By Carla Thomas
Rosie Rios, Treasurer of the United States, told a gathering in Oakland this week that she never wanted to leave her roots in the East Bay – until she realized her experience leading Bay Area economic development efforts was tailor-made for the Obama Administration as it faced a deep economic downturn in mid-2009.
“At first I declined the offer’’ to join President Obama’s economic team, said Rios, who grew up in Hayward. “Then it just dawned on me that my career here in the Bay Area – in economic development and real estate investment – would have such relevance in addressing the issues faced by the federal government.’’
Rios said that in her nearly three years with the Treasury Department she put her experience to good use through programs that are helping turn the tide after years of difficult recession.
She praised two programs in particular: the Build America Bonds program, which helps states and local governments pursue projects that build infrastructure and create jobs. Rios said the program has been “a very big success story.”
The second program is the Small Business Jobs Act, signed into law by President Obama in September 2010. Rios, who serves under US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, spoke to about 100 people Monday at a forum in Oakland at the Elihu Harris State Building hosted by the Alameda County Budget Workgroup, a panel of elected officials and community leaders that meets year-round to keep the public apprised of the details of Alameda County’s $2 billion-plus annual budget.
Rios, a first generation Mexican American is the third-ranking person in the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She has direct oversight of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the U.S. Mint, and Fort Knox, and her signature is printed on U.S. currency. She also serves as a senior advisor in the areas of community development and public engagement.
Rios’ journey to the top of government was not easy. As a child in Hayward, her parents divorced leaving her mother as a single parent to raise her and 8 siblings. She attended St. Clement School and Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward.
She learned the value of money, hard work and an education, employed by Alameda County Library warehouse as part of the summer youth program, processing books between her studies. “I worked there all 4 years of high school, 30 hours a week,” she said.
After attending Harvard, she moved back to the Bay Area and worked in real estate. By 1994, she said, she had an epiphany that led her to take jobs for public agencies doing economic development and redevelopment.
Rios became a development specialist for San Leandro, the redevelopment agency manager for Union City, director of economic development for Fremont and eventually Oakland’s city director of economic development and redevelopment.
“My roots remain here, my family and mom are here,” she said.