Delaware Leaders in Economic Development: Charuni Patibanda

May 10, 2021 –

Charuni Patibanda, Economic Development Director, New Castle County

In 2000, Charuni “Char” Patibanda graduated from Tower Hill School and left Delaware for Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics, she spent a few years working as an economic analyst before she headed to Atlanta to complete a juris doctorate at Emory University Law School.

Following law school, she returned to L.A. to work as an attorney focusing on regulatory and administrative law and land use. After practicing law for seven years, she decided to venture out to start her own business. In 2019, she opened The McOsker Group with her former boss and mentor, a government affairs consulting firm that represents clients in municipal policy and economic development projects in sectors such as media/entertainment, healthcare and hospitality.

Despite two decades away, though, she was never a stranger to Delaware.

“During the time years I was building my career, I came back to Delaware a lot,” she says. “This is where I grew up. This is where my family lives, and I’ve always felt at home here.”

When a homegrown opportunity arose in her area of expertise, that connection evolved into a homecoming. Earlier this year, she became the economic development director for New Castle County, the northernmost and most populous county in Delaware. She now leads the county’s work to strengthen the innovation ecosystem, including prioritizing new job creation through entrepreneurship, supporting startup companies and existing small businesses and providing a predictable land use planning process.

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My parents wanted me to go to medical school, but they also encouraged me to be active in my local community and stay on top of what policies were affecting us. That’s how I became involved in public policy and had a desire to work in public service.

What attracted you to the field of economic development?

When I was a practicing attorney, I would work on projects that brought economic development to communities. Knowing that a project, which if approved by the local authorities, would result in good-paying construction jobs and then ultimately be the creator of more permanent jobs or housing, was very fulfilling. I felt these projects added value to society.

Governments can leverage assets like airports, land and ports to work with the private and nonprofit sectors to create incredible projects for the community that can result in revenue streams or provide amenities. Economic development involves a legal background as well as creative thinking. You are essentially acting like a broker between the private sector and the government and the community.

What is the unique selling proposition for New Castle County?

One of the main advantages is that the government is very proactive in assisting businesses in navigating the land use process. Everyone works together to bring projects forward that will better our communities.

A big benefit — especially as someone coming back from the West Coast — is the cost of living. The location is unbeatable with the proximity to Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. There’s everything you could want up and down the coast – and there’s no sales tax.

What sectors are you looking to grow in New Castle County?

I would like to see more entertainment and recreation venues and businesses that add to the quality of life to make it even more attractive for people who want to live here and to companies that want to locate here.

What have businesses found most appealing about New Castle County?

The permitting and approval processes are far less arduous than in most other jurisdictions. Companies won’t have the delays they might in other states. 

What is the advantage of promoting an area within a small state?

At the end of the day, we’re three counties but one great state. All of the projects are for the betterment of the state and the people who live in it. That’s what matters the most.

What is the last book that you read?

I’m reading “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein. It’s an eye-opening book that talks about how governments have created policies that are just systematically racist, from federal to state to local. That’s something that touches my heart very deeply, and it’s not something I want to perpetuate as a public servant. 

Whom do you admire? 

I admire leaders who have been able to deliver results for their communities. Closest to me is my dad, who has dedicated all his time to creating a Hindu Temple and helping to serve the growing Indian Hindu population in Delaware, and my former business partner, Tim McOsker.  

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in economic development?

If you are considering a career of economic development, study planning and land use. My land use background has been very beneficial to my understanding of the use of land for various projects. Every jurisdiction is different, but the concepts are the same. When I started my current job, I was excited to assist with the comprehensive plan, which was well on its way. But I already knew what it was and about the different elements. I could participate right off the bat.

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