Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has selected Maria Saldaña as the Director of the county’s new Bureau of Economic Development.
Preckwinkle said the county can and should to more when it comes to job creation, workforce development and retaining and attracting businesses.
“Previously, the county’s economic development functions were spread among disparate departments and agencies. There was a lack of coordination and as a result, the county hasn’t done its share and hasn’t worked efficiently as a partner with the City of Chicago, the state and the federal government. That is coming to an end. This new initiative will centralize services – community development, job training and building and zoning – under one roof and under one supervisor. We went through a lengthy search to find the right person and Maria Saldaña will do a great job in her new position.”
Saldaña said that the new Bureau of Economic Development has been given the mission of helping businesses and our workforce thrive in Cook County.
“The goal is job training and job creation. From the perspective of a taxpayer, the county has not done these important tasks well. This gives us an important seat at the table for the first time. I’m excited about this opportunity and the people of Cook County should be excited as well. We’re going to remove barriers to business development and develop initiatives to attract new businesses. A big part of this will be maximizing the resources available to us and building new relationships with communities, including the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois and the Federal government. That means accessing grant dollars, investing them in strategic programming and doing our part to rebuild the local economy,” she said.
Saldaña is a finance and legal professional with over 20 years of experience working with state and local government bodies as an investment banker. She has also served as the in-house attorney to the City of Chicago and in the private sector. She previously served as President of the Chicago Park District. In December 2009, she was appointed by the Governor to the Board of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.
The Bureau of Economic Development will oversee the President’s Office of Employment Training (POET) program, which is headed by Karin Norington-Reaves.
The Bureau will be funded primarily with grant dollars. Of the recommended $79 million FY2011 budget, $75 million comes from grant funds. The new Bureau combines and realigns separate departments that work on economic development including the Bureau of Community Development, the Department of Capital Planning and Policy, the Department of Building and Zoning and POET.
Preckwinkle said no “new” funds will be committed to the Bureau.
“This is another example of us doing more with less. Economic development is a priority and we’ll be redirecting and centralizing existing funding sources to maximize the impact of the work of Maria and her dedicated team. We believe we’re making an investment that will bring back tremendous returns and our staff will be held accountable to ensure that happens,” she said.
Saldaña served as Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago between 1989 and 1997. She most recently served as the Managing Director, Midwest Region, at Duncan-Williams, a regional investment banking firm. Her term as President of the Chicago Park District began in 2002 and ended in 2007.
Saldaña serves on the boards of several civic organizations, including the Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago Metropolis 2020 Executive Council, Scholarship Chicago and The Resurrection Project.