By Alyssa Giannirakis ’14
Stephanie Mercado ’02 didn’t spend all four of her undergraduate years at John Carroll, but after earning her degree and attending Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, she has made it her mission to bring jobs and companies to Northeast Ohio.
Mercado started her undergraduate career at Fordham University in New York City, but when her father began experiencing serious health issues, she moved back to Ohio and thought it fitting to continue her education at another Jesuit institution.
“Of the schools I could’ve transferred to, I was drawn most to John Carroll because of its strong Jesuit commitment to service and education,” she says.
After graduating, the political science major attended law school. Mercado didn’t realize it at the time, but her law degree helped her considerably in the corporate world. She started her career as a lawyer working for Fauver, Keyse-Walker & Donovan in Lorain County just west of Cleveland.
After working as an associate at the business law firm, she decided to pursue a different path and began working for the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Business Center. As executive director, Mercado worked to ensure Latino-owned businesses and their owners were prepared to land significant projects and had the support they needed to do so. She was responsible for overall operations, asset management, marketing, and public relations. Mercado, who helped develop programs and organized operational logistics, was able to direct the chamber and empower Hispanic business owners to expand their businesses in the region.
The NEOHCC focuses on supplier diversity and financial support. As such, one program Mercado says was extremely helpful was a bilingual QuickBooks class for small-business owners. She helped develop strong relationships with health-care institutions, companies, and public entities interested in working with minority-owned businesses.
Then in January 2010, Mercado joined the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. The governor-appointed position allows her – with the help of four other commissioners – to enforce Ohio Revised Code Section 4112, which relates to discrimination in areas such as housing and employment. The OCRC receives and investigates about 4,000 charges of discrimination annually in the areas of employment; public accommodations; housing; credit; and disability in higher education on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, age, ancestry, military status, or familial status. Mercado meets with the other commissioners once every three weeks to rule on recommendations from the OCRC’s five regional offices about discrimination charges.
Mercado, who was named one of Crain’s Cleveland Business 40 under 40 in 2010, continues her work with small businesses as the director of regional business development for Team NEO, which is a JobsOhio Network Partner. JobsOhio is the state’s newly privatized economic development organization. She was approached to join the business development team based on her law background and experience with small-business development.
Mercado works with companies in the region in several capacities. She meets with businesses in an 18-county region that are looking to expand, whether it be adding a production line at a manufacturing facility, engaging in biomedical research and development, or redeveloping abandoned industrial sites. Specifically, she helps connect businesses to resources that address their growth obstacles, including negotiating financial assistance through JobsOhio. She sees several industries that will bring more economic development to the region.
“Manufacturing continues to play an important role in Northeast Ohio’s economy, but we’re also seeing considerable growth among headquarters locations and in areas such as health care, biomedical and medical devices, polymers and chemicals, and food processing, as well as in business investments related to the Marcellus and Utica Shale opportunity as energy companies and their suppliers expand into the region,” she says.
There’s no shortage of ways Mercado has applied the mission of Jesuit higher education to her career. She has shown ways to combat social injustice in any career, from small-business ownership to fostering economic growth.
“I was drawn to the Jesuit mission of John Carroll, and that, with the education I received, has guided me in the work I do.” JCU