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Spotlight on Commerce: Jeannette P. Tamayo, Chicago Regional Director, Economic Development Administration

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Spotlight on Commerce: Jeannette P. Tamayo, Chicago Regional Director, Economic Development Administration

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.

Guest blog post by Jeannette P, Tamayo, Chicago Regional Director, Economic Development Administration

I am both honored and humbled to have been asked to share my experience in the DOC Spotlight as part of Women’s History Month as so many extraordinary women, and their sons, contribute to our collective achievements.

As the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Chicago Regional Director, I am truly privileged to touch lives in extraordinary ways through the catalytic investments EDA funds and the hope and economic impact these investments bring to economically distressed communities across the nation.  As the only federal agency with economic development as its exclusive mission, EDA promotes the economic ecosystems in which jobs are created. EDA strives to advance global competitiveness, foster the creation of high-paying jobs, and leverage public and private resources strategically.

I am fortunate to work with creative, dedicated and energetic colleagues who use their specialized knowledge and skills to help communities transform ideas into a competitive application that, once implemented, results in initiatives that create jobs and leverage private investment.  No two ideas or communities are the same, and, as the competitive needs of regional economies change to be globally competitive, EDA is constantly presented with unique asset-based, innovative concepts that test our imagination and compel us to “push the envelope” – trying new approaches to foster economic sustainability and resiliency.  Grant making requires an understanding of communities and regions, risk management, and the ability to translate visionary goals into measurable activities.  It also requires building partnerships and creating opportunities for collaboration.  While ensuring that federal funds  for transformational projects flow to communities in my six-state region (IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, and WI), my specific role involves leading a regional staff, fostering creativity, finding solutions, managing change, engaging in negotiations and mediation, analyzing applications, marketing programs, and building coalitions. 

I joined the EDA in 2009 as Regional Counsel.  My career path from law to my current executive position is a culmination of many life experiences, consistently grounded in the reason I became a lawyer.  My household was full of books and diverse opinions, and anticipated roles set in the immigrant experience.  As a child, I wanted what the boys wanted – a full education, a professional career, and someone who would cook, clean and do the laundry.  My tight-knit and highly supportive family respected my ambition and encouraged me to pursue those dreams.  As I look back at role models, I remember the many mentors I encountered along the way but ultimately none impacted me more than my father who believed that working for the United States was the greatest honor an immigrant could achieve – work that, in his words, was a way of saying thank you. 

I knew in high school that I wanted to be a lawyer, but I ran into an obstacle I didn’t foresee - I couldn’t enroll directly into law school as was the practice in my birth country.  I had to first obtain a Bachelor’s Degree, and “pre-law” was not a major.  Undeterred, I attended the University of Illinois at Chicago and took multi-disciplinary classes, exploring various fields and expanding my understanding of the world around me while learning about social justice and economic inequality.  In my rush to start law school, I finished college in three years.  I attended DePaul College of Law, took an externship with a civil rights organization, worked in the legal clinic, and wrote for a poverty law magazine.  Upon graduation I landed my then dream job as a legal aid attorney working in Chicago’s impoverished communities.  I awoke each day with a passion to make a difference and took that attitude to my workplace.  Despite the squalid surroundings, challenging caseloads, and dreary landscape, my can-do attitude allowed me to enjoy and value the work I did, and to share that joy.

Looking at communities in innovative ways and finding hope in my work flowed, in part, from my college experience.  While pursuing a minor in Women’s Studies, I translated a treasure trove of original letters written by Mexican women who established an immigrant community on Chicago’s south side.  With husbands and fathers absent for extended periods of time when they laid track from the American southwest to Chicago, the recently emigrated women built a settlement community around the soup kettle and created opportunities for their children despite the women’s lack of a formal education, ability to speak English or access to capital.  Through resilience, passion, fortitude, and their own can-do attitude, these enterprising women built themselves a new community in a strange land, reinforcing the promise of the American dream.

As a mother of both a daughter and a son, my advice to women and men alike is that you must dream your dream, and then work tirelessly to make it your reality.  Choose a career and not a job; whatever you do for a living can be turned into a helping mission.  When you are passionate about what you do, strive for excellence, and do your best, opportunities will present themselves. When you stop working solely for a paycheck and instead start working from your own motivation to succeed - to be the best you can be and to help others no matter the circumstances – you will succeed because you will define success.  I have experienced my truth – find your passion and you will never work again.  I am fortunate to continue living my dream, empowering communities to create economic opportunity for all.

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