Niebaum Leaves AAEA, for 2 Good Reasons

Niebaum Leaves AAEA, for 2 Good Reasons
Katie Laning Niebaum, executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association (file) (Kerry Prichard)

When Katie Laning Niebaum appeared on the cover of Arkansas Business in April, her baby bump was barely noticeable.

Now she’s set to give birth to identical twin girls any minute, and to try a stint on the mommy track after 17 years in government and advocacy work.

Niebaum, executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association since 2016, has left the trade group; Wednesday was her last day. She’s “running rather than walking” across the pregnancy finish line, Niebaum told Arkansas Business.

The former aide to Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln will be devoting time to the infants and their 4-year-old brother, Graham, for now, but Niebaum expects to find her way back to policy work “sooner rather than later.”

An Arkansas Business 40 Under 40 honoree in 2019, Niebaum is a graduate of Little Rock Central High School and the University of Virginia who worked for the National Restaurant Association before returning to Arkansas with her husband, Geoff, president and partner at Mendel Capital Management of Little Rock.

Niebaum called stepping down a “difficult decision” because she enjoyed working with a “dynamic and innovative industry.” The news of twins “was a game-changer for our family,” she said in an email to AAEA members, including industry leaders in solar installation, energy efficiency contracting and utility innovation.

An AAEA task force has begun a search for a new executive director, said Niebaum, who referred questions in the interim to Steve Patterson, a former AAEA director. “Steve was the founding AAEA executive director and my direct predecessor,” Niebaum reminded Arkansas Business.

Douglas Hutchings, CEO of Picasolar Inc. of Fayetteville, said Niebaum possessed a “rare combination of talents,” with an ability to “get into the details on complex topics while also communicating effectively with a broad audience.”

Hutchings, chairman of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation, the association’s nonprofit partner, said candidates for the director’s job are being interviewed. “Katie can certainly not be replaced,” he said, but the new director will have “an exciting opportunity to grow the foundation that Katie so well developed.”