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Leander’s economic development assistant
Eric Zeno holds the distinction of being Leander’s first economic development assistant, and he has held that position for more than a year. When the city created the position, the idea was to relieve Kirk Clennan, the city’s economic development director, of some of his responsibilities so that he could focus on bringing new businesses to Leander.
Zeno is in charge of helping businesses expand and ensuring they stay in Leander. He also helps Clennan by doing research, but that is the extent of his true assisting duties. Sometimes people hold the misconception that he is like a traditional office assistant, but Zeno points out that business retention and expansion are solely his responsibility.
Originally from Louisiana, Zeno was appointed by the mayor of Jonesboro, La., to be on a board that worked to bring businesses to town. He served Jonesboro in that capacity as a volunteer, but he still had a day job at State Farm insurance. Zeno applies that experience and the knowledge he gained as a member of Leander’s Planning and Zoning Commission to his current position.
Zeno lives in Leander with his wife, Yonneque, 12-year-old son and his 7-month-old daughter.
What did you do before you came to Leander, and how does that experience help you today?
I worked for State Farm, New York Life and National Western Life Insurance. I worked at all of those places as a life-health underwriter. I was on the life side and the health side for 15–16 years with the three insurance companies.
In Louisiana, economic development is not funded as well, so the mayor of my community in Louisiana put me on a special project to bring businesses to Jonesboro, La. I worked on that project—it was volunteer work—trying to put some grants together and other things of that nature, trying to get projects to our small community.
How does your job now compare with your economic development work in Louisiana?
There’s different rules and different regulations, but my mindset is pretty much the same. Of course, you’re dealing with different legislations, and rules and regulations. Louisiana’s laws are different than Texas laws.
First of all, I was a volunteer in Louisiana, so there were limited things I had access to regarding the city. Here I am city staff, and I have access to all of it, and access to Kirk, the director. A lot of information wasn’t available to me in Louisiana because it was a volunteer position. So it’s a different ballgame here, and I have everything at my access. It’s great, really.
Were you immediately interested in the position when it was created?
I’m not going to say necessarily that I thought I was immediately qualified, but the job intrigued me. I did research on the position before I applied and talked to city staff and friends at the time. They thought my background would be a pretty good fit if I did apply. Of course, you know, there was a hiring process. Thankfully, I got the position, but to say I just thought I was qualified for the position coming in, no, I wouldn’t say that.
What do you do to enhance business retention and expansion in the city?
My job is to make sure our primary employers are happy. I also do analysis, and I have software that is sponsored by the Austin chamber and governor’s office that allows me to survey Leander companies.
Say someone wants to expand. How do you assist them in that process?
Well, if one of the primary employers wanted to expand, of course they would voice that to me. I’m going to tell them, first of all, stay in Leander. I don’t want them to leave Leander. I would give them any type of tools they needed to stay in Leander. Now as far as employees, what are they looking for? How many of those people are trained or educated in that area in Leander? But, if they could get some people from Austin or somewhere else, I would assist them. I would never turn anyone away who wants help to expand.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is when I go to a primary employer and they say, ‘Man, you and your staff are doing wonders. We see y’all. You’re different from some of the cities I’ve been in in the past. We come in; we can talk to you. We don’t have to go through a bunch of red tape. If we want to talk to the city manager, we can see the city manager. We see the mayor; we see the planning people.’
We provide quick response times where some other cities don’t. I’m not trying to downplay any other cities, but our response time to our primary employers has been good. They enjoy that personal touch that we give.
I believe in personal touch I mean, you can give them phone numbers, and you can give a phone call and email all day, but if you can give that personal touch to someone and help walk them through the process, it’s just that much better for you and the primary employer.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I love to fish. I really like family time, and doing something with my wife and children. I’m also very involved in my son’s sports. He plays football and basketball.
As you can imagine, with a 7-month-old, it’s whatever she wants to do for that day. I like being outdoors with my family and going to movies or going out to eat. Really, I just like to do anything with them.