Exploring How Diversity Improves Outcomes in San Angelo
SAN ANGELO, TX — C.J. Muniz, a senior director at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas’ San Angelo location, opened the annual Chamber of Commerce Diversity Awards luncheon in a packed Crystal Ballroom at the Cactus Hotel downtown Tuesday. He said the road to success for today’s business is to organize a diversified staff. It’s not like it was in the past, where “diversity” was just a checklist item for government compliance or a recruiting marketing gimmick.
Diversity, he said, strengthens any organization that works in what has become a very diverse marketplace, like San Angelo.
The Chamber recognized five individuals Tuesday at the luncheon for their contributions to the San Angelo community. Among them:
Major Robert Martinez, San Angelo Police Department (retired Assistant Chief). Martinez was lauded for his efforts to resolve conflicts in a community policing way. Literally, thousands of citizens have had good outcomes with San Angelo’s largest law enforcement organization because of Martinez’s ability to work across cultural and economic lines to bring people in San Angelo together in finding solutions to individual and community problems. This was the Chamber’s chance to honor him for his decades or service to San Angelo’s public safety. He was received with a standing ovation.
Above: Retired Assistant Police Chief Robert Martinez receives a standing ovation. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Victoria Enriquez, owner Stemmed Designs, a flower shop. In two short years after purchasing the flower shop, she expanded into a new location at 235 W. Twohig and employs eight. She is a frequent donor of her time and products to community non-profits.
Above: Victoria Enrique of Stemmed Designs Flower Shop with Chamber Chairman Chuck Shore and Minority Business Outreach Council Chairman Aaron Padilla. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Gregorio Gutierrez, Publisher, Conexion Hispania. Gutierrez provides the only Internet and print bilingual news and information platforms in San Angelo. His origins were humble over 10 years ago. Since then, he has expanded to publish sister publications in Del Rio and Eagle Pass. Conexion (pronounced Con-Nex-She-On) holds an annual Christmas Posada where gifts and funds are raised for San Angelo’s children most in need.
Above: Ricardo Gutiérrez, son; Gregorio Gutiérrez, his wife Araceli Gutiérrez; with Chamber Chairman Chuck Shore and Minority Business Outreach Council Chairman Aaron Padilla. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Monette Molinar, Co-founder of the Association of Hispanic Leaders. She has lived in San Angelo since 1976. She has been a longtime member of the Southside Lions Club, leading the Lion’s eye clinic charity. She has served on the Concho Valley Economic Development District, and served as a leader in the Tom Green County Democratic Party. She has promoted her Hispanic culture in San Angelo by chairing the Cinco de Mayo Celebration committee and is the Co-founder of the Association of Hispanic Leaders.
Above: Monette Molinar with Chamber Chairman Chuck Shore and Minority Business Outreach Council Chairman Aaron Padilla. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
Joe Sanchez, founder and President, WTX Services. He formed his company in 2011 and has grown from one to over 100 employees in six years. In his spare time, Sanchez has served on youth sports boards and volunteered for the Chamber. His company has developed a safety-related product for servicing the petroleum services industry that is now patent-pending. Sanchez chose to found his business and headquarter it here because he grew up here. His company contributes significantly to San Angelo’s leadership role in the oil field servicing industry.
Above: Joe Sanchez with Chamber Chairman Chuck Shore and Minority Business Outreach Council Chairman Aaron Padilla. (LIVE! Photo/Joe Hyde)
The theme of the dinner was that employing a diverse workforce is an asset and a competitive advantage for San Angelo companies. One of the largest employers is the City of San Angelo, with an annual budget of $136 million and 900 employees. And while more than half the City’s budget is earmarked for public safety, what many do not recognize is the City runs about nine separate and unique businesses, as denoted by separate enterprise funds. The largest company the City operates is the City Water Department. There is also Mathis Field (the airport), Civic Events, Wastewater, and Solid Waste (trash). The Fairmount Cemetery and Texas Bank Sports Complex are also considered separate “enterprises,” or businesses.
Present Tuesday was City Manager Daniel Valenzuela who is the CEO of those companies. In an exclusive interview with LIVE!, he discussed the way the concept of diversity has changed throughout his 13 years in executive leadership roles at three municipalities throughout West Texas. Valenzuela, more than anyone else in San Angelo, works with the largest customer base (every citizen of the City is a customer), and in addition to a 900-person staff, a large, diverse collection of commissions and committees, including the San Angelo City Council.
Q: In your career, you have seen how diversity has changed over the years across Texas, how has it changed and how is it an asset?
A. If you look at Texas alone, and how it’s grown over the past 20 years, you see that there are many different, diverse people calling Texas home, to include Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and other cultures. There are a lot of diverse people moving into the state. That means for any organization, diversity [of its employees] is paramount. And there are benefits. You get great ideas from people from different backgrounds. You don’t get trapped into the “group think” mentality. It’s not as cliquish.
I think C.J. Muniz quoted Mayor Brenda Gunter in his speech. [Gunter said] everybody is working together for the benefit and unity of the San Angelo community. That is especially what I enjoy seeing here in San Angelo. Diversity does not merely mean distinguishing one group from another. In order for diversity to succeed there must be a unity of effort and a willingness to share and respect each other’s ideas.
I see more impactful ideas flowing through diverse groups that you wouldn’t see otherwise. On the other hand, when you have a group with similar backgrounds or were raised in a similar environment and surroundings, often, the thinking coming out is very similar, which can be a detriment to developing new and innovative ideas. When you have a diverse group, however, you generally get a variety of new ideas. The more implementable ideas that flow into an organization, the stronger it becomes because of it.
Q. Over your nearly thirteen years as City Manager, you have tackled many problems. Can you name one where diversity was an asset, or catalyst, for finding a solution?
We use the diverse make up of our City Council and our staff to develop ideas and tackle problems on a daily basis. Diversity is always an asset. It’s difficult to quantify any one particular project because all of our projects are developed by a team of different individuals, each member contributing to its success.
Q. But is there a specific issue? How about the proposed solution to the Avenue P flooding problem?
The Avenue P flooding problem was an issue long before my arrival in San Angelo. It’s been in the works for quite a while. I’ll tell you, though, I go to church at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, and I see a lot of the citizens that live on Avenue P, and I talk to them on a regular basis. It is important for me to communicate with them, and to be approachable. Some of them can only speak Spanish. And it’s important for me to be able to communicate with them. I would not say that the Avenue P problem was ignored over the years, because before my arrival, people were earnestly looking for a solution. What got the ball rolling on settling on the solution, the one that we are working to implement now, is that more options became available, and, particularly, having the funding to fix it. We had the luxury of seeing what was proposed before and to come up with more options, and that led us to the solution we settled on. Fortunately you had a City Council, City staff and citizens that were able to work together towards solving a big problem in an area that could have been overlooked, or placed on the backburner.
Q. Does finding solutions for blighted areas in San Angelo increase the value of living in the city?
Absolutely. Just like the mayor said, it’s the idea that neighborhood revitalization takes on an economic life of its own. You want to do whatever you can to improve certain neighborhoods because the residents who live there are more apt to take ownership and pride, and revitalization can provide the spark or catalyst for them to do more, like to fix up their homes, to add value to their own neighborhoods.
There are four neighborhoods the City is currently targeting for its revitalization program. When you look at them, we’ve made some great strides. I think (City Neighborhood & Family Services Director) Bob Salas has done a wonderful job addressing the plan. When you look at things like the City’s Neighborhood Blitz program, we are addressing the needs and economic renewal of these areas.
Q. You have various neighborhoods, and often times, each of those neighborhoods are comprised of different cultural or racial makeups. How does diversity in leadership improve the way you allocate City resources to these often-competing areas?
A. You know, sometimes it goes back to the fact that the squeaky wheel gets the grease - most of the time. That’s the danger I’ve seen in many cities where I’ve been. We have public forums, and a lot of times, that’s when we learn of a major problem that needs to be prioritized. It is really important for people in various groups, or neighborhoods, to show up and make their voices heard. We as a City formalize those needs into our Capital Improvement Plan. It’s important to have people in leadership roles at the City who care and pay attention to the various voices, as citizens approach them and share their concerns and their ideas for improving their neighborhoods and the City as a whole. This allows us to better formulate an improvement plan that meets the needs of our community.
Q. What is the best way you get feedback from a diverse citizenry?
I make presentations to a lot of different groups around the City. I get feedback there. Or it can come through our staff members who were approached by citizens as they were out performing their duties during work and even after. I am always available to listen to citizens if they ever want to pay me a visit at City Hall or call me by phone; I have also gone out to their residence to visit with them. Of course, I have my email and the City’s Facebook. And there’s my church. I tell you that’s a pretty good diverse group there! I try to make myself approachable so that people will come up and talk to me about problems they see in the city or share their ideas for making improvements. As you can tell, there are multiple ways to get feedback and I encourage citizens to use whichever means they feel most comfortable using.
Q. Compared to when you started, to today, how different is it now. Do you feel you have more diversity in the workforce and diversity of voices within your profession, as an executive leader?
A. Absolutely. And social media has a lot to do with it. Back when I was starting out 13 years ago, we’d hold those public workshops. We’d have public meetings. But people wouldn’t know about it, regardless of having posted the meetings in the local paper. Now people organize on social media quickly, and learn about these public meetings. And even if they couldn’t show up, they still have social media and the ability to easily get their point across. Today, you can learn right away when something goes wrong, because people are blogging about it. They’re talking about it. And it allows you to respond quicker. At the same time, you cannot minimize the importance of any one group or problem. It’s given more people a voice.
I think this underlies the importance of encouraging people in the city to speak up and become more involved. We want to hear from you. We need the diverse voices that social media enables to encourage citizens to get involved. Get out and learn and be involved in helping the city solve problems, volunteer for City of San Angelo boards, be a part of the Chamber of Commerce. I encourage anyone willing to get involved to do so and make a difference in this community.