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January 16, 2012

City’s incoming economic development chief fleshes out goals

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DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, January 16, 2012


Charlottesville officials did not have to look far to find a new director of economic development.

Chris Engel, currently the city’s assistant economic development director, has been appointed to replace Aubrey Watts.

“I am very excited about this opportunity and I look forward to continuing the important work of economic development in this community,” Engel said.

Engel has worked for the city since 2005.

“During his time with the city, Chris has proven himself to be an effective leader in our organization and in the community,” said Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones in a prepared statement.

There were more than 150 applicants for the position and four were interviewed, according to Jones.

Watts will continue to serve as the city’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Watts is also serving as the interim head of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing
Authority
while a new director is found to replace Randy Bickers, who resigned at the end of 2011.

Engel graduated from Mary Washington College with a geography degree and received a master’s in planning from Virginia Commonwealth University.

He is the current chairman of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau and serves on the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development and the Charlottesville Business Innovation Council.

One of Engel’s duties will be to chair the Charlottesville Economic Development Authority, which issues bonds to raise capital for public-private partnerships and other incentives to attract businesses to the community. Engel said there have been many recent successes.

“Certainly, the most visible has been the two performance agreements that were put in place to help the Waterhouse and Martha Jefferson projects move forward,” Engel said. “Collectively, the projects will bring $60 million in capital investment and over 600 jobs to the city.”

Engel said the public can expect opportunities to help craft the city’s economic development strategy.

“There is a need and the timing is right — with the Comprehensive Plan being updated and the TJPED regional Target Industry Study being completed this spring,” Engel said in an email.

“Both will provide valuable input into a plan along with interested citizens and representatives from the business community.”

Engel said some of the challenges facing the community involve addressing skills gaps at both ends of the spectrum.

“As the Orange Dot report pointed out, there are a number of families persistently living in poverty and with limited skills to be able to move out of this situation,” Engel said. “On the other end, we have high-tech companies in town that are opening satellite offices elsewhere in order to gain access to people with the desired level of training and experience they need.”

Engel’s promotion is not subject to the approval of the City Council, but Engel has the support of Mayor Satyendra Huja.

“We need to promote high-density development in the corridors, we need to think of more job opportunities for people who need help,” Huja said. “I think he can help with those things.”

Engel’s promotion continues a trend in which Charlottesville and Albemarle County are recruiting from within to fill key positions. County Executive Thomas Foley served as deputy to his predecessor Robert Tucker and Jones was assistant city manager before promoted in December 2010.

While Charlottesville may not be getting a fresh face to lead its economic development efforts, the TJPED has recruited a Daytona Beach official to serve as its new executive director.

Helen Cauthen will move from her position as CEO of the Team Volusia Economic Development Corporation at the beginning of next month. Her husband grew up in Charlottesville and her son attends the University of Virginia.

“[TJPED] is a large regional organization with many counties involved, so the biggest challenge will be getting out there and understanding the goals of all the partners,” Cauthen said.

Both Cauthen and Engel are graduates of the Economic Development Institute, an organization that certifies professionals in the industry. They attended many of the same classes, according to Cauthen.

“I’m exciting at getting to work with him closely,” Cauthen said.

Both Engel and Cauthen start work in their new positions Feb. 1.

 

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