Solutions for Emerging Issues


About the Institute for Work & the Economy


Board of Directors

The Institute for Work and the Economy is an independent, not-for-profit public policy research collaborative under the direction of a national board of directors. The mission of the Institute is to recognize and address emerging issues in workforce and economic development policy and to develop novel solutions and strategies for resolving structural problems facing local and regional economies.

The Institute is staffed full-time by its President and Executive Director and involves a network of fellows from workforce and economic development. Our design is to work in multi-institutional collaborations on all projects. Consequently, we maintain only a core staff to cover business operations.

The Institute was incorporated in the State of Illinois in August 2000. Although institutionally separate, it first was housed in the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University. The Institute became a standalone operation in 2007.

The Institute is tax-exempt pursuant to section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

The Board sets the agenda and frames the strategies for the Institute, provides expert guidance on workforce policies and research, advises on management and operations, provides access to a vast network of experts, and promotes excellence in the work of the Institute.

The Directors of the Institute are:

  • Chair: Ronnie L. Bryant, Principal, Ronnie L. Bryant LLC, Charlotte, NC

  • Secretary: Stephen Mitchell, Associate Vice President for Planning, Human Resources and Facilities (retired), Sullivan County Community College, Lock Sheldrake, NY

  • Treasurer: Robert J. Reiter, Jr., President, Chicago Federation of Labor, Chicago, IL

  • Deputy Treasurer: Chipo Nyambuya, Founder & Principal, Virgil, LLC, Chicago, IL

  • Immediate Past Chair: Anthony R. Sarmiento, former Executive Director (retired), Senior Service America, Silver Spring, MD

  • Michael Andrews, former Executive Director (retired), Alaska Works Partnership, Anchorage, AK

  • Carlos Baradello, Managing Partner, Sausalito Ventures, Marin County, CA

  • Dee Davis, Founder and President, Center for Rural Strategies, Whitesburg, KY

  • Anne Kaplan, Vice President, Outreach, Engagement & Regional Development, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL

  • Robert Knight, Managing Director, Arbor E&T Workforce Institute, Washington, DC

  • William Lazonick, Professor & Director of the University of Massachusetts Center for Industrial Competitiveness; President of The Academic-Industry Research Network, Lowell, MA

  • Natasha "T" Miller, Performance Poet, LGBTQ Activist, Film Producer, and Founder of "Artists Inn Detroit," Redford, MI

  • Jim Reid, Director, Apprenticeship and Occupational Safety & Health, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Upper Marlboro, MD

  • Carrie Thomas, Executive Director, Chicago Jobs Council, Chicago, IL

  • James Van Erden, Senior Policy Advisor, National Association of State Workforce Agencies, Washington, DC

  • Elizabeth Diana White, Author, 55, Underemployed and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life, Washington, DC

  • Mary V. L. Wright, Principal, Van Lear Associates, Boston, MA and Chair, Achieving the Promise of Work Initiative

  • Byron Zuidema, former Deputy Assistant Secretary (retired), Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor

Ex officio, non-voting: Peter A. Creticos, President & Executive Director, Institute for Work & the Economy, Chicago, IL


Peter A. Creticos, President and Executive Director

Peter serves as chief executive officer and lead policy researcher of the Institute.

He has held several other positions in not-for-profit institutions, academia, and government He was a Research Fellow at the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University in Chicago and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He taught at the Illinois Institute of Technology Stuart School of Business, at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Roosevelt University, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. and at Governors State University. He was also Senior Research Associate at the Center for Governmental Studies at Northern Illinois University.

Prior to establishing the Institute in 2000, Mr. Creticos served as the Vice President for the Midwest Regional Office in Chicago, Illinois, of the National Alliance of Business. Previously he served as Assistant to the President at the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce and President of the for-profit subsidiary, Center for Business Management. He also served as lead staff on economic and workforce development for the Illinois State Senate President, as an independent consultant and researcher on economic and workforce development issues, and as a Field Representative at the Council of State Governments.

Mr. Creticos is currently a member of the Economic Development committee for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). He served for 10 years as a board member of the Chicago Workforce Investment Board, the Service Delivery Committee, and the Workforce Investment Act Performance Review Subcommittee. He was a member of the advisory board to Enlace, the community development organization for the Mexican immigrant Little Village neighborhood in Chicago. He also served on the board of the Pilsen-Little Village Community Management Organization, an affiliate of the Pilsen-Little Village Community Mental Health Center, Inc.

Mr. Creticos also consults privately as Peter A. Creticos, LTD.

Mr. Creticos earned his Ph.D. at the Graduate School at Northwestern University. He did his work on a skills-based closeness of fit strategy in job matching at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Science at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He also has a Master of Management at Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management, a Master of Arts in Political Science from the University of Missouri at St. Louis and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis. Mr. Creticos was a Coro Foundation Fellow in St. Louis.


Allert Brown-Gort is the Executive Director of the Casa de la Universidad de California en México, representing and promoting academic exchanges at all levels between Mexico and the 10 campuses, five medical schools and three national laboratories that comprise the University of California system. He is also a Non-Resident Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Work and the Economy, an independent think tank based in Chicago, and a Visiting Professor of International Relations at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM).

A citizen of both the United States and Mexico, he was a faculty member at the University of Notre Dame from 1999 to 2014, where he served at the Institute for Latino Studies and the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies. He has also worked at The University of Texas at Austin, the ITAM and Televisa in Mexico City, and at Columbia University. At these institutions he has worked on Latin American, U.S. Latino, and North American issues.

Dr. Brown-Gort’s major research interests include immigration policy, particularly its political and economic implications; and the role of culture and identity in shaping values, institutions and political systems. His latest project explores the links between the tenor of the immigration debate and the creation of ethnic political identities.

Prof. Brown-Gort regularly lectures and provides media commentary on issues related to U.S.-Mexico bilateral relations, immigration, and Latinos at the regional, national, and international levels. He is a regular analyst for the Instituto Nacional de la Radio in Mexico, and has appeared on the PBS Newshour, Univisión and CNN en Español, among others. His op-eds on immigration issues have appeared in magazines and newspapers such as The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, El Universal (Mexico), and Indianapolis Star.

He has served as an advisor to the Fox administration in Mexico and to the U.S. Senate Hispanic Task Force, and as a member of a Technical Committee for Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute. Currently he serves on the editorial board of Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica, and the Transitions Optical National Diversity Advisory Board.

Ronnie L. Bryant, CEcD, FM, HLM, is Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow for Regional Economic Development at the Institute. He also is currently Principal of Ronnie L. Bryant, LLC, in Charlotte, NC.

Mr. Bryant previously was President and CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership where he promoted the 16-county Charlotte USA region as a premier location for expanding and relocating businesses. With more than 30 years of technical, managerial and economic development expertise, Bryant is nationally known for establishing and implementing successful economic development programs, with a strong emphasis on existing industry expansion and retention, regionalism and marketing. The editors of Site Selection magazine have recognized Bryant for excellence in the field of economic development by naming three organizations he led, those in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Charlotte, to its list of Top 10 economic development groups in the nation. He is the only economic development professional to have achieved this distinction. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ranked him No. 25 on its list of top 50 business leaders, and Charlotte – The City Magazine named Bryant No. 30 in its list of Charlotte’s Fifty Most Powerful.

Prior to joining Charlotte Regional Partnership, Bryant was president and chief operating officer of the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance where he marketed the region and collaborated with regional economic development agencies to develop and implement job creation strategies. Before working in Pittsburgh, Bryant was the senior vice president of the Economic Development Division for the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association where he has been credited with the development of job creation strategies that resulted in more than 117,000 jobs within a five-year period. These professional skills grew from leading the development team at the Shreveport, La., Chamber of Commerce, working as a development consultant, and holding managerial and technical positions at AT&T’s Western Electric facility.

Bryant, a certified economic developer (CEcD) since 1991, is a graduate of Louisiana State University in Shreveport and the Economic Development Institute at the University of Oklahoma (OU/EDI) in Norman. While attending OU/EDI, he received the American Economic Development Council’s Robert B. Cassell Leadership Award for excellence in leadership and scholarship. He currently serves as the immediate past dean, as well as a member of the OU/EDI executive board and faculty. Bryant has lectured internationally and nationally on issues related to economic development marketing, professional development and organizational management, and is currently an adjunct faculty member at UNC Charlotte Belk College of Business.

Bryant is well known in economic development circles. He is a past chairman of the board for the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), which has designated him as a Fellow Member (FM) and an Honorary Life Member (HLM) for furthering the profession of economic development as a teacher and inspiration to others in many communities. Currently, he serves as a governor’s appointee to the North Carolina Economic Development Board and is a board member of CoreNet Global’s Carolinas Chapter. Among his other professional affiliations are the International Asset Management Council (IAMC), the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and both the North Carolina and South Carolina Economic Development Associations. Bryant’s civic participation includes board memberships with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Charlotte Community Advisory Committee, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, Charlotte Research Institute, The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s Charlotte Industry Roundtable, the Charlotte City Club and The North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Gustavo A. Giraldo is Non-Resident Policy Fellow for Workforce Diversity and Development. He brings more than 40 years of experience in the field.

From late 2011 through early 2019, Mr. Giraldo was Chief of Diversity and Strategic Development at the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority where he directed the design and implementation of a strategic diversity plan ensuring the inclusion, development and participation of disadvantaged, minority and women business enterprises. He also initiated and fostered programs to improve racial, gender and ethnic diversification of the construction trades.

Between 2007 and 2011, Mr Giraldo was Deputy Procurement Officer at the Chicago Department of Procurement Services for the City of Chicago. This followed his service of more than nine years as Managing Deputy Commissioner at the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development at the City of Chicago.

Previously, he held management, training, education and staff positions at the Illinois Department of Transportation, Prologue High School/Alternative Schools Network at the City of Chicago, Accion Latinoamericana de Aurora (Illinois), the Kane County (Illinois) CETA agency, and Aurora (IL) School District #129 as a bilingual teacher.

Mr. Giraldo earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bilingual and Multicultural Education from National Louis University and is an Executive Scholars Graduate from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

Jeff Marcella is Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow at the Institute. He brings 20 years of workforce development experience in the public and nonprofit sectors across the spectrum of policy and program development and management to his work as a consultant to nonprofits and governments in areas of strategic planning, policy and advocacy, project development and management, partnership and system building, and organizational development.

As a consultant, Jeff works to support government and nonprofit organizations with their strategic planning, program design and development, program management, organizational development and public policy activities. Recent projects include developing a strategic plan for the San Diego public workforce system; developing and administering a comprehensive benchmarking of Adult Education services in Indiana and assisting the state government in developing a strategy for system improvements and professional development of Adult Education providers; assisting the Chicago's Career Tech initiative in improving its IT industry training offerings and better linking internship activities to classroom training; and providing successful grantwriting and policy development assistance to numerous workforce boards and nonprofits. Jeff has led national and regional workshops on workforce "sector" strategies, enhancing workforce service through stronger linkages to industry and the education system. In all of his work Jeff leverages deep experience in leading successful workforce initiatives and a broad knowledge of workforce programs across the US.

Jeff spent eleven years in roles of increasing responsibility at the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development where he led the department’s policy and strategic planning work. He developed policies and procedures for MOWD’s 100 service providers, and led the department’s launch of key initiatives including the local Welfare to Work and Workforce Investment Act programs. His expertise in the emerging “sector” model of job-training initiatives was built through creation of Chicago’s nationally recognized “Sector Center” workforce hubs and enhanced through supporting sector initiatives in New York City and Washington, DC and was recognized when Jeff was named a Fellow of the Aspen Institute’s Sector Skills Academy.

Prior related experience has included positions managing the Chicago Neighborhood JobStart program for the Chicago Community Trust, and delivering a welfare-to-work program at the Jubilee Association in Pittsburgh. Jeff’s role at JobStart demonstrates the integrated approach to policy and program development and project management that he champions. In a rapid project launch supported through the 2010 economic stimulus, Jeff and his team quickly converted a rough framework developed by a public/private team into a fully-developed, multi-partner program model, coordinating ten grantee agencies to successfully place more than 1,600 Chicagoans in supported employment and maintain a high proportion of participants through successful program completion and permanent job placement.

Jeff holds a Masters in Public Policy and a Masters in Divinity from the University of Chicago and a Bachelors degree from Georgetown University.

Diana Polson, Ph.D., is Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow who worked recently on two Institute projects. One is as part of the Institute's external evaluation team of the New App for Making it in America project in Pittsburgh. She also was a key contributor to a project examining the challenges to apprenticeships in the U.S.

She has worked as a policy analyst for universities, policy think thanks and applied research centers. Prior to joining the Institute on the New App project, she worked with the Keystone Research Center in Pennsylvania on both the evaluation and program side of this Pittsburgh-based workforce and economic development project that aims to fuel local manufacturing and train individuals in a maker space-based apprenticeship program.

Diana earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from CUNY Graduate Center in New York City, where she completed her dissertation on care work and the low-wage economy. Previously, Diana served as a policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project where she coordinated a survey of more than 4,300 low-wage workers in NYC, Chicago and LA and co-authored several reports and articles on the research findings. Diana has more than a decade of experience partnering on research initiatives and organizing campaigns on a range of economic justice issues, including wage theft, cross-national family leave policies, workforce development and labor-community alliances. She enjoys working at the nexus of applied research and low-wage worker organizing.

Lance Pressl, Ph.D., Managing Director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship at Illinois Institute of Technology. Dr. Pressl has extensive experience in the public, private and not for profit sectors. He currently serves as Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow at the Institute for Work and the Economy.

Previously, Pressl served as President of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation where he developed and implemented programs and events promoting long-term economic growth through innovation-based economic development. Highlights of his tenure as Foundation President include: Founding and leading “The Territorial Review of the Chicagoland Tri-State Metropolitan Area”, the first of its kind study in the United States conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); creating the InnovateNow! Initiative and producing annual Innovation Summits; founding the Illinois Innovation Index; leading the effort to establish the Illinois Innovation Council and re-establishing The Illinois Science Technology Coalition.

Pressl began his professional career in state government in 1979, serving as a budget analyst for the Illinois Bureau of the Budget and later as the special assistant to the chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission. After pursuing his graduate studies, he joined a small Chicago-based venture capital firm as vice president and held several leadership positions at Philip Morris Companies, Inc., including director of issues management and director of corporate affairs. In 1996, Pressl was named president of the Civic Federation, the oldest taxpayer watchdog organization in the country. The leadership he demonstrated at the Civic Federation earned him a gubernatorial appointment to the Illinois Accountability Council.

In 2000, Pressl was the Democratic Candidate for the United States Eighth Congressional District of Illinois. His congressional race is the subject of the book, Challenging the Incumbent, Congressional Quarterly Press, 2004. Later, Pressl was appointed senior associate for government and public policy for the American Council on Education and previously served as vice president for federal relations and public policy at the Council of Graduate Schools, based in Washington, D.C.

Pressl was awarded the Ford Fellowship for Regional Sustainable Development in the spring of 2008. He chairs the Economic Development Committee for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and sits on several boards. He earned his BA, MA and Ph.D. in political science from Northwestern University.

James M. Schultz graduated from the University of Denver, receiving his B.S.B.A. in 1969 and his M.B.A. in 1971. Joining Walgreens Store Operations in 1971, he moved to the Human Resource Division in 1973. Retiring in 2004, his responsibilities covered a wide range of H.R. areas: training, management and executive development, productivity improvement, knowledge management, human factors engineering, systems documentation, human resource planning and information systems, and media production. He currently operates a private consulting firm, Pretty Good Consulting, in Wilmette, Illinois.

He served as a member of the Illinois Occupational Skills Standards and Credentialing Committee, a group working towards standardized and readily recognizable and transferable job competency designations. He recently finished serving on the Illinois Workforce Investment Board, a group advising the Governor about optimizing workforce development programs.

Mr. Schultz is Past-President and Honorary Director of the Board of the Jewish Vocational Services of Chicago, a non-sectarian agency providing vocational and rehabilitation services for the Chicagoland area. He belongs to the International Society for Performance Improvement, the American Society for Training & Development, the Human Resource Planning Society, the Society for Human Resource Management, and the National Center for Nonprofit Boards.

Mr. Schultz is a Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow and was a principal researcher on the Institute's project on the integration of new immigrants in the workplace.

Mary V. L. Wright is Non-Resident Senior Policy Fellow for Workforce Development at the Institute. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute and Chairs the Institute’s Achieving the Promise of Work initiative.

Ms. Wright has many years of experience connecting the public and private sectors in municipal finance, government affairs, and workforce development as a project leader, facilitator and subject matter expert. As principal at Van Lear Associates, she concentrates on bringing greater employer focus on issues of economic mobility through improving workforce readiness skills, implementing and promoting career pathways, developing work-based learning strategies including apprenticeships, encouraging the hiring and retention of the untapped workforce and better linkages between human resource and corporate social responsibility professionals.

Previously, Ms. Wright was a director at Jobs for the Future (JFF) where she designed and supervised the completion of foundation, government and employer-funded projects on topics including: expanding employability skills, developing apprenticeship and work-based learning strategies, utilizing labor market information to determine educational focus, better hiring and training practices for people with disabilities, improving entry level jobs for the retail sector, determining the correct educational focus for specific geographic areas including the state of Florida and Columbus Ohio, and an in-depth analysis of green infrastructure jobs.

Prior to joining JFF, she served as director at The Conference Board in New York City, driving its work in workforce readiness, business, and education partnerships. She also focused on improving the employment outcomes for people with disabilities through research and convenings. Ms. Wright co-authored or acted as project director on several key Conference Board reports regarding workforce readiness skills, including Are They Really Read to Work? and The Ill-Prepared Workforce.

Ms. Wright received a master of business administration in public/nonprofit management from Columbia University and a bachelor of arts in urban affairs from Connecticut College.