Mayor-elect Swearengin Unveils Downtown and Economic Development Team; Updates Department Structure and Focus

Mayor-elect Ashley Swearengin will hold a news conference at 10am this morning to announce the restructuring of the City of Fresno Economic Development Department, naming Craig Scharton to the top post of Downtown and Community Revitalization Director. Scharton will oversee a department more sharply focused on strengthening Fresno’s economy through an emphasis on downtown revitalization, improving urban neighborhoods and supporting locally-owned businesses.

Scharton is a former Fresno city council member who currently serves as chief executive of the Central Valley Business Incubator, where he has raised $6 million in investment capital for locally-based businesses. Previously, Scharton held executive director positions for successful downtown revitalization programs in Pleasanton and Hanford, California.

Mayor-elect Swearengin will also announce the appointment of five additional economic development personnel who will join Scharton in the newly structured Downtown and Community Revitalization Department. They include Elliott Balch, Elaine Robles-McGraw, Travis Sheridan, Wilma Quan, and Elizabeth Jonasson. Each brings specialized expertise to support the department’s mission (see background information below).

“The changes announced today are an example of how we can work within our current budget to re-prioritize our resources and focus on the things that will produce the best results for the community,” Mayor-elect Swearengin said. “The key to Fresno’s economic growth is supporting local businesses, empowering local entrepreneurs, and revitalizing our neighborhoods. Craig Scharton and his team clearly understand this.”

Scharton is enthusiastic about the work ahead. “I have been fortunate to work on revitalization issues as a policymaker, a property owner, a revitalization manager and even as a teacher,” he said. “It is an honor to put these experiences to use on behalf of my hometown and our new mayor.”

The department’s early initiatives will include the enhancement of downtown signage, façade improvement projects and the development of sustainable funding for revitalization efforts. In addition, the department will promote the expansion of local contracting for city business and encourage more business-to-business activities to keep dollars circulating through Fresno’s economy.

“I am confident that, with Craig Scharton’s leadership, we’ll see economic opportunities improve throughout our city in the months and years ahead,” Mayor-elect Swearengin said. “And I appreciate the commitment each of these talented individuals is making to the future of our community by bringing their expertise to our Downtown and Community Revitalization Department. “

Downtown and Community Revitalization Department Personnel

Craig Scharton, Downtown and Community Revitalization Director
Craig Scharton is CEO of the Central Valley Business Incubator. In that role, he opened two new facilities, increased private funding, and raised $6 million in investment for businesses. Mr. Scharton is a former Fresno city council member, elected to the District 1 seat in 1987. Following his term in office, he attracted investors to the Security Bank and TW Patterson buildings - raising $5 million and increasing building occupancy. He later became executive director for two downtown revitalization programs in Pleasanton and Hanford and was elected president of the California Main Street Alliance, an organization the represents 39 of the state’s best downtown revitalization programs. Mr. Scharton is currently pursuing a master’s degree in community economic development.

Elliott Balch, Downtown Revitalization Manager
Elliott Balch is currently district director for Assembly member Juan Arambula. His work has focused in the areas of energy, natural resources, housing, and economic development. Mr. Balch is chairman of the City of Fresno Street Impact Fee Appeals Board and a member of the City of Fresno District 3 Plan Implementation Committee. He recently served as board president of the Downtown Association of Fresno and was chair of the inaugural season of "Fulton Plaza Thursdays," a monthly street fair; and is currently assisting efforts to launch a Fulton Mall farmers market in 2009. Mr. Balch is a graduate of Edison High School and Harvard University.

Elaine Robles-McGraw, Neighborhood Revitalization Manager
Elaine Robles-McGraw was raised in Fresno’s Jane Addams neighborhood, near the area commonly called Motel Drive (identified as one of Fresno’s pockets of concentrated poverty). Ms. Robles-McGraw has been a strong advocate for the West Fresno neighborhood where her mother resides and is founder of the Jane Addams Neighborhood Empowerment Project (JANE Project). Ms. Robles-McGraw has worked in administration for the Fresno County Probation Department for 19 years. She is currently enrolled in the Southern New Hampshire University Community Economic Development program and will graduate with a master’s degree in May.

Travis Sheridan, Local Business Initiatives Manager
Travis Sheridan has called the San Joaquin Valley home since 1980. He currently serves as director of member services for the Central Valley Business Incubator. Mr. Sheridan has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in organizational behavior, and is currently completing his Ph.D. in organizational leadership. He has held senior positions in the areas of finance, higher education, marketing and nonprofit management. In addition, Mr. Sheridan currently serves as chair of Creative Fresno.

Wilma Quan, Urban Planning Specialist
Wilma Quan has extensive land use planning experience in both the private and public sectors. As principal planner of Planning Resource Associates, Ms. Quan worked with the City of Fresno Planning and Development Department on the development and management of the city’s Proactive Annexation and Rezone Program. She served on the Tower District Design Review Committee and co-authored the Tower District Specific Plan Design Guidelines, regulating site planning, urban design, and architecture in Fresno’s Tower District. Ms. Quan is a graduate of Penn State University and currently serves on the board of directors for Tree Fresno.

Elizabeth Jonasson, Revitalization Funding Coordinator
Elizabeth Jonasson has lived and studied in five countries. She holds a degree in international relations, with a focus on international business and economics, from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México in Mexico City. After a summer studying at California State University, Fresno, Ms. Jonasson made the decision to return to Fresno after graduation. In 2007, she launched Jonasson Consulting, using her fluency in English, Spanish and Portuguese to offer a variety of services for businesses wishing to capture a larger part of the Hispanic market and expand their operations into Mexico and Latin America. In addition, Ms. Jonasson provides translation and business consulting services to local government, chambers of commerce and businesses.

Contact: David Schecter 559-307-7250

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