2022 40 Under 40: Kayleigh Cleek, MPA

Aug. 23, 2022
Kayleigh Cleek, MPA, Transit Planning Manager for the City of Greenville on behalf of the Greenville Transit Authority

One word to describe yourself: Determined

Alma Mater: University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!)

Fun fact about yourself: I currently manage approximately $40 million in grant funding and have about $34 million in pending requests.

Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): My husband is from Hobart, Ind. We took a train from his hometown to downtown Chicago via the South Shore Line. It was my first trip to Chicago and my first trip on a commuter rail line.

Kayleigh Cleek has been with Greenlink since January 2019. She serves as the transit planning manager, overseeing all transit planning and grant-related work.

Upon arriving at Greenlink, Cleek was tasked with installing more than 90 new bus stops across four different governmental jurisdictions to implement Greenlink’s Comprehensive Operations Analysis that launched in July 2019. After the success of the upgrades, new investment from the city of Greenville, S.C., and Greenville County allowed for additional benches, shelters and solar bus stop lighting to be installed. To ensure equity in installation, Cleek developed and oversaw a bus stop amenities prioritization system, which rests on elements such as public participation and geographic consideration for upgrades. This has quickly become a multi-year capital improvement project, with the third phase currently underway.

Outside of the approximately $32 million in formula grant funding Cleek currently manages, she has been awarded three competitive grants, including Bus & Bus Facilities for the procurement of four buses, Low-No for the procurement of six electric buses and a Human Trafficking Awareness grant, which translates to roughly $8 million in competitive federal funding for GTA since 2019. The grant supported a one-year human trafficking awareness program developed by Cleek, which included educating employees and the public, filming a video to train future employees and an extensive public campaign to bring awareness to the issue.

Aside from her grant award-related accomplishments, Cleek also created an internal grants management system to ensure grant funds are utilized both efficiently and effectively.

Cleek also serves as Greenlink’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprises Liaison Officer. In this role, she overhauled the program, resulting in greater opportunity for collaboration with potential DBE and SBE contractors.

Greenlink is in the process of replacing its more than 40-year-old maintenance facility. Cleek worked closely with FTA Region IV to complete the necessary NEPA and Section 106 process and to secure final obligation of grant funding to make the future move possible.

Understanding that Greenville County is forecasted to gain more than 200,000 new residents in the next 20 years, Cleek spearheaded an update to the 2018 Transit Development Plan. The latest version now includes the consolidation of routes to improve efficiency and capital costs that were not a part of the 2018 version. This update is widely referenced by county and citywide stakeholders to assist with long-term planning.

After joining Greenlink, Cleek soon realized the importance of connection and collaboration among stakeholders in bolstering the effectiveness of public transit. As such, she coordinates regular staff lunches among various city departments to encourage greater discussion, which has led to better public transit access to major engineering and planning-led projects. She also created an interactive transit planning exercise— “Blueville”—that staff utilizes to educate and inform the public about the challenges of planning for transit in Greenville. This exercise has become a local “favorite” and is frequently requested as a training opportunity among nonprofits and major employers in the county.

In addition to these accomplishments, Cleek actively serves on the Board of Bike Walk Greenville – a coalition to improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Greenville County—as a member of the Women’s Transportation Seminar and a member of the local chapter of the Grant Professionals Association (GPA). She most recently completed the Greenville Chamber’s award-winning Leadership Greenville program, where she was able to actively influence and discuss the need for better public transit with approximately 30 other leaders in Greenville County.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with others. From coworkers to local nonprofit representatives to other government agencies and developers, I find that consistently working with a variety of people leads to greater insights and better projects.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Lack of funding. We have incredible plans to increase public transit access in Greenville, but without funding, those plans cannot come to fruition.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

Challenges and hurdles are inevitable. Do not forget to celebrate the wins!