Good News: Fairfield-Suisun Chamber honors Person as its Citizen of the Year

August 08 2017

By Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce August 7, 2017

By Brianna Boyd

If you have spent any time with her over the last 25 years, you already know Sandy Person is the Solano Economic Development Corporation’s own Energizer Bunny.

She has been a volunteer with the nonprofit since 1989 and became a member of its leadership team in 1999. As the president since 2011, Person heads all efforts of the organization dedicated to the economic growth of Solano County, and works closely with hundreds of stakeholders from government, business, industry, and education in this region and beyond. She has been instrumental in the “Moving Solano Forward” initiatives, which she describes as the “capstone” to all of these efforts.

All this work does not even touch on her community involvement in Solano County as both a volunteer and Solano EDC representative. Person is one of just a handful of individuals to ever receive the “Golden Bear” Award at Travis Air Force Base, and has been named a Woman of the Year not once, but twice, by Congressman John Garamendi (2016) and Senator Lois Wolk (2012).

While she is humble when discussing her own accomplishments, her contributions to Solano County have not gone unnoticed. Person is the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Citizen of the Year.

“I’m so thankful for this incredible recognition and for every opportunity that has been extended to me in my career,” she said. “What a privilege it has all been. I feel so fortunate to have been able to meet all the people I’ve met. At the end of the day, it has always been about those relationships built along the way.”

This honor comes as Person is about to close a significant chapter in her professional life. She plans to step down as president of the Solano EDC by the end of the year. She has been a part of the organization for so long she jokes she’s part of the building’s wallpaper. It will certainly be an adjustment to no longer work there.

She’s not quite sure what her future holds and she is okay with that.

All her life, she said, moments of happenstance have occurred at pivotal times that have led her to where she is today. She has no doubt a new opportunity will present itself when the time is right.

“My biggest life moments have been those that have found me,” she said with a laugh. “I have this zany character trait in that I’m curious and I often say ‘yes’ without knowing what I’ve said yes to. That means I’m often in over my head but you have to move fast to catch up with opportunities that present themselves.

“Life is a lifelong education,” she added. “I’ve had epic failures and I’ve been fortunate enough to survive them and build on them. I was headstrong and bullheaded and I had to learn through my life experiences.”

Person grew up in San Diego in the 60s and 70s, formative and dynamic years for young people, particularly women. The rules were changing, she remembered, and women did not have a defined path to follow. The world, she said, really felt like her oyster.

A dedicated scholar, Person finished high school in 1971 – a year earlier than the rest of her class – and went on to enroll at an area community college. She was applying for a job at a restaurant when she began talking to a customer sitting at the counter.

“One thing led to another and he offered me a job as a laborer in his real estate development company,” she said. “Saying ‘yes’ to that was my birth into the world of real estate development. Minimum wage was $1.50 at the time and he was willing to pay my friend and I $3 an hour – we thought we hit the gold mine!”

Over the course of the next decade came a series of other “serendipitous moments,” where she said yes to a chance that would ultimately change her life. She earned her real estate license at 20 – a rarity for a woman at that time – and began working in leasing, property management, and investment real estate with Century 21.

When the market fell in the early 1980s, Person took what she described as a leap of faith and accepted a job with City Colleges of Chicago teaching real estate courses to US Navy members on board the USS Gompers naval ship. She was one of just 200 women on a vessel of 1,200 traveling Japan and Asia. She was the only civilian female and taught real estate courses for the Programs Afloat College Education. It was in one of those classes she met her husband, Jack, stationed at the time on the USS Gompers.

“You have to seize those opportunities in front of you,” Person said. “And the truth is, those decisions came without any hesitation. You look back afterward and you think, ‘what was I thinking?’ because you are taking yourself so far out of your comfort zone. If I hadn’t said yes to the Navy quest, who knows, maybe my life would not have turned out as interesting. But the Navy is how I met my husband, and how I got to Solano County.”

Jack was later reassigned to Mare Island in Vallejo. Sandy eventually moved to Solano County as well and the two married in 1990. They have two sons, Tanner, now 25, and Sean, 22.

The family resides in Vacaville but Person has long considered the entire county her home, in large part because of her work with the Solano EDC.

“Solano has been such an amazing place to learn about, become a champion of, and raise our kids,” Person said. “The quality of life here is incredible.”

She started off as a member and volunteer at the EDC in 1987 – when it was still known by its acronym, SEDCORP – and was named to the board of directors in 1991. She recalls it was a very exciting period for the county.

“At the time, Genentech was coming to Vacaville and this organization had a big hand in that,” Person recalled. “Business parks were blossoming and starting to grow. It was a huge time of growth in Solano’s history. We were the affordable alternative to the Bay Area and that still holds true today.”

Person went from one of the organization’s most active volunteers to a paid staff member in 1999 when she accepted the position of marketing director. In 2002, she was the interim president for a year before the EDC hired Mike Ammann. She then served as vice-president under Ammann’s leadership until his departure in 2011, when she took over the reigns of the organization.

“This job has offered an incredible platform for meeting fascinating people and being introduced to a vast array of exciting projects,” Person said. “It has also been a great opportunity to learn so much about Solano County and Northern California and what makes a community tick. It has been such a gift to sit in this seat.

“Solano County is a land rich in assets and diversity and yet, has a proven track record of teamwork and working together to develop solutions to many of the challenges we face,” she added. “This collaborative spirit is a crucial component of our economic vitality. It’s so important for us to work together as a team.”

When asked what accomplishment over the last two decades she is most proud of, she points to the relationship with Travis Air Force Base, the county’s largest employer and economic driver. She has vigorously participated in the Honorary Commander program and became a “Golden Bear” in 2010. She is also Chair of the Travis Community Consortium and is a long-standing member of the Travis Regional Armed Forces Committee.

“Travis is such an integral part of Solano County’s economy and community pride,” she said. “We have such an amazing group of people and how they serve our country and their families and our communities is so special. I’m in awe of their work ethic, their professional capacity, and their sense of servitude to our country. The fact that Solano EDC allowed me professionally to work with them was icing on the cake. It served a personal enrichment that has far exceeded anything I ever gained professionally.”

And whenever that next serendipitous moment occurs, and Person is asked to take the leap on a new professional journey, she hopes her involvement at Travis and other area organizations can continue.

“Change is good,” she said, “and I’m open to new opportunities. It’s time to discover and explore. I don’t know what my next move is but I feel so blessed with all the experience I have had here at the EDC that I only hope my next move is as enriching.”