Twenty Under 40 Q-and-A: Washoe County School District’s Emily Ellison
Who are you?
Name: Emily Ellison
Profession/Title: Washoe County School District chief human resources officer
Years in Reno/Northern Nevada: 40
RENO, Nev. — In November, the Reno-Tahoe Young Professionals Network announced the winners of its annual Twenty Under 40 Awards.
We at the NNBW feel it’s important for people of all ages, background and professions to have a voice about the current state of business in Northern Nevada.
With the region’s economic future in mind, NNBW Reporter Kaleb M. Roedel is conducting a Q-and-A with each of the 2019 winners; interviews will be published throughout the year. Go to renotahoeypn.com to learn more about Reno-Tahoe YPN. Read this week’s Q-and-A below:
Q: What do you see as the top one or two biggest economic development opportunities for Northern Nevada in 2020 and beyond?
Emily Ellison: I guess what first comes to mind for me is an opportunity and a challenge. I think the workforce is a huge opportunity and challenge, not only for the private sector but also for the public sector, as well, particularly in education. It’s very competitive right now. And so, we work on a fixed funding model, which doesn’t give us a lot of altitude in terms of compensation to attract new employees. Whatever we as a collective can do to continue telling the story of why this a great place to live and a great place to work, I think we’ll really help support our overall economy and our community.
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?
Ellison: If I’ve learned anything in my work here at the district, it’s the importance of a stakeholder’s voice. There are so many generations in the workforce now, and we have such a diverse community, that in order to really try to meet people’s needs you have to understand where they’re coming from because we have such diverse perspectives now. I’m not naive to think we’ll be able to make everyone happy. I think that’s an impossible task, but I think having young professionals at the table, having minorities at the table, having experienced professionals at the table is all part of getting a broad base of perspectives to make the best-informed decisions for whatever it is we’re trying to accomplish.
Q: What emerging industry or industries have the biggest opportunity for growth in Northern Nevada?
Ellison: I think our state’s done a nice job of laying out target industries and in-demand professions. To me, it seems like those really capture where our national economy and global economy is headed. And I am of course pleased to see education represented there, as well, because I think that’s just really a cornerstone to our state’s success in positioning ourselves for the future.
Q: Where do you see the greater Reno-Sparks region in five years?
Ellison: That’s an exciting question, right? There’s a lot of talk right now around the ever-increasing economy and is there a stopping point at some point or is there a recession on the horizon? I think one of the things that I most hope for our community is that, if we do start to see some kind of economic decline, that we don’t experience it in the same way that we did during the last recession — obviously, we felt a significant impact from that. So, I hope that we don’t have that same kind of dramatic experience we had before.
I think there’s a lot of really exciting advocacy work and social justice work happening right now. There are some really important social issues that are at the forefront for our community and our state: mental health and providing adequate mental health services; homelessness is a huge challenge for us; obviously, education is critically important. I feel like where we may have stagnated in the past in terms of ‘what do we do about these things and how do we address them?’, there’s more and more momentum then there has been before around doing something instead of just talking about and seeing if it works and taking some action. I hope that in the next five years we really lead the way in innovative solutions to those kinds of problems because I think we really have nowhere to go but up when it comes to a few of those really critical issues.
Q: If you could change one thing for the better about your community, what would it be?
Ellison: I think it piggybacks on what I was saying before around more conversations and more action. I would love to see more and more people having a voice, having a place at the table, making a place for themselves at the table, and really seeing that grassroots effort expand. I think people helping people is where all the good stuff happens. Whatever a person’s passion is, get around it and get out there and make change happen. Because I don’t know that we can rely on others to make it happen for us, we have to help lead that initiative. I’d love to see Nevada become that place, and see our community become that place, where people are really invested in our community and invested in the outcomes and taking care of each other.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.