Carlos Ortega, a man with a passion for promoting economic development, has set his sights on improving his hometown's central business district.
The Springfield native is Downtown Springfield Incorporated's new executive director. He began the job Feb. 1.
"He brings with him extensive nonprofit and business knowledge that we feel is going to translate very well to his role in DSI," said Blake Pryor, a commercial Realtor and board president of DSI. "It was pretty much evident that he was a self-starter, very passionate, and he had a demonstrated background in fundraising. Those were all qualities we were really seeking in an executive director."
DSI promotes economic development in the city's central business district.ois Senate Republican caucus for six years and then spent four years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. Most recently he has worked for Elevate CCIC, an organization similar to DSI in Mattoon.
"In that rural community I helped win a large grant to help facilitate the development of a business innovation center," he said.
But he added he is eager to begin work in Springfield.
"I grew up here. I still have family that lives in Springfield, and I'm passionate about helping others and serving others where I can," he said. He is 2006 graduate of Springfield High School and holds a bachelor's degree from University of Illinois Springfield.
"After I came back from Africa, I was a Peace Corps fellow at Western Illinois University where I received my master's," he said
Ortega, who will earn about $100,000 annually, fills the spot vacated in November by Kayla Graven, who left to become the operations coordinator for the city's Office of Planning and Economic Development.
"He's a public servant and he wants to make the community a better place wherever he is," Pryor said.
Ortega added he would like to build on the area's successful ongoing programs.
"I would really like to work off of the developments already established with downtown Springfield, such as the Levitt AMP Music Series, Momentum on Main Street, the farmers market – just making sure that those are continuing and are satisfactory," he said. "Also, I do believe that there's opportunity to redevelop some commercial spaces and engage the community."
He added he would like to emulate his success in Mattoon by doing something similar in Springfield, such as promoting a business incubator that would mentor budding entrepreneurs.
"I don't want to pick up and put something down on a community that doesn't fit," Ortega said. "So, it's about working with the community, understanding their needs first, and just trying to figure out what best avenues to push forward with."
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at [email protected].