people can enjoy, and we’ve got to give kids opportunities. I’m not saying that in four years we’ll have a manufacturing plant, but kids have got to have a place to work. They are moving off. That was one of my biggest motivations. What are my two girls going to do when they graduate high school? Where are they going to go? Where is a kid going to be able to get a decent-paying type of job in Lonoke? They’re not.”

Reed, 36, said one of the first things he did before moving to Lonoke from Mississippi, where he had been stationed, was to call the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce.

“This is about the time the Kickstarter campaign, Lonoke 2022, started up,” Reed said. “I was told I needed to call Ryan Biles, so we had a long conversation on the goings-on in Lonoke. He was incredibly excited about some of the projects going on.

“I showed up in town and went to the Lonoke Depot. They had a chamber luncheon that day. I sat and listened and introduced myself and got involved with them.”

Reed, who was between leaving the Air Force and joining the Arkansas Air National Guard, said he saw some needs in his new hometown of 4,245 people.

“I saw a need for fresh groceries,” he said. “At the same time, we were kicking around the can and said, ‘How can we make money, and what does the town need?’”

The Reed family started the seasonal Fish Town Farmers Market across from the depot in May 2017.

It was during the process of getting that going that Reed began attending Lonoke City Council meetings.

“I just saw a real need, a real void of some leadership in City Hall,” he said. “That got me interested in what the City Council was all about. I went and sat down for two or three meetings. It became very evident to me that I didn’t see them being as productive or communicative as they could be. I didn’t see a lot of influence coming from the head of the table. I just saw a real need for leadership in the town.”

Reed didn’t initially think about running for mayor, a full-time position with an annual salary of $30,000.

“I thought, ‘I’m the new guy in town. Maybe I should support some other folks,’” Reed said. “But that was a two-legged stool that never stood up. So I found myself with the time. My career hadn’t started in Lonoke yet. So I had the time, and I had the motivation and said, ‘The heck with it. I’m going to get into the ring.’ I had enough support and made a go of it.”

Mayor McGee defeated Jim Bailey in the May Democratic primary.

“When you look at the primary, Jim Bailey lost by only 16 votes,” Reed said. “It was the perfect opportunity for an independent candidate to try their hand. I knew the numbers were good past the primary.

“I expected a fairly tight race, and Wayne was in position for 12 years. I thought even a one- or two-point spread would have been a big win.” Reed won by a 6.4 percent margin.

Longtime District 8 Alderman Koy Butler said he looks forward to working with the new mayor.

“I think Mayor McGee has done a huge service to the city,” Butler said. “He has gotten us to a great point with our infrastructure, but I’m also excited about Trae. Change is always scary but always brings on new opportunities. I’m looking forward to serving with the new mayor and new councilmen.”

Four new aldermen will be sworn in Jan. 1. Matt Cordell ran unopposed for District 1, as Janie Derning did not seek re-election. Alice Bridges defeated incumbent Woody Evans in District 2,

Suzette Elmore defeated incumbent Pat Howell in District 3, and Biles defeated incumbent Wendell Walker in District. 4. Other aldermen are Efrem Jones (District 5), Raymond Hatton (District 6) and Michael Florence (District 7).

“That’s the bigger story,” Reed said of the City Council elections. “The mayor is driving the bus. He’s driving the vision. He’s collaborating and working with all the different entities, like the chamber and council and all the committees. People have to tap into their council and know who their councilman is, and when there are issues, be able to contact that councilman and understand that they’re the mouthpiece for their neighbors.”

Reed graduated from Loretto High School in Loretto, Tennessee, in 2000.

“I played baseball and football growing up,” said Reed, who attended Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville, where he was a cheerleader.

He tried out for cheerleader at Mississippi State University but did not make the squad. Reed wanted to stay involved with some sort of extracurricular activity. That’s when the military came into his life.

“That’s the reason I got into the Air Force ROTC,” he said. “I went down to the ROTC building and saw a lot of guys doing stuff that I was really good at. However, I always had a severe fear of heights, but I was good at ROTC. I wasn’t going to let the fear of heights hold me back from a pilot’s position. That is how I became a pilot.”

Reed served several tours of duty overseas.

“I wasn’t satisfied,” he said “I couldn’t raise my kids and be at home. The quality of life was low. We made the decision to get out of active duty and move to a small town, and we chose Lonoke because it was where [Ashley] was from. We trusted the school system and wanted to be close to family.”

Reed, who was a major in the Air Force, had a break in service from the time he left active duty until he joined the Air National Guard, where he retained his rank of major.

“I’m still active with the Guard,” said Reed, who plans to continue his service while also serving as mayor. “I’m still flying. I was supposed to transition from active duty to the Guard, but I wasn’t able to do that because of some paperwork. I essentially had a break in service where I didn’t have a job. That is when I started my small business because I had to do something while I was waiting to get picked up by the Guard unit.”

Reed started Provision AES, a commercial drone service.

“I create artistic aerial prints,” he said. “I do mapping and other types of imagery stitching products, all from home.”

Reed has a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Mississippi State University and a bachelor’s degree plus in homeland security from American Military University.

“The Air Force was kinda forcing us to get master’s degrees to go higher in rank,” Reed said. “I chose a different path because I was coming home from many deployments and not being able to see my kids because I was shutting myself behind a door to study. I told Ashley that I’m not going to give my life to the Air Force and then come home and give my life to the Air Force.”

Reed said he’s “over the moon” about being elected mayor.

“The first six months or so are kind of a grace period,” he said. “I’ll be quiet. I’ll open up lines of communication for people, and I’ll become part of the workflow. This is a learning and listening period for me.

“I don’t think change for the sake of change is good. I’ve got some good ideas. I see some things that Lonoke needs to fix. I have an outsider’s perspective. I moved here two years ago, which I have owned. I thought it was one of my greatest strengths in this election. I have a fresh, outside perspective. I’m still going out and seeing small towns across the U.S. I’m seeing what they are doing with their money. I’m seeing people who love getting out in their downtown area. I think we can do that, too.”

Reed said there’s a lot of opportunity for Lonoke.

“We’ve got a good proximity to Little Rock,” he said. “We have a cool, eclectic little downtown area that just needs love and investment. We have our city parks set up. We have a great school system with whom I think is a fantastic superintendent in John Tackett. He’s got a vision. He’s driving the bus. He’s got the gusto to make it happen.

“There is a lot of opportunity. It’s just a matter of collaborating with the right people and making it happen.”

Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or mbuffalo@arkansasonline.com.

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