Written by The Business Journal Staff
Lee Ann Eager
President and CEO
Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County
What we do: The Economic Development Corporation serving Fresno County is a nonprofit organization established to market Fresno County as the premier location to expand and grow core industries. We also assist in the retention and expansion of businesses that are already located in the area.
Education: University of California, Davis, School of Law
California State University, Fresno
Summa Cum Laude
School of social science – Dean’s Medalist
Criminology Department – Outstanding Baccalaureate Student
Family: I have been married to my husband, Allen, for 26 years. Between us we have five children and seven grandchildren. I am a 4th-generation Fresnan. My mom and dad were both teachers and administrators here in Fresno. No matter what I do or where I go — I think I will always be known as “Coach DeCarlo’s Daughter”.
You have some big shoes to fill in your predecessor Steve Geil. What did you learn from him and during your 2+ years as COO that will help you in your new job, Lee?
Steve is such a visionary. He taught me how to better connect the dots of all the developments and resources that we have in Fresno County, and to see where the biggest opportunities lie. The EDC is continually marketing Fresno County to other areas of the world, and I appreciated the way Steve was able to explain the vision of Fresno County to others. Steve is a dreamer and his passion is contagious. I definitely “caught the bug” and will continue expanding on his vision.
What do you learn during your 12-year tenure as executive director of the Rape Counseling Service of Fresno, Lee?
There are many people in this community that need a voice and I learned to be that voice. At the rape crisis center, 74 percent of our clients were under the age of 18. It was heartbreaking to see the number of people, especially children, in need of assistance but the job was also very rewarding. When I accepted the job of executive director, the agency had a budget of $235,000 and six employees. When I left, our budget was over $1.2 million with a staff of 32. I learned that in order to succeed in the nonprofit world, you had to be involved in the process. I think I was on every local, state and federal committee on victim’s rights that there was available. If you truly want to make a difference, you must work in partnership with other organizations.
What are your thoughts on the high-speed rail project and what it will do for the Central Valley’s economy, Lee?
The high-speed rail project is a game changer for the Central Valley and I believe that it will positively impact Fresno County. The high-speed rail project will not only help alleviate our unemployment problems, but will connect the Central Valley with the rest of state. This will open up many more opportunities for all of us. I know there will never be an infrastructure project of this magnitude in Fresno County in my lifetime and I have high hopes for its success.
How do you respond to high-speed rail’s skeptics, Lee?
I have attended every California High Speed Rail Authority board meeting over the last two and a half years and have heard many opinions on the project. A lot of “skeptics” oppose one part of the plan, or disagree with part of the process, but don’t necessarily oppose the idea of high-speed rail as a whole. That says to me that the community is interested and is just doing their due diligence in making sure that the project is done correctly the first time around. Usually after listening to “skeptics” reasoning for opposition and explaining things from a different perspective, they become more receptive to alternative opinions and the actual economic benefits the system could have. It’s not about winning or losing between the supporters and protestors of the rail system — it’s about recognizing the problems we are facing with the project and addressing them fairly.
One thing we need to keep in mind — if we turn away the $3.3 billion dollars in federal funding, we will never get that opportunity again.
What do you do in your spare time, Lee?
I love the theater. We have season tickets to the Best of Broadway productions in San Francisco. I am also a die-hard 49er and Giant fan. But most importantly — I am a foodie. I love to try new restaurants and I have to admit — I’ll try just about anything.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Lee?
My first job was at Sears wrapping presents during the Christmas season. It taught me two things:
1. To try your best no matter what the job, and…
2. Christmas present wrapping is not my forte.