Neli Vazquez-Rowland Illinois Tollway Director Customer Service Chair Neli Vazquez-Rowland is a first-generation Mexican-American from Chicago’s southwest side. Her father was an entrepreneur who worked as a steelworker, a carpenter and began his own business as a general contractor in Chicago. Neli is a leader in the transportation industry and is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Illinois Tollway.
At the Tollway, Ms. Rowland is Chair of board’s Customer Service and Planning committee to ensure quality customer service is provided to all customers and stakeholders. As an example, the Tollway board recently increased the number of days customers have to pay missed tolls to help provide a more customer-friendly environment for those traveling along the system. With policies that encourage greater sensitivities to customers’ needs, the Illinois Tollway is listening to its customers and providing more opportunities for positive interactions.
Neli works hard with her fellow board members to promote an inclusive culture that increases economic opportunities across the region. As Chair of the Customer Service and Planning committee, Neli is working with staff to evaluate the use of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ratings to help guide and measure good stewardship in the community.
ESG investments have gained in popularity and tend to perform better for bond investors over time. The Tollway has a culture of operating in a socially and fiscally responsible way and the ESG rating further supports that environment.
In addition, the Illinois Tollway is in the midst of Move Illinois, a 15-year, $14 billion capital program. Move Illinois provides an infusion of economic investment across the state, while also providing opportunities for a wide range of companies to participate in the highway construction industry. This program is helping companies and individuals gain valuable experience and encourage workforce development opportunities for those typically facing employment barriers.
With diversity and inclusion in mind, the Tollway has committed $1.7 billion to small and diverse businesses enterprises. As a result, $679 million in payments on construction contracts and more than 35 percent of professional services contracts were awarded to diverse, minority, veteran and women-owned businesses in the past year.
“By building capacity in historically underrepresented communities, we’re providing new growth opportunities throughout Illinois, fostering a culture of inclusion and economic development while simultaneously achieving operational efficiencies and high-quality results,” said Neli.
Neli is often lauded as a pioneer and thought-leader in the field of Social Business Entrepreneurship. In her various experiences, Neli has a first-hand perspective on the mechanisms in place that are helpful to businesses so that no one is excluded. She firmly believes that the programs enacted at the Illinois Tollway are making an impact in people’s daily lives and are providing new growth opportunities for firms of all sizes. More than one-third of all firms working on Tollway projects since 2012 are diverse, minority, women owned businesses or veteran-owned firms, accounting for 425 firms working since Move Illinois began.
Neli is also president of A Safe Haven, a vertically integrated ecosystem and Social Business Enterprise nonprofit based in Chicago. The organization has helped more than 110,000 people with comprehensive social services to create jobs, obtain housing and help provide a seamless path to independence and self-sufficiency. These experiences combined serve Neli as she helps to make decisions and performs her due diligence on the Illinois Tollway board.
Neli is forward-thinking – reflecting upon ways the Tollway may improve and be positioned to foster further success. She shares, “The Tollway is consistently on the cutting edge of new innovations and we’re always working to make the right investments at the right time to benefit the Tollway and its customers for years to come.” With innovations being incorporated in the way projects are delivered, constructed and utilized by customers, the Illinois Tollway has received numerous awards and honors for its adoption of innovation throughout its system.
In her work on the Tollway’s board of directors, Neli is focused on how the decisions being made are contributing to the agency’s overall goals, maintaining a fiscally and socially responsible culture and providing new growth opportunities. Neli looks forward to supporting the Illinois Tollway as it leverages technology, collaborates with partners, promotes new ideas, drives economic opportunities, and achieves operational excellence.