Where were you in 1999? While the world partied Prince-style and braced for Y2K, Colleen Padilla was graduating from RCC as Business Student of the Year. Now two decades later, she’s receiving another distinguished honor—the 2020 RCC Outstanding Alum Award, granted by the RCC Foundation.
As executive director of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. (SOREDI), Colleen is a champion for launching and growing prosperous businesses in Jackson and Josephine counties.
“As a native of Medford, Colleen’s love for Southern Oregon is demonstrated in everything she does, both on the job and on the trail,” said RCC President Cathy Kemper-Pelle. “RCC is proud to name Colleen Padilla as our Outstanding Alum of the year.”
“My RCC days seem so long ago but I remember the time vividly,” Colleen said. “I was married with three children and thinking how going back to school would be impossible. But I was able to get financial assistance—part grant, part loan—and I was so grateful. I remember crying on my couch when I got the letter.”
Colleen soon discovered RCC was the ideal environment to earn a degree while balancing family and other adult life pressures. “It’s a great locally based option that is flexible, relevant and forward thinking,” she said. “My experience led me to really understand my leanings and gifts toward management, human relations and administration.”
Colleen’s success in community college led her to Southern Oregon University, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in business. She now credits RCC for her long-standing vocation in economic development.
“I cannot underscore enough the value of an internship to open up the world of prospective careers,” Colleen said. In fall of 1998 she completed an RCC-required cooperative work experience program at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Medford, which at the time was located in the same facility as SOREDI. This led to an invitation to intern with the SBDC and SOREDI, where she was eventually offered a full-time job in 2001. After a series of promotions, Colleen has now been serving as head of SOREDI for four years.
Today Colleen directs a staff of six people serving 15 jurisdictions in two counties. SOREDI also operates a business loan program for gap financing with federal partner funds. The organization makes a daily impact on the economic growth of our region, and many local businesses and families have benefited from Colleen’s outstanding work.
“Through her work at SOREDI, Colleen has emerged as an exemplary leader committed to innovation, collaboration and broad engagement across our entire region, from O’Brien to Ashland,” said Kemper-Pelle. “She has dedicated her career to improving our region’s economic conditions.”
Colleen says the feeling is mutual.
“RCC is an engaged partner with our community—not competitive, but complementary,” Colleen said. “Leadership is phenomenal, and they are not content with status quo. Our region cannot afford to stay the same; they get it. I love that RCC is engaged with businesses—because that connection is paramount today and tomorrow.”
The Foundation will present the Outstanding Alum Award at RCC’s fall in-service and President’s Circle events in September. The college is proud to recognize Colleen Padilla as this year’s honored influencer within our community and beyond.