Against the grain II

OEV will surely miss the acumen of Cristina Paredes

Vaughn Wilson

On June 24 it was announced that Cristina Paredes, Director of the Tallahassee/Leon County Office of Economic Vitality (OEV), had resigned from her post. Paredes led the department through its largest victory of attracting the Amazon fulfillment center to Tallahassee.

Paredes is obviously a rising star in the business world. Ranked as one of the Top 50 business developers in the nation in 2021, OEV has had its hand in not only development of corporations in Tallahassee, but small and minority businesses as well. Her assembling of a diverse and impactful staff has contributed to her success at OEV.

Currently, there are over 300 women and minority-owned businesses registered with OEV, representing over 2,000 employees. OEV’s impact on the capital community has been steady and tactical.

My personal experience with OEV has been nothing short of stellar.  After being strongly encouraged by Deputy Director Darryl Jones, to register my business with OEV during the beginning of the global pandemic, it turned out to be the most impactful decision for my small business.

After sitting dormant for two months as the whole world was with the global shutdown of 2020, I completed my registration with OEV and received a grant.  This after every single contract within my business had cancelled as they were all based on live events.

I was awarded a grant through OEV from a CARES Act package.  Something I never thought a small Black-owned business would qualify for.  OEV convinced me that their task was to assist all businesses.  With the grant I was able to pivot my business to virtual broadcasting.  That moment changed my business forever.

A month after receiving the grant and bolstering my live broadcast capabilities with the grant, OEV called for me to broadcast their annual awards show because there would be no in-person events.  After they hired me for that, I got a call from Jones one evening.  He asked me to meet him and Paredes in the OEV office the next morning.  In that meeting, they hired me at my requested rate to broadcast their monthly hybrid meetings.  That contract went on for nearly two years.

The importance of the story is that they didn’t just casually help develop businesses with an emphasis on small businesses, they used the services of some of the very businesses they assisted along the way.  Paredes was the thunder and Jones was the lightning.  The two worked tirelessly to encourage business growth, attract businesses to register with OEV and foster inclusion in the bidding of projects to women and minority-owned businesses.

In November of 2021, I was able to approach OEV with the idea of having a Black Business Expo at the end of February to bring consultants, banks, larger businesses and municipal entities under one roof.  After a few detailed presentations, OEV sponsored the event as the primary partner.  WE gathered over 60 women and minority-owned businesses, and 35 businesses, banks and larger companies to participate in the expo.  All three local chambers of commerce (Big Bend Minority Chamber, Capital City Chamber of Commerce and Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce) were heavily involved in the expo.

During the expo, the spirit of business hit the chambers as they all offered a year of free membership to businesses in attendance.  In short, small businesses who attended the expo were granted over $1,000 in local chamber memberships on the spot.  This event was not possible without the investment of resources both financial and planning assistance from OEV.

It was Paredes thinking outside the box in granting a small minority business the largest investment in a single-entity direct grant from OEV.  That is the kind of innovative thinking that we lose with the resignation of Paredes.

Selfishly, I wish she would stay here and continue to grow OEV.  Practically, I understand with an intellect of her nature, she is a valuable commodity to any business.  I certainly wish her well on her journey and can rest in the fact that she has assembled a great staff to continue the great work of OEV.

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