Meet the Staff

Executive Office

Estella Gonzalez 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.

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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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 Sr. Manager, HR & Office Management 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

Jie Wu is the Director of the Program Planning & Innovation division. 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.

Jie has more than 15 years of experience in research and nonprofit management. 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, economic mobility, community resilience and urban inequality issues. Jie earned all but her dissertation towards a doctorate in economics and her M.A. in economics from Rice University.

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Dr. Paula Cecilia Pineda is the Assistant Director of ARPA Initiatives. In this role, she leads DEEO's efforts to optimize federal funding and provide inclusive economic development assistance via small business and workforce development strategies. A mission-minded, innovative, and strategic leader, Dr. Pineda is committed to extending economic opportunity to empower under-resourced communities and address inequality.

As a scholar of ethnic identity, ethnic conflict, and decentralization institutions, Dr. Pineda draws on her research background and interests to design programming and policy that addresses structural inequalities. An excellent communicator, Dr. Pineda has presented on identity, ethnicity, institutional design, and inclusive policy design across the US, UN-partnered initiatives, and abroad at the Hague, Iraq, Ecuador, and Turkey.

In her previous roles, Dr. Pineda led various workforce development and small business development efforts with the City of Houston, including work with partners such as Meta (Facebook) and federally-funded small business programming for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

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Bryonne (Bree) Cummings is the Assistant Director, Policy & Special Projects. Her responsibilities focus on driving equity and inclusive economic growth in communities that experience disparities and disinvestment in Harris County through policy. She is a skilled operations professional and is experienced in analyzing existing business processes and implementing improvements to simplify the experience and drive efficiencies.

Bree has served in entities championing employment work programs and has extensive experience in the Kansas City government, where she worked in both juvenile and adult diversion programs. As an Auditor for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, she found her calling as an efficiency champion, ensuring compliance with guidelines and optimizing processes for organizational value. She began her tenure in Harris County managing a historic misdemeanor bail reform project in 2020.

Bree has a Master's in Organizational Development Psychology, a Graduate Project Management Certificate, and a Bachelor's in Psychology.

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

Maya P. Thornton is the Director in the Inclusive Procurements division. She is responsible for expanding County contracting opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses. She is committed to the development of meaningful and mutually beneficial professional relationships with diverse suppliers and recognizes the value these relationships add to any business.

Prior to joining the Department of Economic Equity and Opportunity, she served as the Director of Materials Management for Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD), leading the strategic plan and vision of purchasing, contracts and warehouse departments for the District. She has also served as the Vice President of Business Opportunity with Texas Central Railway as well as being the Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Operations Department Director at the University of Houston. Maya holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Xavier University of Louisiana and a Juris Doctorate (JD) from Southern University Law Center.

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Gary Grier is the Assistant Director, Worker & Community Protection for the Inclusive Procurements Division of DEEO. Gary recently served 3.5 years as the Senior Program Manager- HUD Section 3 since January 13, 2020.  Gary’s current focus is on regulatory compliance including Davis Bacon & Related Acts (DBRA), Prevailing Wage, and creating economic opportunity for low-income workers and businesses through HUD Section 3 requirements.

Previously, Gary served ten years in leadership with the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County. While with the Coalition, Gary helped create an innovative employment program called Income Now. “Income Now” leveraged the public workforce and employment assistance programs focused on ending homelessness to create coordinated access to housing and income. Gary was frequently a national presenter, particularly at the Annual and Texas Conferences on Ending Homelessness. Additionally, Gary served 14 years with AIDS Foundation Houston, most recently as the Director of Programs and Services. Gary is a proud University of Houston alumnus.