|Diaz-Ricks Named Common Wealth’s
Economic Development Director
Job Creation & Placement
|Megan Diaz-Ricks is the head of Common Wealth Development’s
job training and placement and business incubator programs.
water or plumbing. Their living conditions were very poor. And so she helped pass legislation that protected them from the health hazards because it was indeed a
public health crisis at the time for all of the farm workers who were here. She was a big, integral part of that. People just don’t really know her story. Her name was
Jesusa Ibarra. I never knew her. She passed away before I was even born. But she was a big influence from just knowing her story and my life and what I wanted to
do and knowing that activism and making a change in my community was what I wanted in my life.”
Diaz-Dicks grew up in Madison, attending east side public schools before going to UW-Madison. While she started at UW-Madison, she transferred to Madison College
to “figure things out.” It was during this period of her life that she met her future husband, Dom Ricks. Shortly having a child together, they moved to Louisiana where
Ricks taught through Teach for America and Diaz-Ricks took care of their child and worked odd jobs to make ends meet while also taking online classes at Madison
The couple moved back to Madison where Diaz-Dicks worked full-time in the family restaurant — where she witnessed the struggles that small, start-up businesses
experience — while finishing her degree at UW-Madison. The first job she landed upon graduation was with Common Wealth Development.
“I was the coordinator of care specialists,” Diaz-Dicks said. “I was connecting folks to resources who were needing help with housing and employment. I mainly
worked on employment with John. John is our Transitional Employment Program manager. I worked really closely alongside him to help folks who were coming to
our program needing help with employment. And then I would help them with the other components like housing and then health care and child care. Any type of need
they had, I would connect them to someone else or I would try and help directly. I would say that I was basically a community social worker. I am getting my master’s
degree in social work right now from UW-Madison.”
When the director of economic development position opened up, Diaz-Ricks put her hat in the ring and won the position. The position puts a lot on Diaz-Ricks’ plate.
“I oversee our adult workforce development section, our youth workforce development section and our business incubators, which is a huge responsibility,” Diaz-
Ricks said. “Two of our largely known programs are the Wanda Fullmore Internship Program and the Youth Business Mentoring Program. We do that in all of the high
schools and then we have our AmeriCorps folks out in the middle schools doing some other trainings. With Wanda Fullmore, they get a chance to work at the city of
Madison in various departments. We’re the agent of Wanda Fullmore for the city. It’s been great. We also have our Step Program, which is a transitional program
where we are able to actually pay folks to do community work while they are looking for other jobs. It is hard to find programs that are able to actually pay someone
while they are looking for work, which is a very unique aspect of that program. And then we have our business incubators. I didn’t know the degree to which they’ve
had great success. We have Old Sugar Distillery, Giant Jones Brewing, and Potter’s Crackers. Apparently Shop Op had a little presence in our incubators at one
point. EVP Coffee maybe had roasting in there at one point. Ancora Coffee had their start there. There are some really cool stories that those incubators have.”
The challenge for Diaz-Ricks and Common Wealth is to create synergy between the job creation and job training/placement aspects of Common Wealth for the
betterment of communities throughout Madison.
“We have some things that we could really do here,” Diaz-Ricks said. “And it is so unique that we have the business incubators that we have and adult and youth
workforce development programs along with affordable housing. And we have Stephanie, who is wonderful. I love that Stephanie is our director for Health Equity and
Violence Prevention. We have all of the components. It’s just really bringing them all together and synergizing the work that historically in this organization haven’t
been brought together as much in order to do big things and make sure that they are very equity-focused. But we can’t just say they are equitable. You know Justice.
He’s very serious about it. He’s definitely motivated me to look at things much differently than I used to. It just means settling into the role and then being very
observant and saying, ‘Where are our opportunities? What have we been doing, not necessarily wrong? What are the challenges and how can we do it differently
It’s a challenge that Diaz-Ricks is ready to meet head on.
By Jonathan Gramling
Megan Diaz-Ricks, Common Wealth’s new director of economic development, comes from a long
line of entrepreneurs. Her grandparents opened El Charro, the first Mexican restaurant in
Whitewater in the early 1970s. And her mother operated a tax preparation business, DS Business
Services, in the old Genesis Enterprise Center before she and her husband left their jobs to start
Lupe’s restaurant in Middleton.
Diaz-Dicks also comes from a long line of social activists.
“My grandmother and grandfather were also Chicano migrant farm workers starting in the 1950s
when my mom was born and my grandmother was an activist in the late 1960s,” Diaz-Dicks said
at Common Wealth Development’s offices on Williamson Street. “She worked with Jesus Salas
and others here. She worked in Wautoma, Wisconsin. She helped pass some legislation that
protected farm workers, especially with their living conditions. They didn’t have access to running