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Spotlight on Commerce: Ashley Zuelke, Program Manager, Denver Regional Office, U.S. Economic Development Administration

Guest blog post by Ashley Zuelke, Program Manager, Denver Regional Office, U.S. Economic Development Administration

I serve as a Program Manager in the Denver Regional Office at the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA). I joined EDA in August 2020 to support economic response to and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. My team and I work with applicants throughout our 10-state region, manage grants, and ensure we are making impactful investments, such as capitalizing Revolving Loan Funds that provide gap financing to small businesses, partnering with states to support rural resiliency planning, equipping the next generation of nurses, and more. These investments advance job growth and contribute to economic resilience, quality of life, and opportunity – objectives that have driven me since the beginning of my career. 

I graduated from the University of Montana in 2009 - at the height of the Great Recession - with degrees in journalism and international relations. I was fortunate to have opportunities to serve at the U.S. Embassy in Paris and in the U.S. Senate. In 2010, I was hired to work in the Office of the Secretary of Commerce. That year, President Obama launched the National Export Initiative to spur economic recovery and support jobs by helping U.S. businesses expand sales to international customers. After serving in legislative affairs for two years, I joined the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration and, for the next four years, coordinated and developed programs and policies to help U.S. exporters – particularly women-owned businesses, businesses owned by people of color, and start-ups – grow and support local economies. As part of that trade promotion coordination work, I’m proud to have been part of a Bronze Medal Award-winning team and for originating a Presidential initiative to increase rural exports. 

I have family on the Montana Hi-Line, and I deeply understand the value of helping a business create even one job in a small community. That’s why, after attaining a master’s in business and data analytics from University College London, I worked as the director of research for the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a national nonprofit that builds capacity in rural communities in every state and U.S. territories.

After those experiences, joining EDA felt like a homecoming. EDA’s mission motivates me every day. I deeply admire and am inspired by my EDA colleagues. And I derive great fulfillment from working with EDA’s grantees and partners, including those in my original home state. I am excited for EDA’s future, and the impact EDA investments will have in our nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. We truly are building better, more resilient local economies together, and I am honored to be a part of it.

A fellow Montanan, U.S. Representative Jeannette Rankin, was the first woman ever elected to Congress. She said, “I want to be remembered as the only woman who ever voted to give women the right to vote.” When I was asked to share my story here, I thought of several women who have extended the opportunity to me in the spirit of Rankin’s words. Many of those role models were, and still are, colleagues at the Commerce Department. They helped me understand the importance of extending the career ladder to others, serving the underserved and expanding equity. They inspire me to be a mentor at EDA and through organizations like the Colorado Leadership Alliance. I am so grateful to those leaders and the women whose stories may go untold but are no less important. The fact that I can think of so many women – too many to name – who have been instrumental to my and other’s success testifies to progress made and progress we celebrate this Women’s History Month.

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during Women’s History Month.