Success Across Sectors
Carla Blackwell, EMBA ’06
Deputy Director, Pima County Development Services
When Carla Blackwell joined the inaugural Eller Executive MBA class in Tucson in 2005, she’d already found her perfect job.
“It seems like a natural fit,” she says of her work with Pima County Development Services. “My career has always revolved around land use and community development, whether public or private.”
She graduated from the University of Arizona with an undergraduate degree in political science and then started with the U.S. Census Bureau, working on the 1980 Census. “With Census experience, I interned with the City of Tucson Planning Department, conducting a land use study,” she says. Soon thereafter, Blackwell went to work for a small cable franchise competing for the City contract, but ultimately the franchise lost the bid.
“I’ve always been politically involved,” she says, “So I joined Congressman Jim McNulty’s district staff office. As a district aide, I worked on housing and community development issues.” McNulty lost his seat to Jim Kolbe in 1984, and Blackwell moved into private land development.
“A group of Tucsonans started a company to develop affordable multi-family apartment communities as well as senior assisted-living facilities. As vice president for nearly 15 years, I travelled all around the state of Arizona building affordable living options in communities including Peoria, Yuma, and Green Valley.”
“After leaving that company, I reassessed my options and started consulting on housing and construction issues,” she continues. “That was the time I started thinking of going back to school, but this was before the EMBA program got started, and full-time school was not an option for me.”
In 2001, Blackwell joined Pima County Development Services. “It was a big switch, going to the other side of the regulatory counter, but I had dealt with development services throughout the state and really felt I could contribute a lot to Pima County from a customer perspective,” she says.
In 2005, when Eller initiated the EMBA program, Blackwell and her boss, Carmine DeBonis, both entered the program. “I had a lot of life experience, but I knew there was more to learn about market conditions, finance, and organizational structure,” she says. “Achieving customer satisfaction is a big goal of Development Services. We constantly need to improve ourselves because we are completely self-sustaining, funding-wise, and must always use our resources efficiently.”
Blackwell says the EMBA program has paid off since the economic downturn. “Because of dramatic decreases in building permit revenue, we had to quickly downsize while still maintaining services,” she says. “That’s where the program helped us, since we had to restructure to deliver high performance with half the people.”
She’s noticed traffic picking up in recent weeks. “There are some good trends,” she says. “The new housing market has slightly increased, but more importantly we’ve been contacted by numerous solar companies looking for solar farm locations.” Her experience in both private and public sector is paying off again. “Government plays a huge role in how our economy functions and in economic development efforts,” she says. “It can create favorable incentives and an environment to help businesses get through the permitting process efficiently.”
As for the future, while Blackwell is content in her current position, she’s not ruling anything out. “I’ve spent my career weaving in and out of the public and private sector,” she says. “I can see that continuing as I follow challenges and opportunities for improving the community.”