Twenty Under 40 Q-and-A: United Federal Credit Union's Jeff Panko

Born and raised in Reno, Jeff Panko graduated from the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno with a Business Management and Information Systems degree.

Born and raised in Reno, Jeff Panko graduated from the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno with a Business Management and Information Systems degree. Courtesy Photo

EDITOR’S NOTE: In November, the Reno-Tahoe Young Professionals Network announced the winners of its 14th annual Twenty Under 40 Awards. With the region’s economic future in mind, we are conducting interviews with each of the 2020 winners, to be published throughout the year.

Who are you?
Name: Jeff Panko
Age: 34
Profession/Title: Regional Market Development Manager at United Federal Credit Union
Years in Reno/Northern Nevada: 34

Q: What do you see as the top one or two biggest economic development opportunities for Northern Nevada in 2021 and beyond?

Jeff Panko: We really need to continue to diversify our economy here. We’ve definitely been focused on this over the last couple of years, and I think because of that, because we have so many different kinds of businesses and different streams of revenue, that through 2020, although it hurt, it didn’t hurt like it could have because of our diversification.

Q: Why is it important for younger professionals to have a seat at the table when it comes to the business community in Northern Nevada?

Panko: I think it’s helped Nevada because we have so many different views and perspectives. Not only are we having younger professionals at the table, but we’re now having all different kinds of businesses as their companies move to relocate here. Now those executives and those business professionals that don’t necessarily just have a Nevada background are coming in, so we’re getting different views, different perspectives, different opinions, and all of those things are moving us forward.

Q: What under the radar industries have the biggest opportunity for growth in Northern Nevada?

Panko: Last year was hard, and I think it was even more difficult for parents. I’m a father of three kids; one of them is in kindergarten, one is in second grade and the other is in preschool. I feel bad for those parents that have older children, anywhere from high school all the way down.

How do young professionals and businesspeople work full time and help their kids with distance learning, all while performing at a high level at their jobs? So, I think that home tutors and home teachers — the individuals that can help students — have a really niche market that I can really see expand over the coming years as the students get away from what I’ve heard teachers call the ‘COVID slide.’ It’s an industry that has a lot of room for growth.

And then I think private schools do as well. Private schools have a smaller student-to-teacher ratio and because of that they were able to go back to the classrooms quicker, and they have more interaction with their teachers. Private schools in 2021 and beyond is something that I think is going to grow quickly — new schools or just the expansion of those schools that are already around.

Q: Where do you see the greater Reno-Sparks region in five years?

Panko: I think we are still headed on the same trajectory that we were headed over the past few years. Yes, we had the pandemic kind of halt everything for a moment, and some small businesses had the worst consequences of it. But I think we are headed to a continued diverse business area ... that’s why we’re able to do so well coming out of (the pandemic).

But, those mom-and-pop shops that closed are going to be more resilient than ever because they’ve had to go through this. And they will probably stay around a lot longer than they may have, because they have the business knowledge and know-how and support of the community. I think our community has grown to say, ‘Oh, you know that mom-and-pop shop does make a difference. It is important to me. Let’s go back and support them.’ And they’ll have more community support than they ever would have.

Q: If you could change one thing for the better or improve one thing about your community, what would it be?

Panko: United Federal Credit Union’s motto is ‘people helping people.’ I think it’s a great tie into what our community needs. We need more people helping other people. And I’m not just talking about money; sure, everyone can give a donation. But where is our time spent? Where is that money spent?

My grandfather always used to say, ‘there are two types of people in this world: there are givers and there are takers. And you want to be a giver — give of your time, give of your money, and give of your talents. And don’t just be the receiver; don’t just take all of these things.’

I would definitely say we need more people in our community to be givers of time, money and resources. A good example of that would be after the riots in downtown Reno (last summer). There’s vandalism, there’s stuff everywhere, broken glass. That next morning, hundreds of local Reno and Sparks people were down there cleaning up. And I think that just shows the spirit of our community. We’re there to help one another, and don’t want to see negative things change our culture and change who we are.

Q: Why do you feel Northern Nevada is better positioned to bounce back from the COVID recession than other regions?

Panko: We are definitely creative. As Northern Nevadans, we try to find the solutions. We’re diverse in that we have regularly brought in new businesses. So, the teams and organizations that helped companies come in have done a really good job, so we’re not just focused on one industry. We’ve been able to expand our community so we’re not only relying on casinos or tourism, but people are moving here for other reasons now. I’m thankful that 2020 is behind us and we can all move forward together.

Note: This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.


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