Vera KrekanovaChair, Pittsburgh Branch Chief Strategy and Research Officer Allegheny Conference on Community Development Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Appointed by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Sector Representation: Consumer/Community Current term ends December 31, 2024
Vera Krekanova’s personal philosophy is to always say “yes” to any opportunity. Her work ethic is based on taking risks, working hard, and learning as she goes, and this approach has served her well. She credits it to her upbringing rooted in a long lineage of farmers but adds that it’s also part of her immigrant mindset. “I have had to break through barriers, and I look for openings,” she explains.
Moving from Prague, Czech Republic, to the United States with her husband in 2006 tested her mettle. Not only did she have to learn English, but she also had to rebuild her career. She was disheartened to learn that her credentials in nursing, social work, psychotherapy, and teaching were not recognized here. It was a setback, but her mind was made up: She would rebuild her career.
And it wasn’t long before she was hired to conduct analysis for a workforce development board thanks to relationships she had built in the academic community. “I recognize the value of practitioners and academics working together,” she explains, citing her teaching background and hands-on practitioner experience in social work early in her career.
Saying yes to this project was pivotal in expanding her interest in workforce development, and it eventually led her to her current role in 2018 as chief strategy and research officer for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
Leadership through partnership
The Allegheny Conference was founded more than 75 years ago to foster partnerships between public- and private-sector leaders to improve the quality of life for people living in the 10-county Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, region. This economic development organization touts a “leadership through partnership” model that relies on research, business investment, advocacy, and marketing. It’s a parent of the Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh, Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, and the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.
“I get to think about the future of the region that I now call my home,” she says. Krekanova and her five-member team of market analysts and policy analysts pore over data to devise the best approach when considering policy, investment strategy, and regional consensus.
But it’s not all digging into data. She describes it as going beyond the macro- and microdata to ask the bigger question: What do we aspire to be?
Creating focus on inclusive economic growth
To find out, she relies on her vast network within the business and research communities to answer the important questions: “What is being debated and how? How are the arguments and strategies structured? What tools are we using, and what do we need?” A top priority is to figure out how the benefits of growth and opportunity are distributed among all region’s residents and communities. This new focus on regional vitality was the genesis of developing a set of inclusive growth principles, still in development. The pandemic has exacerbated significant inequities tied to economic and social issues such as unequal access to employment opportunities, disparities in home and business ownership, and educational and health outcomes in the Pittsburgh region and nationwide.
“We want to achieve the true vitality of the region where people thrive, the economy is strong, and all communities flourish,” she says.
She points to how her work parallels that of the Federal Reserve’s role collecting grassroots economic information from its advisory councils and directors: “My world is similar in sourcing the feedback from various stakeholders and working it through to inform macro policies and investments.
“It is really surprising how complex the Fed is,” she says, adding, “it’s a privilege to be a director and see how the process works and the impact it makes.”
As a Pittsburgh Branch board director, she brings more than 25 years of international experience as a practitioner and strategist. She reports on construction, manufacturing, banking, life sciences, and overall business dynamics. During the pandemic, she began collecting consumer confidence data and offering summaries of the findings at Fed board meetings. “The one thing that keeps me going is to always understand there is a bigger picture,” she says, adding that throughout her career, if she feels demotivated or discouraged, she asks, “How do I elevate myself from the weeds to actively seek what the organization’s leadership needs to know?”
Krekanova is an outdoorswoman and enjoys hiking, cycling, sailing, kayaking, and camping. In 2019, she trained and completed the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge, a 36-mile arduous hike that passes by Carson’s homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania. “We did the challenge and got in with about 15 minutes to spare before the course closed,” she says. This event, held during the summer solstice—the longest day of the year—has two dimensions, according to the event sponsors: The first is to endure the “tortuous” hill climbing, and the second is to not get lost.
Krekanova and her husband have lived in Pittsburgh since 2006. The beautiful rolling hills remind her of the region where she grew up, South Bohemia, located in the southwestern Czech Republic bordering Germany and Austria. Her parents came from two distinct backgrounds: her mother is Czech, her father Slovak.
She seized opportunities to travel the world and work in Europe and South America when the borders opened after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While serving as a chief executive officer of a regional development agency in Prague, she volunteered for a three-month program supporting Hispanic immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona, her first visit to the United States and where she met her future husband, of Slovak and Polish heritage.
Her first career was as a nurse, she went back to college and completed a two-year social work program. After gaining experience in social work and a license in psychotherapy, she seized an opportunity to manage a social work practice.
Her background in the field lead her to teach nonprofit management while in Prague. Since 2010, she’s served as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
Before serving as a branch director, Krekanova served on the Cleveland Fed’s business advisory council, offering insights based on her role as chief strategy officer at Partner4Work, a workforce development nonprofit in Pittsburgh. During her 12-year tenure at Partner4Work, she formed and managed a collaborative research-to-practice platform to advance job access in the city of Pittsburgh and in Allegheny County.