Meet the Staff

Executive Office

Diana Ramirez is the Executive Director of the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. The department seeks to improve the quality of life of Harris County residents by attracting and growing businesses that result in jobs that pay a living wage and new entrepreneurship opportunities, removing barriers to contracting opportunities, stabilizing household and individual incomes, providing workforce training to residents, and supporting essential workers.

Diana joined the department after 30 years of public service at Travis County and the Texas General Land Office. Highlights of her career include leading two P3 projects, serving as the lead negotiator of the property tax rebate agreement with Tesla for the siting of the Texas Gigafactory in Travis County, and creating and managing the Texas Coastal Management Grant Program. Diana earned a B.A. from The University of Texas and a Master of Public Affairs from Princeton University.

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Rene Schwartz is the Communications and Community Engagement Manager for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity and manages the internal communications, external brand, image and information coming out of the department. Communications is a broad umbrella term containing internal and external communications, digital and social media, graphic and publication design, video production, marketing and public relations, brand management, writing, editing, re-editing and production.

Rene has about 10 years of progressive experience in Communications. She has an AA of English, a BA of Communications (minor in Graphic Design) and an MA of Digital Media Studies. Rene has worked in the private, nonprofit and public sectors and has an affinity for journalism, creative writing, vector art and print design.

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Alejandra Mondragon is the Sr. Program Manager of Budget & Performance of the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. She oversees the budget and tracks program and service metrics to ensure goals are met. She also works collaboratively with division leads in creating a culture of accountability and data driven decisions in the department.

Alejandra joined the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity after thirteen years in the non-profit sector, the last six years of which has been focused on process improvement, and budget and data management. Prior to joining the DEEO, she led various projects including a major roll-out of a new CRM system for the division. Alejandra holds a B.S. in Social Science from University of Houston- Downtown.

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Tiffany R. Green is the Office Manager for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity and works to ensure all Office & Administrative functions are effectively operating.

Tiffany has over 15 years of Administrative Management experience within the sectors of non-profit, healthcare and government. Tiffany’s experience includes Executive Administration support, Human Resources management, Vendor & Contract management, Purchasing & Procurement, Space Planning and Management of Administrative Support Staff.

Tiffany holds a B.S. in Business Management from Monroe College in New York. 

Program Planning & Innovation

Estella Gonzalez is Director of the Program Planning & Innovation division for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. The division provides program planning with a focus on innovation, community insights, program evaluation and analytics, and policy advising to advance equity and economic opportunity in Harris County.

Estella joined the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity after fifteen years in the non-profit sector. Her passion for service and dedication to community development led her to a career in the public sector. Prior to joining the DEEO, she founded a small business development program for immigrant and micro-entrepreneurs and spearheaded social enterprise projects, including a commercial kitchen incubator and coworking space. Estella holds a B.A. from the University of Houston and an M.P.A from Penn State University. 

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Jie Wu is the Assistant Director of Analytics & Evaluation for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. She is responsible for developing, implementing, and overseeing data and research projects to provide insights to inform the development of public policy that advances equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Jie has more than 15 years of experience in quantitative and qualitative research, data management and nonprofit consulting. Prior to joining DEEO, she oversaw data initiatives and a portfolio of research projects at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research and has published a series of reports on survey findings and urban inequality issues. Her research interests include public opinion, urban inequality, economic mobility, and workforce development. Jie earned all but her dissertation towards a doctorate in economics and her M.A. in economics from Rice University.

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Brandi Ebanks Copes serves as the Assistant Director for Policy and Special Projects for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. Her portfolio focuses on driving equity and inclusive economic growth in communities that experience disparities and disinvestment in Harris County through policy.

As a public servant with over a decade of experience and a deep passion for equitable community development, she uses her skills as a collaborator and bridge-builder to establish and reinforce a vision of shared prosperity for all. Brandi received a Bachelor of Arts from Loyola University New Orleans and Master of Public Administration from the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs at Cornell University. 

Economic Development

Judit Haracsek is the Director of Economic Development division for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity.  The division focuses on County-wide economic development initiatives and programs aimed at expanding economic opportunities, supporting the business ecosystem, engaging with corporate leadership to locate or expand operations, encouraging foreign direct investment, and maintaining relevant economic information highlighting County assets and advantages.

Judit joined the department after nearly 20 years of public service with Harris County in various capacities in the community and economic development space.  Highlights of her career include leading implementation efforts of disaster recovery programs, developing streamlined contract compliance to assess and mitigate risk, and negotiating incentive agreements resulting in corporate investment of more than $250 million, increase of property value, and creation of at least 1,400 jobs.  Judit earned a B.A. from American University and Master of Science in Community and Regional Planning from the University of Texas at Austin.

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Elizabeth Balderrama is the Assistant Director of Economic Development for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. With nearly a decade of economic development experience, Elizabeth has worked in economic development at Lone Star College and the Greater Houston Partnership. At Lone Star College, she worked with Harris County to provide resources and support to economic development allies in the north Houston area. She rose to become the Interim Director of the college’s North Houston Region Economic Development Center and head of the North Houston Economic Development Alliance with more than 40 members. At the Greater Houston Partnership, Elizabeth conducted demographic and economic development research. Rising to Senior Research Manager, she managed and contributed to numerous research publications. Elizabeth has served on the Board of the Houston Economics Club since 2019 and is currently the Vice President. She has a degree in Economics and a minor in Poverty Studies from the University of Notre Dame. She is a certified Professional Community and Economic Developer and Business Retention and Expansion Coordinator.

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Inclusive Procurements

Jack Thomas is the Director of Inclusive Procurements for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity.  Prior to his current position, Jack was the Director of Disadvantaged Business Enterprises and Community Development for the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, a position he held on two different occasions totaling more than 10 years.  Before Jack joined the staff in Jackson, he was the Assistant Vice President, Business Diversity Development at the Nashville Airport, Chief Diversity Officer for St. Louis County Government and Assistant Airport Director for the City of St. Louis Airport Authority, retiring after 30 years of service to the City and the St. Louis business community.  During his tenure with the City of St. Louis, Jack was the Director of the City’s M/WBE Program from 1996-1999 and Director of the City’s M/W/DBE Programs from 2001-2008.

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Ernesto "Ernie" Hernandez is the Assistant Director of Worker and Community Protections for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. Ernie ensures compliance for Davis Bacon and Related Acts (DBRA), Section 3 Program provisions, and Texas Prevailing Wage Rate for federally and locally funded construction projects. Ernie holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from St. Mary’s University. 

Ernie has more than 13 years of experience in housing and community development that he has garnered by working both for municipal governments and HUD technical assistance providers. Over the years, Ernie’s had the opportunity to work with over 20 municipal governments providing technical assistance and capacity building of nonprofits and units of government that implement programs and projects that advance economic mobility in low- and moderate-income communities. Prior experiences include several positions at Harris County Community Services Department managing compliance of programs and projects for the Grants Management Division and most recently the Disaster Recovery Contract Compliance and Support group.

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Derek Holmes is the Assistant Director of Vendor Diversity for the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity. Derek is responsible for developing, implementing, and overseeing the M/WBE Program for Harris County.

Most recently Derek held multiple contract compliance roles at the City of Houston’s Office of Business Opportunity, where he most notably helped author the 2021 OBO Policies and Procedures, created a small business capacity building program, and created on-demand training videos for City Departments.

Derek received his Bachelor of Science in Public Management from Florida A&M University and his MBA from Texas Southern University. He has also earned multiple certifications at the Wharton School of Business and Morgan State University. Derek enjoys volunteering in the community and has served on several boards and nonprofit committees.