Chris Engel, Director of Economic Development, City of Charlottesville
Where were you born (and raised, if different)?
I was born in Hicksville, NY (which ironically is quite urban, just outside New York City). We moved around a bit, but I was basically raised in the countryside near Easton, MD. Easton is a proud little town that is remarkably similar to Charlottesville minus the University.
When and why did you move to the Charlottesville/Albemarle area?
We were lured to Charlottesville in 2005 by the prospect of cheap real estate! Ha ha.
What neighborhood do you live in now?
In the city, just off Rose Hill Drive. The convenience is hard to beat.
Family (spouse, kids, etc.)?
I am the oldest of four children. Between us there are now 10 offspring with #11 on the way. My wife Gina and I are, thankfully, only responsible for three of them – Amanda, Jacob and Elizabeth. We share the house with our black lab Indie.
What is your alma mater and when did you graduate?
I received a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from Mary Washington College in 1992 and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2001.
What were you doing before you came to work for the city?
Professionally, I have been a cartographer (which is what geography majors do when they are not delivering pizza) and prior to coming to Charlottesville, I worked for the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce as a Research Analyst.
Your job title is Director of Economic Development - what, in your own words, would you say you do?
The economic development function within local government is unique. We do not tax or regulate anything. Our role is to help facilitate the creation, attraction and retention of businesses for the purpose of solidifying the tax base and creating jobs. Our office seeks to provide assistance at the municipal level, acting as facilitators between the business community and city, state agencies, private and public sector, academia, and more.
What is the best part of your job? The most difficult part?
It is a real privilege to represent the city to the rest of the world. We often field the first call or visit an individual or company makes when considering a relocation, expansion or start-up. It is exciting to be part of the energy around a new project or business and be able to watch it become reality.
I once had a friend who was skeptical of the concept of economic development and what it really meant. After suffering through a period of unemployment he then became the beneficiary of our work when he received a job from a company that had recently been recruited to the area. That type of impact is certainly rewarding.
The downside of course is when businesses fail and lives are affected through loss of job or investment. While this is difficult to watch it is part of the natural cycle of business. Our job is to mitigate those losses to the extent in which we are able but often there is no remedy.
How does your job most directly impact the average person?
Fundamentally, employment is critical to full participation in society. Our role helping facilitate job creation impacts people although most (unlike my friend referenced above) do not see it directly. Despite this, there is no doubt in my mind that the city and community benefits from a sustained effort at economic development.
What is the most interesting project or work experience that you've had while with the city?
The evolution of the Martha Jefferson Hospital project – from the announcement of the planned relocation a decade ago, to the economic analysis of opportunities, to the various redevelopment scenarios, to the actual renovations currently taking place on site to accommodate new tenants – has been fascinating. There have been many steps along the way that often go unnoticed by the public. We are fortunate that the process has been swift as it is not unusual for a site of that size to be vacant for years. It is a testament to everyone involved in the process and the desirability of an urban location.
What is a little-known fact about you?
I am a PK (if you don’t know you will have to ask) and I have a class A Commercial Driver’s License.
What do you do outside of work hours - hobbies, etc.?
I prefer to get outside whenever possible. I enjoy trail running, downhill skiing and I recently learned the stand-up paddleboard.