Meet our Team!
Our talented and dedicated staff is passionate about ESDC’s mission. We work hard everyday to help the Pilsen community thrive.
Alexis Esparza serves as President of Economic Strategies Development Corporation and has led the organization’s departments through substantial growth and transition in recent years. Mr. Esparza serves as chair member of the Pilsen Planning Committee, through which he works with twenty-five partner organizations to resolve issues that affect local residents. He also serves as chair of the Economy & Jobs Task Force through which local organizations share agendas and develop ideas for programming in the community. He is a member of the Illinois Latino Caucus Foundation and serves on the Complete Count Commission of Illinois. He sits on the board of Pilsen Neighborhood Community Council and is a member of the ComEd Business Advisory Council. Alexis Esparza holds a Bachelor of International Business Management.
Jaime Garza, Project and Event Manager at ESDC, is a Pilsen native who has not only provided much support to artists and businesses in the community over the years, but who is himself an artist. He is responsible for cultivating relationships with business owners, multidisciplinary artists and partnering organizations in order to bring quality cultural events to the community. Mr. Garza also serves at a creative capacity, producing and designing ESDC signature events such as the Mole de Mayo festival and Buen Provecho Taste of Pilsen. He develops marketing materials for the organization and provides graphic design services to local business owners for branding purposes. His responsibilities also include event logistics, booking and hiring talent, and quality control of ESDC events.
Alex Ruiz recently joined ESDC as the Director of Small Business. He transitioned from his role as Community Lending Manager at Accion Chicago, where he managed a team of lenders in various Chicago neighborhoods such as Pilsen, Little Village, and Midway. He is responsible for the generation of leads, referral partner relationships and community outreach, while providing access to capital and business coaching to entrepreneurs. Prior to joining Accion, Alex was a branch manager at a community bank with over 10 years of banking experience. In addition to working with entrepreneurs to spur economic development, he is also a licensed Real Estate Broker. His responsibilities also include reviewing business leases and assisting local business owners with their business plans.
Gabriela Perez is the Associate Director of the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) hosted at ESDC. Previously, Gabriela worked as an Assistant Researcher at the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement at the University of Illinois at Chicago while she completed her Master of Urban Planning and Policy.
Although Natalie Velazquez has a business background, majoring in Business Administration at Depaul University, she has volunteered much of her time over the years to the nonprofit sector, facilitating family engagement programs. Her caring nature, combined with her business savvy, is reflected in the support and services she provides to local business owners. In addition to responding to the needs of local entrepreneurs, her responsibilities as Program Coordinator include facilitating workshops, organizing events, and documenting economic and development services provided by the organization.