By Bob Highfill
John M. Solis recently had the bittersweet formality of addressing the board of the San Joaquin County Employment and Economic Development Department. After more than 40 years, Solis officially announced his retirement on February 27, 2021 with the department and from a highly decorated and distinguished career in which he implemented many innovative programs to help young people find good-paying and rewarding careers. Solis, whose family immigrated to Stockton from Jalisco, Mexico, when he was just 3 years old, grew up in Stockton, attended St. George Elementary School, St. Mary’s High School and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of San Francisco and a master’s degree in business administration from California State University, San Francisco. After working in Phoenix, Arizona, Solis returned to Stockton to start a family with his wife, Rosa Elena.
Solis started working for residents of Stockton, San Joaquin County and beyond. He worked for the City of Stockton as a contracts analyst and was assigned to the Employment and Training Opportunities Department made possible by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. When the Job Training Partnership Act passed, the delivery of services came under the purview of San Joaquin County. In 1983, San Joaquin County established what now is the Employment and Economic Development Department. Solis was a member of the team that facilitated the development of the department.
Solis said he is grateful he had the opportunity to work in the community, starting 41 years ago in the trenches, developing meaningful relationships and friendships along the way.
Solis retired as the Executive Director of San Joaquin County’s Employment and Economic Development Department, which serves as the administrative entity and staff to the Economic Development Association, the Revolving Loan Fund Board, and Workforce Development Board.
Solis had administrative oversight of the EDA’s Business Retention and Expansion Program and the Workforce Development Board’s San Joaquin County WorkNet One Stop Center Service Delivery System funded under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Under his leadership, his agency received 12 national awards for Exemplary Program Development, including the Presidential Award, which he received in Washington, D.C. in 1993.
His department received the National Alliance of Business Distinguish Service Award for combining Workforce Development and Economic Development under one roof.
He is a standing member and Past Chair of iHub San Joaquin representing the County’s Economic Development Association. iHub San Joaquin is one of 16 California Innovation Hubs established by the State of California to promote economic prosperity through Innovation and development Industry Sector Strategies.
He is the long-standing Chair of the Tracy Hire Me First Internship program, serving high school students in the Tracy community for the past 10 years. Solis is the founder and standing Chair for the Annual Youth Leadership Conference at San Joaquin Delta College with an average attendance of approximately 1,800 students from school districts throughout San Joaquin County working in partnership with numerous organizations including, San Joaquin Delta College, San Joaquin County Office of Education, San Joaquin County WorkNet, LULAC and all the school districts in San Joaquin County.
As a county agency, his department is an engaged and strategic partner with numerous organizations, including the mandated partner agencies represented on the Workforce Development Board like the Human Services Agency, San Joaquin Delta College, County Office of Education and State EDD. Solis has been a long standing and engaged member of Chambers of Commerce in San Joaquin County, supporting business development.
Solis has a passion for service but one of his greatest passions has been working with youth. He strongly believes it is much more cost effective, as well as rewarding, to work with youth, preparing to take their place as leaders and the future workforce.
In 2018, Solis and the Workforce Development Board, working in partnership with the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors and the WDB’s mandated partner launched the San Joaquin County High School Apprenticeship Program Initiative that led the establishment of two apprenticeship programs, making history for being the first apprenticeship program in a governmental civil service system with the public sector: The San Joaquin County Apprenticeship Program, established in 2019, became the first county government in the nation and in the State of California to establish an apprenticeship program with a focus on incumbent workers in a civil service system with state and national certification. The San Joaquin County High School Apprenticeship Program, established in 2020, became the first official high school apprenticeship program that also includes public agencies acting as employers in a civil service system. School Districts agreed to have their own apprentices. A virtual signing ceremony celebrating six apprentices becoming on board as the first high school apprentices in the State of California.
As the administrative entity of San Joaquin County’s Super Enterprise Zone under the California Enterprise Zone Program from June 22, 1993 through December 31, 2013, the County Employment and Economic Development Department issued over 120,585 hiring tax credit vouchers, totaling a tax credit revenue of over $3.1 billion, which have supported business development in San Joaquin County. At the crux is a strong belief that effective service delivery systems must have a passionate and qualified workforce reflective of the diverse population it serves.
The Employment and Economic Development was the 2019 recipient of San Joaquin County’s Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity Award.
Solis was the recipient of numerous awards and recognition including Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce Executive of the Year in the Public Sector, Council for The Spanish-Speaking Amigo of the Year Award, California Human Development’s Community Partner Award (2010), San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s John Aguilar Spirit Award (2010), New York Life’s Community Leadership Award (2015), Council for The Spanish-Speaking Executive of the Year Award (1998), Congressional Recognition as Business Advocacy Champion – Jeff Denham, Central Valley Asian-American Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Business Advocacy Champion Award. In 2003, Solis was inducted into the Mexican American Hall of Fame.
John, 65, and Rosa Elena met when he was a student at USF. They have three grown children and three granddaughters. They like to visit Rosa Elena’s family in Panama and his family in Mexico and they want to travel across the country by train.
“We’re going to do some traveling,” Solis said. “We have family throughout the United States in Wisconsin and Florida and New York and of course here in California. So, I plan to visit all these individuals that sometimes we don’t have time to visit because I’ll have a little bit more time to take road trips.” And Solis said he always will find time to serve the community and spoil his grandchildren.