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L.A. lawyer Patibanda named NCC econ. dev. director

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NEW CASTLE – After a nationwide search, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer has named Los Angeles-based lawyer and economic development consultant Charuni “Char” Patibanda as his new economic development director, succeeding Tamarra Morris Foulkes who retired last fall.

Charuni Patibanda

Although Patibanda has spent the last eight years in California, she is a Delaware native and a graduate of the Tower Hill School in Wilmington. She assumed the director position earlier this month.

On Friday, Patibanda told Delaware Business Times that she views the county business community’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic as her first priority.

“I think there are still a lot of creative ways we can help people get back into the workforce,” she said, noting that while some have lost their jobs, others have been prevented from returning to work by childcare responsibilities or reopening challenges for their employers.

For those businesses that have closed, Patibanda aims to provide resources to help owners reinvent their concepts to help them be “more COVID-resilient.” In her first meetings with her staff and county leaders, she said that they’ve discussed how to incentivize the operation of retail and restaurant businesses so that consumers return to an economy they’re used to post-pandemic. One way would be to continue to support expanded outdoor dining for restaurants as the weather warms again.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of ways that we can think creatively in our response,” she said.

Patibanda is returning to Delaware after working in land use and regulatory practices at L.A. law firms Sheppard Mullin and Glaser Weil, as well as starting a boutique consulting firm, The McOsker Group, that developed political strategies for a variety of hospitality, media, outdoor advertising, health care, and development clients.

Meyer told DBT that Patibanda’s local ties were a bonus, but that he was looking for a director who would give his or her honest opinion on ideas and be innovative in their thinking. Out of more than 50 candidates that he reviewed, Patibanda stood out, he said.

“I want people who are not thinking about yesterday’s economy, but what tomorrow’s economy looks like,” he said. “In terms of experience, I think Char’s experience is sort of greater than what we ever could have expected.”

Patibanda said that the move back east was motivated by a desire to be closer to her parents, who have lived in Delaware for more than 40 years, but also to enter public service. After graduating from Emory University School of Law, she served for a time as a judiciary intern for U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and has wanted to return to government.

Over the past decade, Patibanda gained experience working on high-profile projects including the bidding on a new L.A. city contract to operate the famed Greek Theatre amphitheater as well as representing Netflix in its redevelopment proposal of Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. She represented developers working on all manner of projects from charter schools to high-rises to hotels.

Patibanda’s experience in working on the Greek Theatre’s request for proposal process was particularly enlightening, and she said she expected to draw on it when addressing New Castle County’s impending RFP for the long-term operational lease of the New Castle Airport.

“[The Greek Theatre project] was just such a good lesson in how both the government and the private sector can work together to benefit the community,” she said.

Looking ahead, Patibanda’s office will be tasked with working with state and local partners to help attract more employers to the county, something the Meyer administration has been fairly successful in doing over its first four years. Distribution and logistics have made sizable gains, while financial services added jobs in Wilmington and biotech continues to be one of the region’s biggest drivers.

Patibanda said that she sees New Castle County’s favorable cost of living, geographic centrality, accessible natural resources, and close-knit communities to be its best-selling features, especially with young professionals like herself.

“That kind of lifestyle is incredibly appealing to a lot of people and I think, especially now during COVID where people were more homebound than ever before, they’re beginning to recognize the importance of that,” she said.

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