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Jeanine Jerkovic, Economic Development Director, City of Surprise Economic Development Department

Jeanine Jerkovic: Creating Thriving Business Environment for the Community with Workforce Development Initiatives

Economic development of any region is the central pillar of growth in all areas and its sustainable growth depends on good leadership and consular services. City of Surprise is a striking instance of the above mentioned notion, as it is thriving under the leadership of Jeanine Jerkvoic.

A management professional, Jeanine serves as the Economic Development Director at City of Surprise. Her 15 years of enriching experience in the economic development industry reflects her passion for economic development. She believes that the most important skillset to build is learning to embrace change and practices the same in her approach.

Throughout her tenure at City of Surprise, Jeanine has enjoyed creating initiatives to change perceptions about the city! Inspired by her visionary approach, we at Insights Success caught up with Jeanine to learn more about her journey and her contribution to the dynamic economic development industry.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at Surprise. What challenges did you overcome to reach where you are today?

I grew up in the Greater Phoenix West Valley in Glendale, Arizona and then graduated from Arizona State University (ASU). Early in my career, I had the great fortunate of completing a college internship for former US Senator John McCain and then working for a political action committee (PAC) called Campaign America. After graduating from ASU, I attended the London School of Economics in the UK to get a master’s degree. While in the UK, I interned with the US Embassy in London and soon after got a job with the designated UK-based European contractor for the Arizona Department of Commerce. It was there that I was exposed to the commercial trade and economic development profession and learned about it as a career option. I moved back to Arizona soon after and worked in the International Trade and Investment Division for the Arizona Department of Commerce, but it was only when I accepted a position at the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC), where I worked for four years, that I can say I truly fell in love with the economic development profession.

I left GPEC in 2006 to work where I live today in the City of Surprise! I was the Economic Development Manager in Surprise for over four years but left for an exciting opportunity with the Canadian Consulate in Phoenix. Shortly after landing there, the Canadian government began to shutter several US trade and consular locations, and unfortunately, our office was one of them. I landed at the City of Glendale, Arizona – my hometown – but ultimately, I returned to the place I love and still call home, the City of Surprise! I have served as the Surprise Economic Development Director for more than seven years!

The economic development profession is faced with constant economic, political and social changes, and while I have found this to be the greatest challenge, it is the greatest opportunity!

Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.

The mission of the City of Surprise Economic Development Department is: to accelerate an enhanced quality of life and a thriving business environment for the community through the facilitation of new employment opportunities and workforce development initiatives; the attraction of retail amenities; the promotion of entrepreneurship and small business growth; and the retention and expansion of local businesses.

Until recently, the Surprise Economic Development Department has been primarily focused on strategic industry and business attraction in four key general sector areas: advanced manufacturing, innovation, medical excellence, and signature retail. Business retention, small business assistance, workforce development and infrastructure, while important, have generally been secondary for us until 2021. This focus will change a lot in 2022!

Moving ahead, it will be essential to pivot quickly and execute effective workforce development and infrastructure support programs that allow us to accommodate the current surge of commercial and residential growth.

Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.

I am a huge believer in servant leadership, and the City of Surprise has a culture that reflects and supports this. It is important to build a culture where people connect, relate to one another, and build one another up. As I mentioned before, economic development is a dynamic industry, and there can be considerable pressure to meet – or even exceed – expectations. This makes it critical to hire talented, likeable individuals who aren’t afraid to leave egos at the door, and I am lucky to work with the best team in the world.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

Technology has made us all more virtually accessible, and the Surprise Economic Development Department is no exception. Our marketing has become more creative, especially as we have had to adapt and create meetings, events and even community tours of Surprise in a virtual format! During 2020, we had a prospective company unable to visit due to restrictions, and we were able to produce a custom virtual tour video for them, which impressed them! Additionally, we hosted a first-ever virtual Spring Training VIP event with over 200 businesses and development professionals online – and as a result, we now have a signature restaurant negotiating in our market after attending that!

What, according to you, could be the next big change in Economic Development? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?

The next tidal wave in the economic development profession is the workforce development issue. It will be everyone’s greatest challenge – and greatest opportunity. Over the next several months, we are aligning our workforce and industry partnerships with certifications and resources to help accelerate opportunities for dislocated workers, youth and remote professionals. Workforce development will become our primary focus in 2022.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run and what are your future goals for Surprise?

The City of Surprise has incredible economic assets that are any economic development professional’s dream: a successful business incubator; an emerging downtown with a residential university – Ottawa University Arizona – as well as an award-winning Spring Training stadium; developable land; highway accessibility – and even rail! My future goals are to lead initiatives to create a thriving downtown, to ignite our untapped workforce potential, to support new infrastructure solutions, such as broadband development, and to attract more commercial and employment opportunities to our future growth area in North Surprise!

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the Economic Development sector?

I am a big believer in just putting yourself out there and talking to people! My advice would be to reach out to a local economic developer like myself, have a virtual chat or a cup of coffee, and learn more about economic development as a career path.