The Knoxville Focus is sitting down with several city and county officials, community leaders and residents. The casual chats will, hopefully, let you get to know them on a personal level.
As Knoxville’s first director of the office of business support Patricia Robledo is now in her 7th year of service having been appointed by Mayor Madeline Rogero to run the newly created office. Robledo created the Business Advisory Council, was a founding member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of East Tennessee and she continues to be involved in many area organizations and causes.
How is your position working for you?
This position is working very good for me. I think Mayor Rogero had a need for this type of office and I’m very lucky that I was the one that got to do it. I get a lot of questions from start-ups asking, “Where do I start?” and things like that. I think we are very lucky in the community in that we have a lot of resources so when I sit down with a business I share with them about the eco-system, whether that is the East Tennessee Development Center, SCORE, the Knoxville Entrepreneurial Center, the Knoxville Area Urban League or the Knoxville Chamber.
A lot of the start-ups are the newest business models for which we do not have ordinances here in Knoxville, like beer-on-tap, food trucks, pedicabs, Uber and short term rentals; things that we do not have ordinances or must amend ordinances for. I work a lot with the law department and a lot of different departments that need to be at the table.
How is your position affecting your family or other interests?
My kids are grown and gone. I have a 28-year-old daughter who is in California and a 26-year-old son who is in Wisconsin. So I don’t have little ones in terms of having to juggle things that much. It is a position that has a lot of early meetings and late meetings and sometimes the days are really spread out and long. I try to do a lot of community events on weekends.
Where were you born and why Knox County?
I came to Knoxville from Colombia, South America. That’s Colombia with an “O” which is one of my biggest pet peeves. I was 17 and worked at the World’s Fair and then went to UT. I immigrated here with my family. I left Knoxville and worked in different states for ten years from ’85 until ’95 and then came back.
When I came to Knoxville at 17 with limited English proficiency I could have not had that dream that maybe one day the newly-elected female mayor would call me and say “Hey, join my administration.”
That speaks of what is truly possible, that American Dream.
What are your overall hopes for the city and the county and a metro-type government?
I don’t really have an opinion on that. I don’t really know what I will be doing in about a year (When Mayor Rogero leaves office) because I’m in an appointed position. For me the big question is what’s going to happen with this position.
Not speaking for the mayor at all, on a personal level my concern would be on the focus and priorities that the county and city has. I don’t really know that the county would be willing to do what the mayor does. Huge differences are there as well. There’s a huge rural and urban divide everywhere.
What is your main hobby or interest in your private life?
I’ve got to say I very much enjoy running races. I’m not a fast runner at all and got into running really late my life and just ran the Starry Night which was for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Running gets me out and there are many beautiful places and really great causes. During a run you’re running with a purpose and trying to help out somehow and you feed on the energy of the other people so you run a little faster. There’s a 5 or 10K every other weekend and I enjoy that.
One thing that I love about Knoxville, through the Special Events Office, is all the festivals and special events. Sometimes there are two or three things to choose. That’s a good problem to have. There was a time when you would hear, “There’s nothing to do in Knoxville” but I don’t think I’ve heard that again.
What do you see as your main accomplishment in life?
The thing I am most proud of is my kids. My kids are just really great kids. My daughter is a teacher in California with a master’s in public education and works with first generation kids and works really hard to get them into college. My son just moved from Nashville to Madison, Ws., to start a degree in criminology. He wants to be a professor, a research type.
When people first meet you how do they see you?
What I would like them to see is someone who speaks with an accent and although not an East Tennessean by birth I hope they see someone who is passionate about Knoxville and very much embedded in the community, whether it is in the business community, government or non-profits. I serve on many non-profit boards and as a proxy to the mayor on many other boards.
If you had to do one thing over in your life what would that be?
I have to say I’m one of the luckiest people I know. Even through difficult periods or challenges I don’t think I’d ask for a “re-do” because I am where I am perhaps even because of the things that were hard or difficult. Don’t what to change anything.
If you could choose one thing that’s the most satisfying in your current position what would that be?
What I take with me in these seven years is how incredibly lucky I’ve been to work with great people. I have been amazed about being part of this team. I love that this position, as liaison, has taken me to work with so many different departments within the city but also outside. I work a lot with KUB, the health department, and all those business related organizations. In the city I’ve gotten to work with departments I never really thought about. One of the first cases was with David Massey (former director of the office of neighborhoods). It was a business having an issue with a neighborhood and I got involved. We have amazing people. The public process is not always easy but Dr. Bill Lyons is such a master and helped me.
What’s your favorite meal or place to dine?
My favorite foods are fruits but a lot of the fruits that I like I can’t find here, so when I travel I look. I do enjoy primarily family-owned ethnic restaurants. I live in the Downtown West area and there are great places to go to. There’s the Turkish Market and I go to Yassin’s and the Indian Mart. They have fruit I can’t find anywhere else.