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Construction entrepreneur Julissa Carielo (B.B.A. ’95) knows how to move a vision forward. Perhaps that’s why Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff (J.D. ’66) tapped her in April to co-lead the COVID-19 Economic Transition Team with Kevin Voelkel, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas.

Julissa Carielo sits in an office space

After 12 years of working in the construction industry, Carielo launched her own construction firm in 2006 called Tejas Premier Building Contractor Inc. Her firm has grown significantly since then. In 2019, she co-founded the DreamOn Group, which encompasses her construction firm and also the DreamOn Development Company and DreamOn Property Management.

She’s given back along the way including helping establish the Maestro Entrepreneur Center, a small business incubator in San Antonio. You can read more about the Center in this story.

She recently shared her experiences from the COVID-19 Economic Transition Team in a Q&A.

What were your first thoughts when you were approached about co-leading the economic transition panel?

When the mayor calls and asks for your help, you do it. I was honored that he considered me to lead this effort. I have always enjoyed serving and helping our community. To lead an effort that focuses on economic development during these challenging times is a very tough and sensitive request. I did not take it lightly. 

What was it like leading this panel, especially under remote circumstances?

I was co-chairing the effort with Kevin Voelkel, president of Toyota. We had never met before but we met virtually and immediately hit the ground running. It was a very intense 10 days and we did not get to do much of anything else as we had so many virtual meetings and late-night conversations. We had an amazing team of business leaders who assisted and provided much expert knowledge in all industries. We worked every day from 6 a.m. to midnight. We had so much to do and we wanted to make sure we were including as much research as possible. My kids were wondering what I was working on as I never left my home office.

How did you all strike a balance between the needs of both health and economy in the panel’s guidelines?

We all agreed that we had two crises we were dealing with: a health and an economic crisis. And we knew that we would not be able to help the economic side until we had some control over the health crisis. We also felt that no one should have to choose between physical safety and economic health. We partnered with the Health Transition Team for guidance and for collaboration of how our businesses should reopen safely. We wanted the focus on protecting our community and employees by providing an Economic Transition Team Playbook of recommendations by industry for businesses to reopen safely. We also knew that we needed to create a path to build consumer confidence. We established a Greater SAfer Together Pledge for our businesses to register and pledge to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines. 

What are the most important takeaways for reopening San Antonio businesses safely? 

We wanted to make sure all businesses understood they played a huge role in protecting our community and workforce. Even today, our businesses, regardless of any state or local ruling, have the right to control what happens in their locations. We wanted to provide an easy approach to those smaller companies that did not know how to do it. We were working closely with the governor’s guidance and we knew that just because he said, “you can open,” it did not mean they knew how to do it safely. We also knew many of the small businesses did not have access or funding for safety equipment. We established a safety support resource and the city and county mobilized quickly to make it available by providing face masks, hand sanitizers and thermometers. 

As employees come back to work and customers begin visiting businesses again, what are the most important tips to keep in mind?

Safety, safety, safety. We have to continue to protect each other by wearing masks and keeping our distance. Everyone is always asking when will this end? It will happen when we find a cure or vaccine. There is no magic date so we have to follow the CDC guidelines all the time.

Looking down the road, how did the panel propose continuing to help small and minority-owned businesses? 

We first identified how our small businesses were affected, who was affected the most and why. Then we established short- and long-term goals that our city and county could implement to help support our business needs. We also identified many concerns that magnified equity issues in our community, which led to the much-needed assistance still needed for our small and minority-owned firms. We requested that the city and county establish a new taskforce that would develop the long-term tracking of these businesses’ needs and progress with an equity lens approach.

Do you anticipate the panel reconvening to analyze this evolving situation?

I don’t think so. Of course, we are always here to support and I know the whole team would immediately mobilize if asked. But I really believe the playbook and pledge need to continue to be activated. We need our community to follow the CDC guidelines so we can stay open. 

Are there any lessons from your experiences at St. Mary’s that have helped strengthen your leadership abilities during this challenging time?

I love that this question is asked. I believe my experience at St. Mary’s played a huge role in developing the compassionate and caring leader that I am. I feel so blessed to have been a part of something so amazing and now to be able to share it with my community I get to serve every day.

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