A note from Dr. Clarke

Like we do every year, our team spent the last few months of 2021 working with EDC’s executive committee, board, and investors to establish annual goals that are informed by current economic realities, led by employers, and have measurable outcomes that contribute to prosperity and competitiveness across the binational region. As San Diego emerges from a global pandemic to an economy full of contradictions—strong job growth, eye-watering VC numbers, and massive capital investment as well as widespread labor shortages, small business closures, and housing prices almost 30 percent higher than 2019—it is abundantly clear that smart economic development is inclusive economic development.

In 2021, EDC reframed our organizational goals around these fundamental building blocks of a strong economy—quality jobs, skilled talent, and thriving households—and committed to working with and through our investors to accelerate progress towards these Inclusive Growth goals. In 2022, resilience means connecting more people to innovation industries; competitiveness means more San Diegans have the skills the economy needs; and prosperity means that working families can afford to live here. Please find EDC’s 2022 goals outlined below.

JOBS

Goal: The region needs to create 50K quality small business jobs by 2030.

EDC will contribute to this goal in 2022 through:

  • Industry Insight: Track regional business sentiment and economic resilience via regular research publications, and complete AI industry series.
  • Business Services: Execute 250+ business expansion, attraction, and retention projects and support major mixed-use projects, leading to 5,000 quality jobs. Leverage the Life Sciences Task Force to establish a “one-stop-shop” framework for expansion support for Life Sciences industry and major development projects.
  • World Trade Center San Diego: Execute MetroConnect VI export accelerator program and expand the export Small Business Development Center to support 35+ export-ready companies, leading to $5M+ in new international sales. Enhance binational project support in priority industries.

TALENT

Goal: The region must create 20K degreed and credentialed workers per year by 2030.

EDC will contribute to this goal in 2022 through:

  • San Diego: Life. Changing.: Communicate opportunities for diverse, skilled talent in San Diego—especially to strategic competitive markets by enhancing Life Sciences recruiting tools.
  • Advancing San Diego: Maintain employer working groups and network of 40+ Preferred Providers for high-demand occupations, update and release regular talent demand reports, and place 80+ Healthcare and Life Sciences interns.

HOUSEHOLDS

Goal: The region must create 75K newly thriving households by 2030.

EDC will contribute to this goal in 2022 through:

  • Anchor Collaborative: Set shared regional procurement goals for region’s largest purchasers, identify $100 million in new small business spend, and create supplier navigation map.
  • Global Identity: Advance San Diego’s global agenda, support investments in critical infrastructure, and lead Mayoral Thriving Cities trade mission to international market.
  • Inclusive Growth: Create regional alignment on Inclusive Growth goals, launch downtown research and policy collaboration at UCSD’s Park & Market, and execute demonstration project on infrastructure needs.

EDC programs have real, measurable outcomes—supporting thousands of quality jobs, placing hundreds of interns and job seekers, and creating opportunities for millions of dollars of new contracts for small businesses. But ultimately, even the most driven and passionate team won’t substantially move the needle on these ambitious regional goals; we do not ourselves create jobs, train workers, draft policy, or build roads, high-rises, or housing. You do.

EDC can draft the roadmap, but you all—our region’s largest employers—are the only ones who will get us there, through working collaboratively and creatively to accelerate progress towards our regional 2030 goals. That is what “with and through” our investors means, and we at EDC can’t wait to get started.

– Nikia

READ EDC’S MONTHLY REPORT

READ EDC’S 2021 ANNUAL REPORT

SEE SAN DIEGO’S GOOD NEWS OF THE YEAR

A note of reflection from Mark

“May you live in interesting times.” 

I was always told growing up that this phrase was a “Chinese curse.” Turns out that isn’t true. There is actually no real evidence to indicate that any ancient Chinese curses could have even be mistaken for this phrase. But there are a few blessings—in a few different cultures—that may likely be the origins of the statement.

The last year has certainly been interesting. Depending on who we are and where we sit, it may have seemed like a curse, a blessing, or anything in between. But without a doubt, it will all be behind us in a few weeks as we usher in the new year—full of new opportunities and new possibilities.

At some point in the years ahead, we will all look back on 2021 (and 2020 that in many ways is bundled in) and relive its ups and downs—its starts and stops. We’ll remember where we were and who we shared this year with. Beyond my closest friends and family, I will remember sharing this year with all of you, on screen or otherwise. And as we look back, the joys, successes, hardships, losses, opportunities, and challenges will likely have new perspective and clarity that only time can provide. But unmistakably—in the moment—I want to express my sincere gratitude for all of it, and for all of you.

Here you will find some highlights of the team’s work over these last few weeks and some information on events/opportunities still on the horizon; see also our Year in Review and Good News of the Year for a wrap-up of our biggest wins and headlines of the year. And as we continue to live and work in interesting times, take stock of who you are living through them with, and consider each relationship and each opportunity the blessing that it truly is.

Happiest of holidays seasons to everyone, and thank you (as always) for your continued leadership, dedication, and support.

Mark

Read EDC’s Monthly Report

Meet our Board: Chris Williams

Hear from EDC board member and Marsh & McLennan Agency CEO of the West Region Chris Williams on the importance of talent, collaboration, and resilience below.

Describe your “day job”?

As CEO of Marsh McLennan Agency’s (MMA) West Region, MMA’s largest region, I head up nine offices and 1,300 employees across California, Arizona, and Alaska. The beauty of my role is the number of areas of our business that I get to touch on a daily basis—whether it be working directly with clients, brainstorming and working with our HR team, or collaborating on special projects with colleagues across all of our departments. We have so many incredible people working at MMA… they are hardworking and passionate, and constantly come up with new ways to better our business and be there for our clients. I’m grateful that my position allows me to hear these ideas and help bring them to life. The days where I get to be face-to-face with colleagues, discussing their aspirations and ideas, are by far my favorite days on the job.

What is your life-changing moment—something that changed the trajectory of your life for the better?

In 1987, I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a B.S. in Economics. Shortly after, I began my insurance career with a large national healthcare organization in a sales role. In 1991, former MMA employee Jeff Calder attempted to recruit me to his brokerage firm. I have always prided myself on being a loyal employee, so I politely declined the promotion to a regional role with a large national carrier. Jeff did not give up easily as he was convinced that a new position with leadership opportunities at his firm was the right path for me. I remained in my current position until 1993, when I finally made the decision to take a leap of faith and accepted Jeff’s offer. Through a merger with Barney and Barney and being acquired by Marsh, I have now spent 28 years building my career with MMA. I am forever grateful to Jeff for his persistence, influence, and the impact MMA has had on my life.

Of all the boards in San Diego, why EDC?

When I first moved to San Diego, as a newcomer to the region, I was eager to connect with and learn from local business leaders, civic leaders, and government leaders. Trindl Reeves, Chief Sales Officer at MMA, was on the board at EDC and encouraged me to get involved. After joining, I knew it was a great fit and perfect opportunity to become more ingrained within the community. EDC itself feels like a community. The group consists of so many amazing local leaders that have welcomed me to San Diego and inspired me to lead.

What EDC program or initiative interests you most, and why?

EDC’s talent development, attraction, and retention programs are by far the most helpful initiative right now. The current talent landscape is an incredibly competitive one, and MMA is growing rapidly year in and year out.

Our highest priority is bringing in talented, diverse people that want to stay with us. In order to achieve this, it’s crucial that we are constantly looking at ways to improve and evolve how we take care of our peoplewhether it be through our training programs, benefits offerings, company culture initiatives, or the way we find candidates in the first place.

Over the last year, our country and communities have simultaneously endured a pandemic, a social justice movement, and a time of hostile and divisive politics. What is your biggest lesson learned in the last year?

What a past year and a half it has been… By far, the biggest lesson I have learned is that society, and people, are so resilient. Every single one of us was affected by these worldwide crises, with the impact hitting seemingly overnight. I couldn’t believe the level of support, collaboration, and empathy we all showed to our fellow neighbors. It has been truly remarkable to witness and reminded me just how strong we can be when we work together.

Luckily, from a business standpoint, MMA was prepared and able to adapt incredibly fast to a virtual work environment. Many of our clients were hurting due to the shutdowns, and so many of our own people were personally affected. Yet, our colleagues powered through with such strength and worked hard to continue serving our clients and community. Everyone was apart, yet working together, in a way I had never seen before. This experience will leave a mark on me, for sure.

Favorite quote:

I learned from my Grandfather: Expectations only create disappointment. I taught my kids: Never bet on what you can’t control.

Follow along with Chris on LinkedIn.

Meet the rest of EDC’s board of directors

A note from Mark…

Life Sciences innovation is at center stage of San Diego economy

As my mind continues to focus on the health of our community and our economy, I find so many of my conversations centering on the work of San Diego’s Life Sciences industry. Long an anchor of our region’s innovation economy, the Science and Biotech sectors are taking center stage in more ways than ever before—leading in vaccination and testing innovation, and in inbound financial investment and commercial real estate demand.

A key finding from our Q3 Economic Snapshot reveals that our local Life Sciences industry attracted nearly $1 billion in funding during the quarter—nearly 70 percent more than the amount received in the same quarter last year. Just last month, San Diego’s elected leaders were at the center of a deal to reduce prescription drug costs, while also supporting the funding model for scientific research and innovation that enables life-changing drugs, therapeutics, and cures to find their way to market—many from right here in San Diego.

With all of this swirling around us, it is no surprise that a great deal of EDC’s work continues to focus on the growth and support of the skilled workers and quality jobs that power San Diego’s Life Sciences industry, including the work summarized below:

  • Advancing San Diego‘s recently released Talent Demand Report outlines key talent needs in the Life Sciences industry, as determined by employers. The program is currently accepting applications for Preferred Providers of Life Sciences talent here.
  • EDC’s Life Sciences Task Force is working to build a strategic economic development framework for industry support in order to enhance the ability of Life Sciences companies to discover, grow, and thrive in the San Diego region. To complement this work by EDC’s economic development team and further support talent attraction and retention in the industry, San Diego: Life. Changing. will be pivoting its focus to primarily feature scientific innovation and opportunities for talent.
  • Current MetroConnect V finalist White Labs, along with three other diverse companies, will compete for an additional $25,000 in funding towards their international expansion strategies during MetroConnect’s virtual Grand Prize PitchFest on November 15, 2021. Register here to cast your vote—and apply HERE to be part of MetroConnect VI and take your company global with us.

With gratitude and optimism,

Mark Cafferty

Read edc’s monthly report

Meet our Board: Dr. Steven Jones

What do leaders at Qualcomm, SDG&E, and the NBA have in common? They’ve all made a commitment to have difficult conversations about how patterns of racial, gender, and other forms of biases are hijacking the potential of their workforce. That’s where JONES steps in. San Diego-based consulting firm JONES has helped create work environments for these companies, and many others, that bring out the best in people through leveraging trust, inclusion, and diversity for the past 25 years. Check out this spotlight with new EDC board member and JONES CEO Dr. Steven Jones to learn more about the firm’s leadership.

Describe your “day job”?

They say when you love what you do you never have to work a day in your life! Career counselors often advise others to identify their passion and turn it into a career. I have had the opportunity to live my passion every day and do what I love in my role as the CEO of JONES. JONES has recently been named one of the Top 10 Diversity and Inclusion Companies in the United States by Manage HR Magazine. For the past 25 years, I have been blessed to lead, learn from, and work with a phenomenal group of team members at JONES. Every day we help committed leaders at companies such as Toyota, Honda, Qualcomm, the NBA, SDG&E, Sony Music, Viacom CBS, SoCal Edison, Rady Children’s Hospital, the Getty, and many more, create work environments that bring out the best in people through leveraging trust, inclusion, and diversity for business success. Guiding culture change, providing executive coaching, conducting unconscious bias training, facilitating bilingual meetings, and supporting clients in having difficult conversations about how patterns of racial, gender, and other forms of biases are hijacking the potential of their workforce are daily menu items in life at JONES. As a CEO who is also a DEI Global Thought Leader and Organizational Psychologist, my ‘day job’ means guiding a team that helps companies unlock the people potential in their organizations.

What is your life-changing moment—something that changed the trajectory of your life for the better?

In the summer of 1987, I packed my Toyota Corolla with all my belongings, which included a suitcase, TV, and a boom box, and headed on a road trip from Louisiana to my new home in San Diego, CA. The destination was my first professional job as a Resident Director at Olmeca Hall on SDSU’s campus. I was to become the first African American/Black person to run a residence hall in the history of the university (a trail I would repeat blazing at the University of San Diego in 1990). In my second year at SDSU, my boss “voluntold” me that he and I were going to conduct a diversity training for 150 student leaders. I was pursuing a master’s degree in Computer Science at the time and had never conducted diversity training before, so I was confused by his request. Two weeks before the training, I learned he was leaving the university and insisted that I still conduct the training, but solo. I continue to be grateful for Dr. Jesus Nieto and Kasimu Harley, two social justice warriors on SDSU’s campus who helped me organize the agenda for the training. The experience was amazing. There were lots of insights gained, lessons learned, and skills practiced by student leaders. At that moment, I knew my life would never be the same.

Of all the boards in San Diego, why EDC?

I have been impressed by the authentic leadership of Mark Cafferty and Janice Brown, along with San Diego Regional EDC’s commitment to economic inclusion. I was moved to join the EDC’s Board because of its work with the Brookings Institute, which identifies economic inclusion as “crucial” to San Diego’s success. The need for San Diego employers to act in a way that closes the minority-achievement gap, equips small businesses to compete, and to recruit/retain diverse talent in our community are personal passions of mine. JONES supports organizations large and small to become employers of choice—ones that recruit, select, develop, promote, and retain a diverse workforce who thrive. We are excited to join the impressive group of business and community leaders on EDC’s Board of Directors who are also committed to work environments where that diversity drives innovation through high levels of trust, psychological safety, equity, and belonging. With all of us working together, we can do this!

What EDC program or initiative interests you most, and why?

The need to enhance the San Diego community so it leads the world in creating an equitable and inclusive ecosystem that exists across our impressive corporate, small business, educational, military, tech, life sciences, hospitality, and other industries is very interesting to me. We have work to do to make “America’s Finest City” great for all its constituencies.

Over the last year, our country and communities have simultaneously endured a pandemic, a social justice movement, and a time of hostile and divisive politics. What is your biggest lesson learned in the last year?

One thing has been made abundantly clear to me: it is essential that each of us take collective action to keep one another safe. Each of us was challenged to reevaluate our individual and collective versions of normal. Every aspect of our lives shifted—how we worked, how classes were taught, whether we traveled, socialized, and the amount of time we spent with nuclear and extended family, etc. We understood that we needed collective action on a global scale to defeat COVID-19, a battle we are still fighting.

Simultaneously, the world moved into action to defeat our second global pandemic, Systemic Racism, which also continues today. Protests and marches were held around the globe to demand that we increase the lengths we are willing to go to keep each other, especially members of our BIPOC communities, safe and alive. We battled over “all lives matter” vs. “blue lives matter” vs. “black lives matter.” Many people realized how interconnected these three statements are while others refused to reexamine the history that impacts the deeply rooted inequities sustained in our present-day systems. Unless we find a way to come together, we will lose the fight against COVID-19, Systemic Racism, and all their variants… it is essential that each of us take collective action to keep one another safe.

Favorite quote:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Follow along with Dr. Jones on LinkedIn.

Meet the rest of EDC’s board of directors

A note from Mark…

A step toward recovery…

On October 13, British Airways (BA) will resume its nonstop service between San Diego and London Heathrow. The flight that took our region’s global economic connectivity to a whole new level is finally back.

Ten years ago, the BA flight set off a new focus within our region on the role that direct, nonstop service to international markets could play in growing our economy through foreign direct investment and global trade. It was the catalyst for our Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo, our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, and continued strategies to expand our global reach and connectivity.

The flight also played a key role in the rebuilding of our region’s World Trade Center (WTC). We learned quickly that trade-related jobs were the kind of quality jobs we were hoping to create for more San Diegans, and that engagement with international markets could have a significant and positive impact on our region’s diverse small business community.

Now operated through EDC, the WTC partnership between the City of San Diego, the San Diego Airport, and the Port of San Diego was at its strongest just when the global pandemic shut down international travel (and life as we knew it). But while tourism and mobility from continent to continent slowed to a halt, the need for San Diego-based business to develop partnerships in foreign markets, tap into an international customer base, and draw financing from international investors did not. And while the work of WTC changed and pivoted slightly, the role that the team played in keeping our business community connected to international markets and resources remained steadfast.

It used to be very common for me to bump into colleagues at events who would ask, “Where do you think San Diego’s next international flight will be to?” or “Where is the WTC team going for their next trade mission?” I honestly so look forward to the days when these conversations and plans will be the norm again. But until then, I take great pride in the work our team continues to do to with our small business community to keep them globally connected and well-positioned to take advantage of new opportunities around the world as they emerge.

And as the BA flight once again connects us to London, the UK, and Europe, we view it as one important step in getting our economy back to full strength.

With gratitude and optimism,

Mark Cafferty

LEARN MORE ABOUT WORLD TRADE CENTER SAN DIEGO

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EDC appoints Lisette Islas as Vice Chair of Inclusive Growth

New role to align EDC programmatic and governance decisions; ensure progress toward 2030 regional goals

Today, San Diego Regional EDC announces the appointment of its new Vice Chair of Inclusive Growth, Lisette Islas. As San Diego begins to recover from a global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted small businesses and people of color, the region must double down on its inclusive growth goals by creating skilled talent, economically-stabilizing jobs and thriving households.

“Unanimously approved by the board of directors, EDC is proud to welcome Lisette as our first-ever Vice Chair of Inclusive Growth. With a career grounded in inclusion and community, she is the perfect person for the job—prioritizing programs that ensure an economic recovery that affords all San Diegans opportunities,” said Julian Parra, Region Executive at Bank of America and EDC Board Chair.

A board member of EDC since May 2018, Islas is the EVP and Chief Impact Officer at MAAC, a non-profit providing programs and advocacy in the areas of health, education, workforce development, and housing throughout San Diego County. With more than twenty years of experience working in community development and philanthropy at leading, local organizations including the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation and San Diego Grantmakers (now Catalyst), Islas is passionate about helping underserved communities be more prosperous and civically engaged. In her new role as Vice Chair of Inclusive Growth at EDC, Islas will ensure alignment between EDC programmatic and governance decisions, and track progress toward the Inclusive Growth goals reported annually at a community event.

“Everything we do as an economic development organization ties back to our Inclusive Growth priorities. Our time, resources, and programs are devoted to building a strong local talent pipeline; equipping small businesses to compete; and addressing the affordability crisis. I can think of no one better to guide us on this path than Lisette. We are honored to see her fill the role in this critical time,” said Mark Cafferty, President & CEO, San Diego Regional EDC.

INCLUSION AS A BUSINESS IMPERATIVE

Launched in 2018 and informed by a partnership with the Brookings Institution, EDC’s Inclusive Growth Initiative outlines the region’s economic priorities and makes the business case for economic inclusion—putting the onus not on the philanthropy or government but instead on the region’s major corporations, employers, and anchors.

The innovation economy has made San Diego more prosperous than many of its peers—leading the region out the COVID-spurred economic recession as it has in downturn’s past—but it is not accessible by the fastest-growing segment of the region’s population.

“Every crisis and recovery that the U.S. economy has endured has increased systemic poverty and widened inequalities in Black and Brown communities. As I take on this new role with EDC, I’m committed to working together with the region’s leading employers to get this recovery right. San Diego’s economic competitiveness depends on it,” said Lisette Islas, Vice Chair of Inclusive Growth, San Diego Regional EDC.

To fuel San Diego’s recovery and growth, it’s pertinent that a regional coalition of diverse stakeholders committed to programs that are demand-driven, employer-led, and outcomes-based commit to the following goals:

  1. Build a strong local talent pipeline: To meet the demands of San Diego’s future economy, the region must double the local production of skilled workers to 20,000 annual degree or credential completions by 2030. This means ensuring Black and Latino young people have the opportunity to achieve at the same rate as their white peers. talent.inclusiveSD.org
  2. Equip small businesses to compete: Small businesses make up the majority of firms and employment in San Diego. To ensure opportunity exists for a skilled workforce, the region must create 50,000 quality jobs* within small business by 2030. This means better connecting small businesses to big customers to drive resiliency. smallbiz.inclusiveSD.org
  3. Address the affordability crisis: Ensuring San Diego is an attractive and affordable place for talent and business is critical to maintaining its regional competitiveness. For the region to recover and thrive, 75,000 new thriving households** must be created by 2030. This means prioritizing access to and affordability of the essential infrastructure that working families rely upon—like housing, childcare, and broadband—so that 55 percent of households meet San Diego’s true cost of living. affordability.inclusiveSD.org

Islas is supported by five officers as part of EDC’s Governance Committee: Chair, Julian Parra, Region Executive, Bank of America; Vice Chair, Rob Douglas, President and COO, ResMed; Vice Chair, Jennie Brooks, Senior Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton; Treasurer, Phil Blair, President and CEO at Manpower San Diego; and Secretary, Tom Seidler, SVP Community and Military Affairs, San Diego Padres.

inclusiveSD.org

Hear more from Lisette here

Meet our Board: Zach Hammond

What does it take to move cross-country for your job? So you packed your home and family and moved from one coast to the other. Sunsets instead of sunrises, warm weather year-round instead of snow days, trips to the “beach” instead of to the “shore.” Now what? Some might say it takes moving to a place you truly believe in. We got the chance to chat with a board member about just that. Check out this board spotlight with Suffolk’s San Diego General Manager, Zach Hammond.

Describe your “day job”?

I often say, “Suffolk doesn’t build buildings, we build people.” As the General Manager of Suffolk San Diego, one of my most important responsibilities is recruiting and retaining the very best talent in the construction industry so we can provide exceptional client service on our projects. I take pride in my responsibility to provide our people the strong vision and leadership necessary for them to build long-term careers at our organization and “prove impossible wrong” on our sophisticated building construction projects in San Diego.

What is your life-changing moment—something that changed the trajectory of your life for the better?

I have had the benefit of many personal and professional life-changing moments. From a career standpoint, joining the Suffolk family nearly 14 years ago certainly changed the trajectory of my professional life because of the many growth opportunities this organization has offered me. One of those opportunities includes my move from Boston to San Diego to lead this incredible team of curious, innovative, and passionate construction professionals. Managing this team and our Suffolk operations in San Diego has been one of the greatest and most transformative experiences of my life and has been a game changer for my family and me. When I was offered the opportunity, I jumped at the chance. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with this place. San Diego is one of the most beautiful places in the country, if not the world, with friendly, community-driven people who are passionate about their region. I also view San Diego as a place of great opportunity for my company and me. San Diego is a dynamic and evolving city with huge potential for economic and developmental growth. I believe San Diego has an incredibly bright future, and I am very excited to be a part of it.

Of all the boards in San Diego, why EDC?

Suffolk has been a strong community partner in San Diego for many years, and there are many exciting organizations that have made unique and indelible marks on this community. We chose to partner with EDC because if provides us opportunities to lend our voice and dedicate resources toward programs, causes and initiatives that are important to us, including the advancement of an inclusive economic development strategy to help elevate San Diego’s competitive positioning for investment and talent. We believe a rising tide should lift all boats. Our partnership with EDC is important because it is an organization that shares our values and vision for the future of this community.

Favorite quote:

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if no one cares who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman

What EDC program or initiative interests you most, and why?

EDC offers San Diego business leaders so many opportunities to collaborate and make a positive impact on the future of the region.  Suffolk leans into the chance to contribute to the region’s economic growth and development. To be an important player in this community, leaders and organizations must have an in-depth understanding of the unique needs of San Diego. EDC provides an opportunity to listen closely to other key community and business leaders from different sectors, learn from them, and gain a better understanding of how we can partner with them so that together we can create a strong and sustainable San Diego for today and the future.

Over the last year, our country and communities have simultaneously endured a pandemic, a social justice movement, and a time of hostile and divisive politics. What is your biggest lesson learned in the last year?

We are all in this together. We must remember so many of us share the same values. We must take care of each other. People above all.

Meet our Board: Lisette Islas

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are publishing a series of blogs about the women behind EDC—our fearless leaders, our board members, our executive committee, our guiding lights. To close the month, we are featuring a woman that San Diego is lucky to have. The Executive Vice President and Chief Impact Officer for MAAC, a community organization that provides services and advocacy to some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and one of Mayor Todd Gloria’s Women of Distinction, Lisette Islas.

Tell us who you are and what you do. Why did you choose your career?

I am the Executive Vice President & Chief Impact Officer at MAAC, a nonprofit that works in the areas of health, education, economic development, housing and advocacy. Every year, MAAC supports more than 70,000 people across San Diego County, most of whom are facing severe economic and social hardships when they walk through our door.

I came to this work through a winding path. My intention was to become a university professor; I had dreams of teaching courses and doing research in the areas of sociology and ethnic studies. I love learning. To this day, I stay up way-too-late reading books and articles, so in my early 20’s the idea of spending life as a researcher seemed very appealing. During graduate school, I realized that I was most fulfilled when I was working directly with community members to solve problems and create new opportunities. So, I changed the plan and found a career that would place me in the midst of efforts to transform communities and uplift families. In the two decades since then, I have learned that I’m good at building partnerships across sectors, bringing unlikely groups together to find new solutions to old problems, and driving organizational and community change.

At my core, I am a mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend who feels a sense of commitment to the community that raised me and who is trying to do my part to leave the world a little better for the people that come after me.

Other things to know about me: I grew up in Imperial Beach, am a proud Cal grad, look forward to dance parties in the living room with my little girl, and have a pretty loud (and frequent) laugh. I think in English but often dream in Spanish, so I’d say that makes me truly bilingual. Most importantly: I love to cheer for people doing good in the world.

What does your involvement in EDC mean to you?

I joined EDC just as the Inclusive Growth Initiative was taking shape. Serving on the EDC’s Executive Committee quickly became one of the top honors and joys of my workdays. The committee members all come from different industries and our world views and personal histories run the full spectrum of possibilities. That diversity of thought and experience is exactly what makes us successful as we look for new strategies to develop the economic strength of our region. We listen deeply, are always open to learning, and talk through things until we land on the right solution. Plus, we genuinely enjoy each other’s company!

When I walk away from an EDC meeting, I always feel like I am taking something with me that will make me a better leader at the office—be it a new idea, a partnership opportunity, or data that can help me make better decisions. And, just as importantly, I also feel that I have contributed to efforts that are going to meaningfully improve the lives of San Diegans. I will never meet most of the business owners and community members whose lives are touched by the work we do at EDC, but I feel immensely proud knowing that I am collaborating with a group that is genuinely committed to the betterment of San Diego and is championing strategies that will impact our region for generations to come.

What role do you see women playing across the San Diego region in the next five years?

It has been very inspiring to watch the number of women in significant leadership roles grow across San Diego over the last few years. There have been ceilings shattered in visible and not-so-visible positions, and a lot of intentionality in making board rooms and other decision-making seats much more equitable when it comes to gender. Just in recent months, we have seen the first Latina be elected to the County Board of Supervisors, a Filipina appointed to the Southwestern College Board, and a Black woman selected at as the first Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Diego.

My stats? As the second in command at MAAC, I am the highest-ranking woman in the organization’s 55-year history, and I’m the first Latina appointed to the EDC’s Executive Committee.

Though we have made significant strides, we can’t get comfortable. Among the many things we have learned since March 2020 is that all the gains we have made towards gender equity at home and in the workplace can quickly disappear. In the last 12 months, across our country, 2.3 million women have left the workforce. The story is not much brighter for those that remain employed: men have been promoted three times more than women during the pandemic. And, of course, sustaining pay inequity, with women earning 82 cents on the dollar compared to men, and that number drops to 70 cents for working moms. There is work to be done: women are hold a disproportionate number of low-wage jobs; there aren’t sufficient affordable, high-quality childcare options; and retirement savings are virtually nonexistent for one in five women. As a region, we have to wrap our arms around some really complex issues. EDC’s work provides very important tools to do so.

Share with us your favorite quote.

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” –Maya Angelou

This quote sits in a frame, in my office at work so I don’t forget to bring my full self to any situation – including all the uncommon parts of my personal and work history. I’ve learned not to hide them because they are what gives me the unique leadership perspective I have today.

What advice do you have for women in business?

Growing up, my mom often told me that there will always be people that have more than us and others who have less. I think about that often when I look back at my career, taking stock of what I’ve done and what I have yet to accomplish. There is always someone that has gone before me, that I can learn from and be inspired by. Likewise, there is someone that is following in my footsteps, who can benefit from the lessons I’ve gained and things I’ve experienced.

So how does that tie into my advice for women in business? Four words: lift as you climb.

Follow along with Lisette on Twitter: @lisetteislas1

Meet our Board: Tonya Cross

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we are publishing a series of blogs about the women behind EDC—our fearless leaders, our board members, our executive committee, our guiding lights. Below you’ll learn more about Tonya Cross, SVP of people and corporate operations at Lytx. Tonya talked to us about the importance of doing what you love, and trusting that it will take you in the right direction.

Tell us who you are and what you do. Why did you choose your career?

Born in San Diego but raised in a tiny Arizona town, I always knew I belonged in my hometown. After high school graduation, without a plan, I drove to San Diego and haven’t looked back. My 17-year-old self would’ve never imagined I’d be a lawyer turned SVP, People & Corporate Operations for an amazing company.

It’s so fun being part of the Lytx team, building a market-leading company in the video telematics space. With our technology, we help save lives on our roadways every day. Since joining, I’ve had the pleasure of helping Lytx grow from fewer than 100 employees to nearly 800 – we’re hiring.

My career journey is a winding path because I gravitate toward what allows me to do what I love. I’ve had fantastic mentors who guided me in career choices and believed in me more than I believed in myself at the time. Starting as a legal secretary, I was encouraged by Amy Wintersheimer and fellow EDC Board member, Heather Ace, to attend law school. Flash forward, I’m a USD Law graduate practicing employment law at DLA Piper.

I loved law – but hated litigation’s contentious nature. Wanting to invest my energy in moving people forward in positive ways, I turned to HR. I love HR because I get to empower others and help employees advance their careers.

To follow what I love meant having the courage to leave what wasn’t right for me – even if it meant stepping back in title or compensation.

What does your involvement in EDC mean to you?

Working with the EDC is an opportunity to give back to the community I love, particularly with my involvement as HR forum co-leader. I feel fortunate to be in this role and part of an incredible group of community leaders, especially during COVID. Our leaders guide companies and employees through this global pandemic and make difficult decisions in an unprecedented environment. We have navigated this scary time as a collective group. It never felt like we were doing it alone because we had each other.

What role do you see women playing across the San Diego region in the next five years?

I believe women will play an even more significant leadership role, not just in the community side of things but also in leading businesses. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, women have had a lot coming at them – both from a family perspective and a work perspective. I watched many women step up and lead through this uncertainty with empathy, compassion, and strength. I believe these women will carry that leadership forward into whatever fuels their passion, take on leadership roles, and drive positive change.

Share with us your favorite quote.

“Love what you do and do what you love.” – Roy T. Bennett

What advice do you have for women in business?

Find what you love and go towards it with courage and confidence. Never put limits on yourself because your possibilities are limitless, especially when you’re doing what you love. Never doubt that you’re good enough because you are. GO. FOR. IT! If you fail, you fail. Dust yourself off and get back in the game with all the learnings you gained from the journey. No doubt it’s scary but turn that fear around into drive. When you’re doing what you love, you can’t go wrong.

Follow along with Lytx on Twitter: @lytx