NEW CASTLE – New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer announced Monday that he was shifting roles in his executive cabinet, including naming a new economic development director.
[caption id="attachment_231773" align="alignright" width="243"] Christopher "CJ" Bell | PHOTO COURTESY OF NCC[/caption]
Christopher “CJ” Bell will be appointed to the role, as the current directorCharuni “Char” Patibandahas been nominated to general manager of New Castle County’s Department of Land Use. Bell has served in county government for two and a half years as the manager of special projects while concurrently running a networking group targeted to millennials.“CJ is an entrepreneur at his core,” Meyer said in a statement announcing the appointment. “I admire the way CJ has grown his business, and he understands the challenges, as well as can see opportunities for job creation across different communities in our county.” If confirmed by the county council, Patibanda will succeed Rich Hall, who will be transitioning to a newly-created position to implement the county’s 2050 Comprehensive Plan.Born in Prince George’s County, Md., Bell came to the First State as an undergrad student at University of Delaware. He stayed after graduating with a degree in psychology and public policy, enjoying the state’s low cost of living. At the time, he hoped to work in urban planning – but after receiving three callbacks for 28 open positions, he refocused his efforts.“Comparing Delaware to Washington, D.C., the game speed is a little different. There’s not much in terms of an influx of people. That means in Delaware you have an opportunity to make your mark,” Bell told the Delaware Business Times. “It’s a place, I think, where you can make a lot of noise relatively quickly.”Bell worked as a personal aide to U.S. Sen. Tom Carper in 2017, right when the seasoned politician was facing his first primary battle in a decade. That gave Bell a front-row seat to the ins and outs of not only Delaware politics but the state itself.“Lots of people I meet, I tell them, ‘You’re from here, but I probably know it better than anyone, from Arden to Fenwick Island,’” he joked. “I touched it all in that one year.”After his work on the Carper campaign, Bell was brought into Gov. John Carney’s re-election campaign. At that point, he realized that working in local politics could help him land an urban planning position in municipal government.But at the same time, he was nurturing a hobby of his: creating a networking group. Using his newfound local knowledge, he started organizing meet-ups and events throughout the state. That becameThe Connect, one of the rare young professional groups without a parent organization.“The idea behind that is to disprove the myth there’s no opportunities here, job-wise, entertainment-wise or even relationship building,” Bell said. “We bring in a lot of guests like life coaches, accountants and small business owners to go over skills and things to know. It’s been exciting seeing the momentum.”In a sense, Bell is a Connect success story: Meyer came to one of the events and met Bell. A few months later, Bell reached out and became the first manager of special projects in the economic development office.In that role, he worked to establish the county’s Building Better Communities, the county’s comprehensive approach to public safety for at-risk areas, and assisted with numerous American Rescue Plan Act investments. Every quarter, Bell would read and modify its grant application to ensure that organizations without a grant writer could still apply for the county’s Community Development grants.Under Bell’s watch, that fund has more than doubled the number of organizations receiving funding.In the short term as director, Bell plans to focus his energies on supporting existing small businesses in the county and retaining young talent. With small businesses, he hopes to increase awareness of resources like theGrow NCC Fund, which offers below-market-rate loans, and e-commerce programs.“I want to hit the ground running, and make sure we not only max our applicants but get them through the Grow NCC Fund. I also think we need a few more organizations to tap into it and take advantage of it,” he said. “I really think we can definitely help scale businesses here.”In terms of retaining young professionals, Bell said he will get creative with working in larger corporations. That may include outreach to those companies that hire cohorts and understand more of the turnover data for entry to mid-level positions.“That’s where mentorship programs, connecting with different organizations to that demographic can really make a difference. This isn’t tied to one specific industry, and it’s an issue that we all can get behind,” he said.Looking down the road, Bell wants to continue a strong partnership with the Delaware Prosperity Partnership and the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce to work with new potential businesses. But where he believes he will be most effective is taking a fresh look at regulations.“What I really want to focus on in my journey is modifying our land code to fit some of these situations,” he said. “We tend to hear that navigating the bureaucracy is difficult, and business owners are not super government savvy. Along with [Patibanda], I want to look at the land code and see if there’s a way to create a win-win scenario for both parties.”Pending Patibanda’s confirmation, she, Bell and Hall will take on their new roles on July 1.
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