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Calfee Now Episode 16 With Renee Ligon, Director of Partnerships & Engagement at Team NEO

On Episode 16 of Calfee NOW, Michael Bowen, Associate with Calfee's Government Relations and Legislation practice group spoke with Renee Ligon, Director of Partnerships & Engagement at Team NEO.

Topics discussed included:

  • Her professional background and how she ended up at Team NEO.
  • How she interacts with elected officials and how her roles differs from a traditional government advocate.
  • What Team NEO is and its purpose in the Greater Cleveland area.
  • Team NEO's upcoming projects in Cuyahoga County for 2021.

Calfee NOW With Renne Ligon

Watch the full episode.



Video Transcript

Michael Bowen:

So, we want to welcome everybody to another Calfee NOW. I know it's been a while since you've seen me. I'm excited to be here with my good friend, Renee Ligon at Team NEO. I'm going to let Renee tell us a little bit about what she does and her role at Team NEO, but how are you today?

Renee Ligon:

I am well. Thank you for asking. And, you?

Michael Bowen:

I'm doing just fine. So, we'll get right into it. So, Renee, tell me a little bit about number one, how you got to Team NEO and then as a second question, what are you doing at Team NEO today?

Renee Ligon:

Absolutely. Well, I always say life is a journey. Sometimes it doesn't land you where you planned and that is a good thing from where I sit. So a journey from financial services, 20 years in banking, doing commercial finance, government nonprofit finance, to some diversity work at [Case 00:00:52]. And then, the role that I had, the absolute pleasure prior to Team NEO, was the regional director of The Minority Business Assistance Center at the Urban League of Greater Cleveland. And we built a program that focused on minority entrepreneurship for women, disabled veterans and people of color.

Renee Ligon:

And very exciting job, helping them to find the path of entrepreneurship from startup to emerging, to growth, to maturity. And then, an opportunity to become the Director of Partnerships and Engagement at Team NEO was presented to me. It was a role that was being newly created with the focus of trudging a lane, to work with our federal state and local elected officials. But in this particular role, what was so uniquely defined about it is Team NEO was on a journey to work more succinctly with tying economic development strategies with communities of color, with women owned businesses, with veterans and disabled.

Renee Ligon:

And looking at their strategies, they needed someone that was fully integrated in that world and understood diversity, equity and inclusion from a corporate level, as well as a nonprofit level and a community level. And here I am working that lane of diversity, equity and inclusion in all that I do, analyzing all of my conversations, analyzing our internal strategies and how our work drives diversity, equity and inclusion with the goal of creating prosperity for all in our region. You've got to dream big to get big.

Michael Bowen:

Absolutely. And, this is why I really wanted you to come speak on a Calfee NOW because of your unique role. Normally when we have government relations professionals, they're your lobbyists or they're that advocate. So, can you go into a little bit more detail of how you interact with elected officials and why your role is different than a traditional like the lobbyists or government advocate.

Renee Ligon:

Yeah, I know. We can't lobby and we want to be able to understand the viewpoints of all elected officials, because if you're talking about DE&I, diversity, equity and inclusion, you have to understand the place or ground where everyone is currently standing. Where are they beginning? Right? Because not everyone's beginning in the same conversation. And so, you've got to figure out first where are they in the conversation because there's work to do in this field. Right?

Michael Bowen:

Sure.

Renee Ligon:

We have to understand what's important to them and also communicating who we are as an organization. And, why as DE&I and the work we do in economic development important to our region and how do we align with what they are trying to do as legislators. And so, we find that common ground and we work. It's like working up the ladder, working up the ladder together to get to higher ground. It's one ring at a time. It's not all at once. Your ladder might be on the North, yours might be on the South. It's not always in the same place.

Michael Bowen:

Right.

Renee Ligon:

Let's meet you where you are, so we can get to a common ground. Everyone wants a better society. Everyone wants a better region. Everyone wants a better Cleveland. Everyone wants a better community. I haven't met one person that says, "No, I don't want what's good for my community."

Michael Bowen:

Right.

Renee Ligon:

That is a common ground right there, right? So, yes.

Michael Bowen:

Absolutely. Now that's great. And just to zoom out because we're going out to all our clientele and we have the statewide audience here. Can you explain a little bit of what Team NEO is and Team NEO's purpose in the Greater Cleveland area?

Renee Ligon:

Yes. Team NEO, our mission is to create equitable, fair wage paying jobs where we can accelerate the pace of equity and outcomes for all in our community. And we do that by leveraging the capital assets or the dollars of JobsOhio, okay. JobsOhio is the larger entity. We are one of the six regional partners or network partners of JobsOhio. There's five others. Our region is divided up amongst 18 counties. And with that focus on 18 counties, we have what we call the business retention and expansion team, which is like an outside sales team, who worked very closely with our mayors, our economic development corporations, our county governments, those who are driving economic development on the ground here in our various cities and counties. We then, through working with our business retention and expansion, they are having conversations with those folks to say, "Who are the companies that exist in your cities? And, what are the sites like?" Meaning land availability, buildings like. "What's the structural assets of your city or your county?"

Renee Ligon:

And then Team NEO as a partner, we know how to plug in with the incentives from JobsOhio, whether it be grants, loans, or tax incentives to meet the needs of those communities and cities. And so, we might have a company from international, from international waters. We might have a company in another state that is looking to expand or grow on our soil. We can help make those connections. And so in doing that, we're creating jobs and opportunities for those very cities. We're changing the look or the landscape, because you might have a blighted area. You might have a strip center that is fully unoccupied. You might have buildings that have brownfields that are contaminated. We want to know about those things, so that we can help advance economic development and create jobs in those communities, so that all have access to it.

Renee Ligon:

And we want equitable, fair wage paying jobs. We're not talking about these minimum wage jobs. We're talking about jobs where folks can advance in their lives and have some sort of career trajectory. And we work on the talent assets of those communities, understanding what's the talent like and where is it available? Do we need to skill up the talent? Do we need to provide workforce opportunities? Who are the organizations we need to partner with locally to strengthen those talent assets that might be available there or recruit-

Michael Bowen:

Right.

Renee Ligon:

... more talent into that area. So, that's really from a mission-oriented perspective. And then, we've got the pillars and strategies that we focus on to do that. But, I'm going to pause there because I could keep talking.

Michael Bowen:

No, that's a fantastic answer. And what's interesting about Team NEO and why I'm really interested in it, Renee and I'm making an assumption here, you went from a life not dealing with elected officials a ton to [crosstalk 00:08:40] now I'm assuming, you're dealing with elected officials pretty regularly.

Renee Ligon:

Yes.

Michael Bowen:

Talk to me a little bit about that transition and what it's like. Because part of our role here at Calfee is government relations, is helping our corporate clients work with the public sector and the public entities in that kind of transition. And helping them come along on the same path, I guess, that you have come along too in the economic development sphere. So, talk a little bit about that and the biggest differences and just your general thoughts on that.

Renee Ligon:

Yeah. I worked a little bit with our government officials earlier in my career, especially in banking, but that was mainly in Florida. I worked with our government officials there. A very different interaction, right? In banking, you're talking money. You're talking how are we going to get this bond deal done? And, I've got a fleet of emergency vehicles I need financed or are we going to raise taxes to do that?

Michael Bowen:

Right.

Renee Ligon:

Now, I'm talking about economic development strategies. The conversation is very different. This is about... I haven't met an elected official yet that isn't concerned about talent development.

Michael Bowen:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Renee Ligon:

And, workforce strategies.

Michael Bowen:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Renee Ligon:

How do we make sure not only that we have the jobs, but how do we make sure we have the people to fill those jobs?

Michael Bowen:

Right.

Renee Ligon:

We insert from my role, let's insert equity and inclusion and diversity into that conversation. And some of them, it's a very natural conversation. And some, depending if they don't have the density of that, it's not a focus, but it's more of how do we just advance the workforce. So, many different areas to hang the hat on where you're talking about where elected officials put their focus. But I'm going to tell you, our state has a great pool of elected officials who focus on making sure we are creating jobs and filling those jobs. And, that's critical because if you can be the state that helps to advance that, it puts us on the map. Especially if we're looking at healthcare, technology and manufacturing being our three core areas of focus and industry. It's great to find that once you begin that conversation in the education of their and understanding who we are, the alignment and collaboration begins to really focus in.

Michael Bowen:

Now, that's fantastic. And so, following up on your answer there, what are some specific projects, and I know the answer to this because you and I are working on a project, but what are some of the specific projects that are going on now in Cuyahoga County, City of Cleveland that really have you excited about where 2021, 2022 post COVID life is going?

Renee Ligon:

Well, the one project for sure is the Rockefeller mortgage project, where we are creating or we are helping to advance tons of jobs in our city. And, here's an example of how Team NEO works perfectly with organizations and helping to create jobs locally. Now, those jobs didn't have to come here, right? They could have gone to another state or a home state, but the investment here locally in Cleveland and having that partnership with our elected officials, we have folks where it's going to land in territories where our council member, Basheer Jones, is. We've got Senator Sandra Williams.

Renee Ligon:

We have representative Stephanie Howse. We have Representative Boyd, we've got Representative Upchurch, all of these great places where jobs will be created for opportunities for folks to come in and really have something they would not have had before. And, these are not just low paying jobs. These are high paying, really good jobs that can make a matter of difference in the lifestyle choices of where people land and live. So perfect example of the great work that we do and a perfect example of how economic development benefits local communities and does so through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, we're creating equitable, fair wage, paying jobs to advance and accelerate the pace of equity and outcomes. That's making a difference.

Michael Bowen:

Obviously that was kind of a loaded question because we're working on that deal together, but I can say from even the law firm organizational perspective, just being able to have Team NEO handoff on something that we're not specialized in, I'm not a marketing specialist, but being able to hand that off to Team NEO and working with the elected officials that help with the marketing, I couldn't say more about how much I agree with you. So, I appreciate your time. So we always end, or at least I always end with a question. We have Fortune 500 clients all the way down to a little mom and pop shop who listened to these little Calfee NOWs. What would be the parting words you would have for them, both about Team NEO, just Cuyahoga County, the city of Cleveland in general, where we're heading and how we're doing.

Renee Ligon:

I'm going to tell you. Team NEO had one of the greatest years that it had since we've been around, created more jobs, created more opportunities and the impact in our cities and the jobs that have been created with that. When you look at the focus on urban centers and urban cores, the small mom and pop to the large company are all part of that whole economic development equation. The mom and pop helps to support the big corporate giant that might be coming in. Because guess what, when all those employees fill that building, they're going to go visit the hairstylist. They're going to go visit the restaurant. They're going to go visit the novelty store. They're going to go visit the daycare center because they might have kids to drop off. It helps. It's like the circle of life, circle of economic development, right? One supports the other.

Renee Ligon:

And this is why it's so important that every organization that helps to support entrepreneurship and business development at every level, does not take their eye off the ball because you might be working in your one area, but every bit of what you do every day supports that circle of economic development to ensure we have successful companies from the ground to the top of the ceiling.

Michael Bowen:

Right. Absolutely. Well Renee, I appreciate your time always. Number one, I personally can vouch and appreciate for the work that Team NEO is doing. And, I look forward for us to continue working together in many years with at least this quick and loans project, but probably multiple projects outside of that. So, thank you for joining us today for Calfee NOW. And, hopefully everybody else will tune in again soon.

Renee Ligon:

All right. Thank you.

Michael Bowen:

Thank you.

Calfee Connections blogs, vlogs and other educational content are intended to inform and educate readers about legal developments and are not intended as legal advice for any specific individual or specific situation. Please consult with your attorney regarding any legal questions you may have. With regard to all content including case studies or descriptions, past outcomes do not predict future results. The opinions expressed may not necessarily reflect the view points of all attorneys and professionals of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP or its subsidiary. Updates related to all COVID-19 government assistance programs are provided with the most current information made available to Calfee at the time of publication. Clarifications and further guidance are being disseminated from government authorities on an ongoing basis. All information should be reaffirmed prior to the submission of any application and/or program participation.

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