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2022 SVEDA Conference Speaker Bios


Irena Asmundson

Irena Asmundson is a Research Scholar at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

Prior to joining SIEPR, Irena served as the Chief Economist and Program Budget Manager of the Forecasting Unit at the California Department of Finance. She directed the periodic economic, revenue, and population projections; reviewed economic impact analyses of California’s major regulations; and provided advice on economic policy issues. She has served as a Senior Economist at the International Monetary Fund. In addition to covering policy issues such as global macroeconomic and financial imbalances, the international monetary system, and trade, she provided forecasts and policy advice on a range of countries, including the United Kingdom and Afghanistan. She has also served as a Staff Economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and as a Research Assistant for the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

A second-generation California native, Irena received her PhD in Economics from Stanford University, and her bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Ernesto Lucero

Ernesto Lucero is the current acting deputy director with the City of South San Francisco’s Economic and Community Development Department, as well as the current chair of SVEDA. His background in local government includes economic development work with the Cities of West Sacramento and Stockton, prior to joining South San Francisco in 2016. His passion for supporting the local economy stems from small business and entrepreneurial support, workforce development, as well as helping foster the growth of South San Francisco’s booming biotech cluster.


John Aitken

John Aitken is the Director of Aviation for Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC). In this role, he is responsible for leading staff in achieving SJC’s mission: To connect, serve, and inspire; and the organization’s vision: To transform how Silicon Valley travels. John is leading the Airport team in expanding and elevating facilities and service levels to meet ongoing growth. John has been with SJC since 1993, and has successfully led the Airport team through many planning efforts. He also played a key role on the leadership team in designing, building and operating the Airport’s $1.3B modernization of two terminals completed in 2010. In his prior role as Assistant Director of Aviation, John managed the administrative functions of the Airport Director’s Office as well as the five Airport divisions: operations, facilities, finance, planning and development, and marketing and communications.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in aviation management from Florida Institute of Technology, and an MBA in aviation management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University based in Daytona Beach, Florida. John is also an accredited airport executive through the American Association of Airport Executives. He is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration both as a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor in single- and multi-engine instrument aircraft. John currently serves on the board of directors for Joint Venture Silicon Valley.


Makiko Barrett

Makiko Barrett is currently the Sr. Director of Global Procurement & Travel for Automation Anywhere, Inc. , a leader in Robotic Process Automation, based in San Jose, CA. Makiko’s career spans over 25 years managing procurement and corporate travel. Before Automation Anywhere, Inc., Makiko has managed the global travel program for a variety of companies including Verizon Media, Yahoo, LSI Logic and Elan Pharmaceuticals. In addition, she is currently serving the Global Business Travel Association, Silicon Valley Chapter as the President.

Makiko holds a B.A. in English from the Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, Japan. She is originally from Japan but was raised in Houston, TX and Yokohama, Japan. When she is not at work, she is busy volunteering for the Humane Society Silicon Valley.


John Hutar

In March 1997, Hutar moved to the Bay Area where he managed some of the region’s most prominent hotels including The Hotel Nikko San Francisco and The Westin St. Francis. In 2009, as GM of the Sofitel San Francisco Bay, Hutar joined the Board of the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau (now The San Francisco Peninsula) where he served as Board Chair in 2015. In 2019, Hutar took on the duties of President and CEO of the organization. Adding his voice to promote tourism, Hutar serves on the Board of the California Travel Association. He and his wife Lisa reside in Burlingame, CA and are long-time advocates for individuals with developmental disabilities.


Michael Martelon

With more than 30 years of travel and tourism experience, Michael Martelon has been a driving force in brand and revenue generation execution for global brands like the Islands Of The Bahamas, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Caesars Entertainment, Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, Hong Kong Tourism Board and the Massachusetts Port Authority. As the Chief Executive Officer of Visit Santa Cruz County, he is responsible for leadership, direction, management, and policy oversight of this world-renowned destination and its marketing, human and capital resources, including messaging, brand and communications development. Previously the President and CEO of the Telluride Tourism Board for more than a decade, his experience includes central reservations and the region’s airline subsidy program as well as being the spokesperson and leader for all tourism-related and other relevant economic development in the county for local, regional and global media. He chaired on the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association’s internet awards competition, which is recognized as the world’s largest hospitality-based advertising and public relations awards competition. Michael brings a unique blend of business development, operational, managerial and executional expertise to his current position with Visit Santa Cruz County, and to his new hometown.


Clair Whitmer

Clair Whitmer is the Northern California Regional Advisor for the Office of the Small Business Advocate at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Whitmer recently served for two years as a FUSE Corps Executive Fellow for the City of Fresno Economic Development Team, helping the city to devise a strategic framework for inclusive economic development. She also has been running her own small business, UpBay Express, since 2020. Prior to being tapped as a FUSE Corps Fellow, Whitmer was Head of Consumer Experience for Maker Media, publisher of Make: and producers of Maker Faire, from 2014 to 2019. Whitmer has worked in Silicon Valley since the 1990s, holding positions at several major brands in product management and tech-focused journalism. While living in France, she also served as Director of Voter Outreach for the Overseas Vote Foundation. Whitmer graduated summa cum laude in Political Science from San Francisco State University and is a dual citizen of France and the United States. Her mission is to help grow her region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem in pursuit of an economy that works for everybody.


Alexander Quinn

Mr. Quinn is the Senior Director of Research for Northern California at JLL. He has over 20 years of planning and economic analysis experience and specializes in real estate development, economic forecasting, and urban regeneration. Mr. Quinn leads commercial real estate research efforts for JLL’s Northern California region, providing insights on prevailing commercial real estate demand, regional economic dynamics, and shifting business behavior that shape our built environment.

His practice has focused primarily on addressing urban questions using robust analytic methods to inform the economic, equity, and environmental consequences of development and policy. Mr. Quinn has applied triple bottom line assessment, sustainable return on investment modeling, and life-cycle analysis to projects across North and South America. He combines his considerable quantitative skills with an extensive background in sustainability, urban regeneration, economic development, transit-oriented development (TOD), and public finance.

Mr. Quinn has served as expert testimony to the U.S. Congress to first explain the economic contribution of water infrastructure to the national economy and in a second testimony to explain the potential national loss in GDP should our national water system fail.

Mr. Quinn has worked on multiple feasibility studies for clients in the Bay Area, including the Downtown Berkeley Feasibility Analysis for the Downtown Berkeley Area Plan. He has also worked on numerous international development projects, including in Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore. He has led infrastructure and economic policy analysis efforts, including an analysis of the economic impact of SB375 to the State of California and the Central Market Economic Strategy which won a national economic development award.

Mr. Quinn is a professor at University of California, Berkeley where he also received his Masters degree in City and Regional Planning. He is a member of the Urban Land Institute and the American Planning Association.


Edith Ramirez

Edith Ramirez has over 26 years of community, business and local government experience. Edith helps communities grow their economies, collaborating with businesses, and generating or growing strategies to help create places where people want to work, live and play.

Edith started her career in local government as a policy advisor and community relations manager for a Councilmember in San Jose. She spent eleven years with the San Jose Redevelopment Agency supporting Downtown Development, Project Management, and Industrial Development. For the last eleven years, Edith has shepherded the visioning and subsequent development of the City of Morgan Hill comprehensive economic development program to attract investment, leverage resources, create partnerships and raise awareness of the Economic Development platform.

Edith is active with the Silicon Valley Economic Development Alliance, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) among other organizations. Edith holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Master’s in Public Administration from San Jose State University. Edith was born in Mexico City and immigrated to the Bay Area as a young adult. She is bilingual, a mother of two young children, and lives in Morgan Hill.

Edith believes that public service is about creating, protecting, and enhancing communities. “Today, more than ever, our goals in community development have to go beyond creating safe, livable and economically viable places. We should embrace and honor the diverse fabric of our communities and find ways lift each other.” Said Edith Ramirez. “I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with and been supported by organizations like ULI that enrich our professions of community development,” Edith added.


Michael Berne

Michael Berne is one of North America’s leading experts and futurists on Downtown and Main Street business districts as well as the retail industry more generally.

As the Founder and President of Berkeley, CA and New York, NY-based MJB Consulting, he has amassed more than twenty years of experience in undertaking market analyses, developing retail visions, providing tenanting strategies and spearheading implementation efforts across the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

He has worked extensively across the Bay Area, in the Downtowns of Berkeley, Walnut Creek, San Rafael, Santa Clara and Redwood City as well as citywide assignments in Dublin, Oakley, Hayward and Walnut Creek. He has also been engaged in the San Francisco districts of Castro/Upper Market, Chinatown and Mid-Market. He recently served on the Union Square Economic Recovery Task Force.

Michael is a regular presenter and keynote speaker at industry conferences, including those of the International Downtown Association (IDA), the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the International Economic Development Council (IEDC), the American Planning Association (APA) and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), among others. He lectures at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania, while also co-teaching IECC’s Neighborhood Development Course.

Michael has served on expert advisory panels for the ULI and the IEDC. He has been quoted often in high-profile publications such as the Financial Times, TheStreet, Planning, Bloomberg Businessweek, the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle.

In addition to his widely read “Retail Contrarian” blog, Michael has penned numerous articles for ULI’s Urban Land, the IEDC’s Economic Development Journal, Dow Jones & Co.’s MarketWatch as well as the San Francisco Business Times. He has contributed sections to two recent books, Main Street’s Comeback (2020) and Suburban Remix: Crafting the Next Generation of Urban Places (2018).

Michael served two terms on IDA’s Board of Directors (2009 – 2015), including two years as a Vice Chair of its Executive Committee (2013 – 2015).

Michael received a B.A. degree from Columbia University (Columbia College) in New York City, and an M.Phil degree from Cambridge University (Gonville & Caius College) in the U.K.


Christine Firstenberg

Ms. Firstenberg’s deep experience in California entitlement issues and land use analysis has led to successes throughout her development consulting and retail real estate brokerage career, as well as her leadership roles in industry organizations. Having sold over 3.2 million square feet of retail buildings; leased over 4.6 million square feet, and participated in the entitlement process for a multitude of shopping centers, Ms. Firstenberg has a distinct knowledge base from which to pull from. Christine’s has experience in pre-construction leasing, ground-up development master planning, merchandising planning and retailer strategic expansion plans.

Ms. Firstenberg is currently a Principal with Retail Real Estate Resources, a development consulting company and Partner at Metrovation Retail Resources.


Meghan Van Metre

Meghan has been teaching barre3 for five years and opened her Menlo Park studio in 2021. In addition to barre3, Meghan is a women’s health coach, and offers one-on-one support and group retreats.


Patrick McGaughey

Patrick is the Director of Investments for Paragon Commercial Group. Paragon invests in value add and tenant driven development opportunities throughout California. Patrick is responsible for the acquisition, entitlement, leasing and construction of all Northern California projects. With 25 years in the shopping center industry, Patrick brings a unique understanding to development with prior experience as both a retailer and broker before joining Paragon in 2015.

Patrick graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing. He is an active member of ICSC where he serves on the Northern California Program Committee. He is involved with Operation Surf, a program serving wounded members of the military fostering rehabilitation and healing in the ocean. He has also served Big Brothers/Big Sisters of San Mateo County.


Simon Vuong

As the Economic Development Manager for the City of Redwood City, Simon has led and managed the City’s storefront and non-storefront cannabis program as well as the temporary and permanent parklet program, worked hard to provide resources and support for the business community throughout the pandemic, supported the development of an app for a Shop Local campaign, established the City’s Economic Resiliency Plan, and worked closely with critical economic development and business group partners to make Redwood City a welcoming environment, prioritizing the economic well-being of all businesses. It is Simon’s distinct pleasure to have the opportunity to work with passionate small business owners, those who have the determination to make their dreams a reality and who are committed stewards of the business community. Redwood City could not exist without their resolve and entrepreneurial spirit.

Prior to arriving in Redwood City, Simon was with the City of San Rafael as their Economic Development Coordinator, developing and piloting their cannabis program, building out the outdoor dining program, and reaching out to businesses to support them during COVID-19. Previously, Simon was a planner with the City of Cupertino and at the City of San Mateo, leading long range planning initiatives, acted as project manager for hundreds of both small and large projects through the entitlement process, which spurred a great deal of business and development activity vital to the local economy. Collectively, Simon has over 12 years of Community and Economic Development experience in the Bay Area, facilitating the growth and expansion of many large companies throughout his career, including Apple, Seagate, Salesforce, GoPro, Oracle, Box, and Impossible Foods. Simon has been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) since 2013.


Monica Renn

Monica has served as the Economic Vitality Manager for the Town of Los Gatos since 2011 and has been on staff at the Town since 2007. With a passion for assisting the community, Monica strives to build a bridge between business stakeholders and local government processes. Since COVID, her role has been focused on economic recovery for the Town’s businesses and property owners through a variety of streamlining processes, including managing the Town’s implementation of a semi-permanent parklet program. In addition to economic vitality efforts, Monica oversees the special events program for the Town of Los Gatos.


Michael Speers

Michael is President of East Bay Investment Group, specializing in commercial real estate investments, including stabilized, value-add, opportunistic, urban infill and adaptive re-use development. Michael’s entrepreneurial and collaborative approach to problem solving and value creation has led to completing $2.5 billion in transactions on 16 million sf throughout the San Francisco Bay Area since 1998.


Kelly Erardi

Kelly Erardi has 30 years of experience including commercial, residential and mixed used developments. His experience includes acquisition, financial analysis, entitlement, construction, leasing, financing arrangement, asset management, dispositions and long-range strategic asset planning. Kelly was the head of Shapell Properties’ Northern California Commercial division for over 25 years and recently worked for Republic Urban Properties as its Senior Vice President of Development, Forward Planning and Acquisitions.

He has developed and /or participated in the management of 1,500,000 square feet of retail, 500,000 square feet of office, 1,500 multifamily units, 350 hotel rooms golf course and banquet facilities.

He is currently the principal of LJC Consulting headquartered in Northern California.

In that capacity, he works with several real estate development companies on numerous projects in many different stages from acquisition through entitlement to development. He is a member of the ICSC and is a California real estate broker.

Kelly is a golfer, pickleball player, likes fishing and water sports.


Abby Thorne-Lyman

Abby Thorne-Lyman is the Director of Real Estate and Property Development at BART. She has led BART’s Transit-Oriented Development program since 2017, including leading BART’s implementation of Assembly Bill 2923, advancing major development projects in Oakland and Berkeley, and establishing the long term disposition strategy for BART’s 250 acres of developable land. Formerly she led the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, a national think tank and advocacy organization, and was a Principal at Strategic Economics.


Teri Killgore

Teri Killgore is the Assistant City Manager and Economic Development Director for the City of Walnut Creek. She has worked for Bay Area and Arizona cities, including Fremont and San Jose, in Economic and Downtown Development for over 15 years. She specializes in creating and implementing innovative ideas and partnerships with the private sector. Prior to joining local government, Teri was a manager for Deloitte Consulting and Dun and Bradstreet. She is a proud alumni of the University of Washington and the Maxwell School at Syracuse University.