ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You might as well call her the queen of Zoom.
Danielle Casey, who landed in Albuquerque in October to become one of the city’s top economic developers, has had nearly 150 Zoom calls with business and city leaders, government officials and her own staff, some of whom she has yet to meet in real life.
For an outgoing person in an outgoing profession, it’s been a little weird.
“I’ve had nightmares where I was at a roundtable, at a luncheon, where I didn’t have a mask on. For shame,” says Casey, president and CEO of Albuquerque Economic Development. But “the insane level at which people here have been welcoming and kind and friendly and willing to offer their time and just chat with me has been unbelievable.”
Casey, with a degree in anthropology, has an early background that includes nonprofit jobs with the Heard Museum in Phoenix and Save the (Narragansett) Bay in Rhode Island. She went on to assistant city manager jobs in Maricopa and Scottsdale, Arizona, until she found herself enamored with economic development and shifted her focus. Her most recent position was executive vice president of the Greater Sacramento (California) Economic Council.
For Casey, trying to bring jobs to a community is not such a far stretch from her interest in anthropology, which is “really the study of people, right?”
“There are a lot of specialists in economic development – people who just live for the kill or just want to do deals,” Casey says. “But I definitely consider myself more of a generalist, a community builder.
“Yeah, we want to win companies, we want to be able to talk about the economic impact, but at the end of the day, I want people to have great jobs and I want them to be able to take care of their families and grow a really healthy, happy, great quality of life in the community.”
Why did you decide to leave economic development in Sacramento for Albuquerque?
“I honestly was just talking to a girlfriend of mine in economic development – during COVID, several of us would just check in on each other as leaders in our community – and she said, ‘you know this thing with Albuquerque came across my desk, and I would really like to give the recruiter your name because I think you should look at it.’ And I said, ‘OK, you know what? You never turn down an opportunity to check out something that could be a great, potential match.’ When I looked at the recruitment, I just started going, wow. This could be really amazing. I was struck by so many things. By AED’s longstanding success and also the trust of the organization by the community. The fact that it had such continual and solid leadership that built a tremendous foundation (under former AED head Gary Tonjes). All of those things were very attractive.”
What do you do in your free time?
“A lot of my free time throughout my career has been career-related. Personally, though, I’m super handy around the house. I really like fixing things and redoing things. Yeah, I mess with the electrical probably more than I should. My great-uncle was an electrician, and he and my dad were very close, so he would teach me how to do all kinds of stuff. One of my very best friends who’s also single says, ‘It’s OK. I have my boyfriend, Danielle, because she’ll come and fix whatever I need.'”
What’s been your biggest disappointment?
“I’ve got a great one, but I can also tell you how we pivoted. Do you remember Theranos? (a failed blood-testing startup whose founder faces criminal charges). Well, they expanded into Arizona and were in Scottsdale. We didn’t do any incentives or anything like that; they were just simply recruited into the space. We made a visit to their offices, and I tell you, it was really weird because it was … getting close to where everything was being revealed and you were starting to figure out what was really going on there. But I will tell you, here is the cool part. So because we spent a lot of time on business retention and expansion, every company we talk with, I met with their HR (human resources) folks because I knew then … with companies, it’s all about labor, it’s all about talent, access to talent, cost of talent and your ability to deliver talent. So when Theranos shut down, we grabbed our list of HR directors at the health care institutions in the region and emailed them and said, ‘We’ve got these 75 people, we need to find them jobs.’ Those people were placed within days without ever having to go out and shop.”
Do you have any regrets?
“One of my, I wouldn’t even say regrets, but … I wish I had a friend from kindergarten who I knew my whole life. Being a military kid and an only child, it’s not like you knew a lot of kids. It’s just that’s the breaks, and I’m proud. Most of the men in my family were military in one way, shape or form.”
Have you received any words of wisdom that have stuck with you?
A “city manager I worked for … We’d say, ‘Well, what do we do? How do we address this?’ He’d say, ‘Well, don’t overreact. But don’t underreact.’ And then he’d walk off. And you’re going, what the hell is that supposed to mean? The best way I can look at it is just take a minute, take a breath, examine the situation and make the best decision you can with the information you have available. At the end of the day, too, that’s a big distinction ultimately between managers and leaders. People that are really out there leading are people that are willing to make decisions and then take responsibility. That’s what I’ve always done with my teams. Ultimately, it’s my butt. I’m going to push you hard and I’m going to expect a lot out of you, but ultimately, I’m also there to protect you, take care of you because that’s why I’m in this role.”