AEDC staff is small but accomplishes much. Although each position is structured to provide a specialized function, the staff interacts closely on projects, combining their expertise to see a project to fruition. Listed below is a brief description of each person’s background and the major focus of his or her position.
President & CEO
Bill Popp has spent over 47 years in both the Alaska private and public sectors. As President & CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation since 2007, he sets the strategic direction in marketing Anchorage and Alaska to companies, critical workforce, and global industries considering Anchorage as a place in which to do business and assists local businesses looking to expand both within Anchorage and Alaska as well as Lower 48 and international markets.
Prior to joining AEDC, Popp was a special assistant in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor’s office from 2002 to 2007 focused on oil and gas and mining policy. Popp was also an elected municipal government official for the Kenai Peninsula Borough (KPB) from 1996 to 2002 and presided over the KPB Assembly as president in 2000. Popp has over 25 years of private industry experience working for large national and regional businesses and as a small business owner. He also served as project coordinator responsible for fundraising $2.5 million and coordination of design and construction, as well as program development of the Challenger Learning Center for Alaska from 1996 to 2000.
Popp is currently chair of the Economic Resiliency Task Force (COVID-19 Response) and co-chair of the 49th State Angel Fund Business Advisory Committee. He is a board member of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Visit Anchorage, Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and Alaska Public Media. Popp also serves as a member of the UAA College of Business and Public Policy Business Advisory Board, the Alaskan Command Civilian Advisory Board, the JBER Community Partnership Leadership team, is co-chair of the Governor’s Alaska Civilian Armed Services Team (ACAST), is a leadership group member of the Alaska Regional Development Organizations (ARDORs), and is a member of the Municipality of Anchorage 2020 Census Complete Count Commission.
Popp has previously served as chair of the JBER Base Economic Analysis Research (BEAR) Working Group and co-chair of the efforts to oppose the force reduction of the 4-25 Army Brigade at JBER. Popp was also a member of Governor Bill Walker’s Transition Committee, member of Mayor-Elect Ethan Berkowitz’s Transition Committee, and member of Mayor-Elect Dan Sullivan’s Transition Committee. He has also served as chair of the Governor’s Broadband Task Force, and Municipality of Anchorage Energy Policy Task Force.
Other past service includes serving on the Board of Directors of the Anchorage Concert Association, the Legislative Energy Policy Stakeholders Group; chairman of the KPB Economic Development Criteria Task Force; chair of the Economic Development Committee for the Municipality of Anchorage; vice chairman of the Alaska Stranded Gas Act Municipal Advisory Group; co-chair of Governor Murkowski’s Agrium Task Force; chair of the Kenai Peninsula Development Coalition; consultant for the British Columbia Provincial Government’s Offshore Oil and Gas Team; member of the Tri-borough Commission Energy Task Force; Board member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District; Fundraising Chair of the 2006 Arctic Winter Games; Fundraising Chair for the USS Anchorage Commissioning Ceremony; and a member of the Cook Inlet Natural Gas Pipeline Terminus Group.
Popp first moved to Anchorage in January 1968 as a military dependent at Elmendorf Air Force Base. A graduate of East Anchorage High School in 1977, Popp and his wife Nicole married in 1979. Work took Popp to the Kenai Peninsula in 1983 where he and Nicole raised their daughter and son over the 25 years they lived in Kenai. They have two grandchildren who live in Anchorage and happen to be military dependents too.
Emma Irish - Director of Strategic Initiatives
As Director of Strategic Initiatives, Emma is responsible for creating and executing strategies to help grow and diversify Anchorage’s economy. These strategies include the design and execution of AEDC’s Business Retention & Expansion program, attracting new businesses and industries to Anchorage, and executing AEDC’s Live.Work.Play. efforts moving forward.
Emma spent her early years in Southeast Alaska but grew up in Anchorage. She graduated with a political science degree from Gonzaga University and moved back to Anchorage soon after. Prior to joining the team at AEDC, Emma worked in marketing and public involvement in the private sector.
Emma loves to spend her time gardening, cooking, DIY-ing projects at home, and hiking with her dogs June and Bean.
Darleen Fernandez - AEDC Operations Manager
Following more than 20 years of fundraising, including several as Development Director at AEDC, Darleen’s career has come full circle in her return to office administration as AEDC Operations Manager.
Darleen executes day-to-day operations including managing human resources, accounting and IT. She also provides support to department directors in driving AEDC’s key strategic initiatives. Darleen holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Public Communications from UAA.
Before joining AEDC Darleen worked at Girl Scouts of Alaska and as an administrator with local arts organizations including Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and Sitka Summer Music Festival. Prior to arts administration, she worked for area credit unions where the course of positions held progressed from teller to controller.
Outside of work Darleen is often found in the company of her eight grandchildren and amazing friends she’s had the good fortune to make since her family moved to Anchorage from San Francisco in the mid ’70s. Darleen is a known foodie, works hard to hit the Coastal Trail for walks with her dog and compulsively checks Alaska Airlines’ website for Club 49 warm weather travel opportunities!
Tara Nokelby - Development Director
As Development Director, Tara is responsible for AEDC investor relations and events. In addition to working to attract new companies to join AEDC, she also ensures current Investors fully leverage membership benefits and opportunities.
Tara was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She has her bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations from Suffolk University in Boston, MA. Before joining AEDC, Tara was a Project Specialist at Jacobs Engineering after working as a Project Manager at Teya Services, LLC (Teya). At Teya she managed a technical assistance and event planning government contract through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and was the Senior Event Manager for a contract through the National 8(a) Association, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to small businesses.
In her free time, Tara enjoys traveling and spending time with her family, friends, fiancé, and puppy.