Building a new library? A municipal golf course? Public infrastructure improvements?
Then give a call to Emily Wagner, president of E. Wagner & Associates. Her company, an investment banking firm, specializes in the underwriting of municipal bonds, serving as underwriter and financial consultant to the cities, counties, and school districts which are its clients.
Wagner started her career in land development with Sutter Hill Limited, a developer of regional shopping centers, where she began to use her skills in real estate and project management.
She was hired by the City of Pleasanton in 1978 to work in the finance department. "Pleasanton was interested in me because I had actually worked in land development and I had my CPA and MBA," she says. She started in accounting and worked her way up, eventually becoming the city's finance director and assistant city manager.
"I worked on all the development projects here in Pleasanton, including Stoneridge Shopping Center, Hacienda, and the whole north Pleasanton area, which encompasses about 1,400 acres," she explains. Her education, along with her experience in real estate development and Pleasanton's many bond issues for infrastructure improvements, provided a perfect foundation for investment banking.
She left the City's employ after eight years, beginning the next phase of her career with Miller & Schroeder Financial. She worked for two other firms, amassing a total of 12 years in investment banking, prior to starting E. Wagner & Associates in February of last year.
Her company may be just a year old, but her clients have worked with Wagner for a long time.
"I'm fortunate that this is an industry where they relate to the banker that services their account and they come with you," she says. "Investment banking is such that you work pretty independently, and it's the kind of industry that allows you to be a small entrepreneur."
Among her long-term clients, Wagner counts some of the fastest growing cities in the Bay Area, including Milpitas, San Jose, San Leandro, Alameda, Novato, and Martinez.
"I really prefer to have long term clients here in the Bay Area where we do more than just the transactionwe service the account," she says. "I welcome them to call me when things come across their desk. If a proposed project needs to be improved, if it needs some clarification or some direction, we bring that to the table."
Wagner relishes the fact that the knowledge gained on one project can be put to use on subsequent ones. While her firm's bread-and-butter continues to be land development financing, this growing knowledge base allows E. Wagner & Associates to find new niches in the market.
"As a company, we've found ourselves recently specializing in golf course development," she explains. "We recently sold bonds to put in a state-of-the-art driving range and some parking lots and other infrastructure improvements at a course in Alameda." Her firm has also worked with San Jose on two courses and on the City of Pleasanton's Happy Valley course.
Despite the many elements of each project, Wagner focuses on one goal: getting the lowest interest rate possible for her clients.
"Knowing the inherent risk associated with a transaction, being able to qualify it and quantify it, is what sets the interest rates," she explains. "We compete head on with the Merill Lynches and Smith Barneys of the world, but they come and work with us because they appreciate our expertise, which is the knowledge of the project we're underwriting."
With the diverse elements that determine a project's viabilitythe ability of the municipality to repay the bond; the risks associated with the project timeline; the many legal requirementsit's no wonder they appreciate someone with such a variety of hands-on experience.
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