Staff
Ben Pingree, CEcD

Ben Pingree, CEcD

Director, PLACE
Cristina Paredes, CEcD

Cristina Paredes, CEcD

Director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality
Susan Dawson

Susan Dawson

Blueprint Attorney
Drew Dietrich

Drew Dietrich

Deputy Director, Business Development
Kevin Gehrke

Kevin Gehrke

Business Development Manager, Applied Science
Darryl Jones

Darryl Jones

Deputy Director, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise
T.J. Lewis

T.J. Lewis

Business Development Manager
Dan Lucas

Dan Lucas

Division Coordinator, Research & Business Analytics
LaTanya Raffington

LaTanya Raffington

Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise
Shanea Wilks

Shanea Wilks

Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

Ben Pingree, CEcD

Director, PLACE

Cristina Paredes, CEcD

Director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality

Susan Dawson

Blueprint Attorney

Drew Dietrich

Deputy Director, Business Development

Kevin Gehrke

Business Development Manager, Applied Science

Darryl Jones

Deputy Director, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

T.J. Lewis

Business Development Manager

Dan Lucas

Division Coordinator, Research & Business Analytics

LaTanya Raffington

Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

Shanea Wilks

Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

Ben Pingree, CEcD

Director, PLACE

Cristina Paredes, CEcD

Director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality

Susan Dawson

Blueprint Attorney

Drew Dietrich

Deputy Director, Business Development

Kevin Gehrke

Business Development Manager, Applied Science

Darryl Jones

Deputy Director, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

T.J. Lewis

Business Development Manager

Dan Lucas

Division Coordinator, Research & Business Analytics

LaTanya Raffington

Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

Shanea Wilks

Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

Our Team

Ben Pingree, CEcD

Director, PLACE

Ben was born in Tallahassee and was fortunate to be raised in both Tallahassee and in Miami.Ben began his studies at University of Queensland (Australia) where he played Baseball and he received his Bachelor’s Degree from Boston University.He earned Master’s in Public Administration from Florida State University. He is a dedicated public servant, serving local and state governments across Florida for the past 20 years.He is the former County Administrator of Wakulla County, served as President and CEO of the Zoo Miami Foundation.Ben is a member of Leadership Florida, Class 29 and is the President of the Florida State Parks AssociationHe is married and has three wonderful children.Ben has a  passion to grow business and maximize the quality of life in Florida’s Capital Community and serves with a talented and dedicated team of true professionals and public servants who work hard every day to make that happen.

Phone

(850) 219-1060

Cristina Paredes, CEcD

Director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality

Cristina is the Director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality. Dedicated to building critical alliances and collaborative connections within the community, Cristina works to support a strong business climate and promote Tallahassee-Leon County’s diverse and vibrant economy. She is committed to advancing the regional economy through strategic business expansion and attraction along with talent development efforts. Cristina is also focused on building a resilient and sustainable economy for local businesses. With nearly 15 years of local government experience across several disciplines, Cristina has devoted the past six years to growing economic diversity in Tallahassee-Leon County.

Cristina earned both a Bachelor and Master of Public Administration from Florida State University and earned a Certificate in Economic Development from the University of Oklahoma Economic Development Institute. In February 2020, Cristina earned the designation of Certified Economic Developer (CEcD), a national recognition that denotes a mastery of skills in economic development from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC). She and her husband, Marco, have been married for ten years and have two boys. Cristina and her family love a good baseball game, exploring the regional greenways and camping.

Phone

(850) 300-7559

Susan Dawson

Blueprint Attorney

The Blueprint Attorney’s Office provides legal counsel and advice to the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency Board of Directors, and the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, including Blueprint Infrastructure and the Office of Economic Vitality, as well as advisory committees organized under the Blueprint Intergovernmental Board of Directors.

Legal services include advising and counseling the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency on matters concerning infrastructure and construction projects, design contracts, procurement, eminent domain proceedings, negotiated land purchases, and agreements with state regulatory agencies including the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as agreements with the City of Tallahassee, and Leon County. The Blueprint Attorney’s Office advises the Office of Economic Vitality on various matters including the applicability of the consolidated Minority Women Small Business Enterprise (MWSBE) Policy, and all legal matters concerning business development strategies, and local economic development programs.

Susan Dawson began serving as the Blueprint Attorney on November 7, 2019. Ms. Dawson received her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Florida. Since her admission to The Florida Bar in 1996, Ms. Dawson has been a member in good standing with The Florida Bar. Ms. Dawson is admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Ms. Dawson is a member of the American Bar Association and the Tallahassee Bar Association.

Ms. Dawson is assisted in representing the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency by Assistant Blueprint Attorney, Kirsten Mood.

The Blueprint Attorney’s Office does not provide legal advice to the general public.

Phone

850-219-1098

Drew Dietrich

Deputy Director, Business Development

Drew is a native Tallahassean, but brings a broad and diverse amount of experience from around the country, having worked for over 10 years in economic and community development throughout Texas, Oregon, and Florida. From the mountains to the swamps, to the prairies and the coast, he’s seen a little bit everything when it comes to economic development. He holds a Masters in Science from Florida State University and is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute. Drew is focused on providing outstanding customer service to the residents of Tallahassee-Leon County and making sure our community is a fun, healthy, and safe place to do business. It’s hard to say his favorite hobby – but it’s probably a toss-up between tackling the world’s legendary hikes (e.g. Machu Picchu) and tasting the world’s legendary beers (e.g. Pliny the Elder).


What he loves most about Tallahassee: Aside from FSU football….the Greenways here in our community are among the best trails you’ll find anywhere in the country.

Phone

(850) 766-4329

Kevin Gehrke

Business Development Manager, Applied Science

Born, raised and educated in Michigan, I always had a fascination with cars. This lead to a 12-year career working in the automotive industry for Magna International in the Quality, Manufacturing and Program Management fields designing, launching, building and improving mirror systems.

In 2009, I relocated to the Tallahassee area with an industry change to HVAC to work at Danfoss Turbocor.&nbsp; Over the next 10 years, there was more Quality and Engineering work focusing on design and process implementation and improvement.&nbsp;</p>

Now, while at the Office of Economic Vitality, my goal is to attract manufacturing organizations to the Leon County / Tallahassee area. My motivation in this role is to help get as many people employed as possible; to improve the lives of those in the area and to drive the economic advancement of the region.

Through all of this, I have 3 children. One grown and married to an Airman stationed in Nevada, one studying Engineering at FSU/FAMU and one in high school.

One of the main attractions to Tallahassee is its proximity to so many parks and beaches with some of the most beautiful nature you can experience anywhere.

Phone

(850) 597-4374

Darryl Jones

Deputy Director, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

Darryl Jones is the Deputy Director of the Office of Economic Vitality (OEV) for Minority, Women and Small Business (MWSBE) Programs. In this role, Darryl manages supplier diversity for the City of Tallahassee, Leon County, and the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency.

Prior to joining OEV, Darryl served thirteen years as the Executive Director of the Bethel Community Development Corporation.
Mr. Jones is an active volunteer in the community, lending his considerable expertise and guidance to several organizations. He currently serves on the executive committee of the Board of Trustees of the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, the PACE Center for Girls and is a former Chair of the Tallahassee Leon County Planning Commission, which is responsible for comprehensive area wide-planning for the greater Tallahassee area. In November 2018, Darryl was elected to the Leon County School Board, representing District 3, which includes all schools and students in Southern Leon County.

Additionally, Mr. Jones has volunteered on a variety of Boards of Directors including the Big Bend Fair Housing Agency, the United Partners for Human Services, the Leadership Tallahassee Board of Governors, Tallahassee Housing Authority, the Children’s Campaign, the FAMU Boosters, the inaugural Vice Chairman of the Board for the Boys Choir of Tallahassee and a member of the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and past chair of both Kids, Inc. of the Big Bend, and the Enterprise Zone Development Agency (EZDA) Board of Commissioners. Darryl also served on the Board of Directors for Imagine Tallahassee, an agency devoted to make decisions about economic development projects through the “penny sales tax initiative.” He also recently served on the Board of Directors of the Big Bend Minority Chamber and the Tallahassee Airport Advisory Committee.

Darryl Jones is a native of Clearwater, FL and graduated from Florida A&M University with a degree in English.

Phone

850-300-7567

T.J. Lewis

Business Development Manager

For over 32 years, T.J. Lewis (35) has lived in every corner of Tallahassee-Leon County. He is respected for his knowledge in Growth Management, Planning and Real Estate Development and Public Administration. Named “Volunteer of the Year” for his numerous community service initiatives as Student Body President of Lincoln High School where he launched the first campus-wide recycling program in Leon County Schools’ history. As a college student at the Florida State University, T.J. also served as an inaugural member of the Knight Creative Communities Institute (KCCI), and through his ongoing participation with Keep Tallahassee Leon-County Beautiful. 
To showcase the robust growth that Tallahassee-Leon County has experienced over the past decade, T.J. founded UrbanTallahassee.com, an online community resource to facilitate the engagement of local residents in the community’s growth which he later sold to join PLACE. T.J.’s efforts have been recognized for boosting the marketability of the Tallahassee region and enhancing our local economy.  As a Commercial Realtor for a leading local brokerage, T.J. was also a multi-million producer and has also worked in institutional Real Estate for the State of Florida Division of State Lands. He is committed to the principles of Smart-Growth and to the dream of helping to make Tallahassee-Leon County the absolute best place to live, learn, and do business!

Phone

(850) 300-7560

Dan Lucas

Division Coordinator, Research & Business Analytics

As a teenager in Tampa, Dan managed a family-owned barbeque restaurant where he learned how to deal with customers, employees, and vendors. He also learned that with any independent business, customers believe prices are too high, employees believe they are underpaid, vendors don’t give large discounts, the community constantly asks for donations, and taxes and fees are part of the budget.He studied languages at Wittenberg, a small Lutheran college in Ohio, where he met his wife in Russian class. They lived in Cleveland during its economic renaissance in the 1990s where he worked as editor of reference books at a publications development company. He produced the Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, an anthropological reference profiling 500 different ethnic groups, directed two revisions of the Worldmark Encyclopedia of the States and the Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, and wrote Statistics on Alcohol, Drug & Tobacco Use (1995), Statistics on Weapons & Violence (1996), and Statistics on Crime & Punishment (1996). Shoveling snow off the rooftop once too often, he decided to move his growing family back to Florida. Memories of the Sunshine State’s warmth and its rapid development in the 1980s enticed him to finish a M.S. in Urban Studies at Cleveland State University, focusing on urban economic development. An offhand remark from an outgoing grad motivated him to take extra classes and now he has over 25 years in GIS and data management experience. Dan also has AICP certification in urban planning.While working for the State of Florida’s land planning agency in Tallahassee, he reviewed comprehensive plan amendments from dozens of local governments for compliance with Florida law, and served as expert witness on comprehensive planning in a difficult administrative hearing. He conducted Comprehensive Plan amendment reviews for the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department for several years, presenting proposals to commissions and citizens. Fondness for data, statistics, and GIS transformed his role into one of assembling and preparing research on economic, demographic, and social topics affecting land planning.Today, instead of meat and vegetables, sauce and seasoning, Dan uses statistics and GIS to prepare and combine various data ingredients into purposeful and consequential understanding for our clients and local government. Dan’s favorite part of living in Tallahassee is that it has the urban fabric of the city while preserving the community spirit of the small town.

Phone

(850) 300-7568

LaTanya Raffington

Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

LaTanya Raffington is a Senior Coordinator with the Office of Economic Vitality Minority Women Small Business Enterprise Division. LaTanya has a passion for providing business and technical assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs and small businesses. She has over twenty years of experience in public service at the local municipal level. She also serves as the City of Tallahassee Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Liaison Officer.

LaTanya has a background that combines public service with hands on experience in contract compliance, supplier diversity, and business MWSBE/DBE certification programs. Throughout the years LaTanya has provided technical assistance, training, and government contracting services and resources to the Tallahassee/Leon County business community.

LaTanya earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida State University in Retail Merchandising and earned a Master Compliance Administrator (MCA) certification from the American Contract Compliance Association (ACCA).

She and her husband Vince have been married for thirty three years and have two adult daughters and one granddaughter. They enjoy traveling and attending sporting events. LaTanya loves Tallahassee because it is a great place for education and a great place to raise a family.

Phone

850-300-7566

Shanea Wilks

Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

Shanea Wilks has extensive public sector experience with over 30 years in state and local government. Her public sector background includes various activities associated with economic development, including program management and oversight, business development workshop facilitator, and serving as a government representative on various local committees. Currently, she is responsible for database management associated with minority-owned, women-owned, and small business enterprise certifications, she also administers the MWSBE certification process enabling approved firms to do business with local government; and, as a member of the MWSBE team coordinates business development workshops and networking events with local community partners. Her economic development experience also includes financial compliance and grants management for housing programs; and, budget administration of healthcare funding for uninsured local residents. Ms. Wilks is a public speaker; and, has participated in various event panels focused on minorities, women, and small businesses.

Shanea is a graduate of Nova Southeastern University having earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. She has earned her Master Compliance Administrator certification from the American Contract Compliance Association (ACCA) and is in the process of completing her Executive Certified Master Compliance Administrator certification from ACCA.

Shanea loves Tallahassee-Leon County because the city comes alive during football season, it serves as host to diverse festivals, and the parks and trails are cool attractions.

Phone

(850) 300-7563

Our Team

The Rockstars

  • Ben Pingree, CEcD

    Ben Pingree, CEcD

    Director, PLACE

  • Cristina Paredes, CEcD

    Cristina Paredes, CEcD

    Director of the Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality

  • Susan Dawson

    Susan Dawson

    Blueprint Attorney

  • Drew Dietrich

    Drew Dietrich

    Deputy Director, Business Development

  • Kevin Gehrke

    Kevin Gehrke

    Business Development Manager, Applied Science

  • Darryl Jones

    Darryl Jones

    Deputy Director, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

  • T.J. Lewis

    T.J. Lewis

    Business Development Manager

  • Dan Lucas

    Dan Lucas

    Division Coordinator, Research & Business Analytics

  • LaTanya Raffington

    LaTanya Raffington

    Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise

  • Shanea Wilks

    Shanea Wilks

    Senior Coordinator, Minority Women & Small Business Enterprise