Shalini Bansal is the new economic development manager for the city of Covington. The new position, funded through the city’s utility tax, is a key in planning for Covington’s growth. She talked to the Reporter about her new duties, which she started Aug. 11.
Reporter: How did you first become involved in economic development?
Bansal: When I was going through grad school, I realized I was very interested in real estate development and finance. So one of the focus areas for me naturally became economic development. My master’s thesis was a cost benefit analysis of expanding the convention center in Memphis (Tenn.). I felt very happy because my thesis was used to market their project. I also worked extensively as a research assistant to one of my professors who was focusing on economic development. She was working with the Millington Naval Base, which was going through the realignment process. A lot of people were losing their jobs. I thought it was more fun in the planning realm and the community development realm. Over the course of time, I’ve enjoyed it. Working with the business community is fun. It also allows me to bring everything together.
Reporter: Why did working in Covington appeal to you?
Bansal: The size of the community, it actually appealed to me. Generally, I found people to be super nice to work with in smaller communities. You get face to face with people, you get recognition, you get ownership for what you do.
I also see Covington as being a place in the greater Seattle area, if I may use the term – it’s an edge city. It has a lot of potential and it really excited me. There is an imaging process that we want to go to. There is a focus on economic development. There is a new and renewed focus. I think it is a great opportunity for me to have some role to play in economic development here. I like working with people, and for that reason Covington appealed to me the most.
The concept of edge cities have been around for many, many years. That’s something I see the community asking for here, some kind of image.
Reporter: What are your initial goals in this new position?
Bansal: I’m trying to get a sense of what the business community is like here. I want to get a feel for where the community wants to go. This is a strong residential community, and I think through the visioning process that they’ve just gone through, I see the focus as being in the town center concept. I want to get all the planning done for that. We don’t have anything right now. We’re starting from scratch. We don’t have marketing materials. Getting organized, I think that’s going to be a big part of what I do in the first six months, reaching out to the stakeholders and networking in the community.
In addition to that, with the current economic environment I think it’s more important to help sustain our business community. That’s a natural focus for me. Sixty percent of your growth is in existing businesses. Among our goals is to get us started, get the economic development element finalized in the comprehensive plan, then get the planning process started on the town center.
(Richard Hart, city planning manager, has) done most of the work (on the economic development element). I’m only here to finalize it. I feel blessed to come in at this point.
Reporter: Now that you’ve been in the city for about a month, what have you learned about its economy that you didn’t know?
Bansal: One of the things that I’m seeing is that it’s a thriving economy here. The neighborhoods are very stable. It’s a very positive environment to be in, and I can’t say I didn’t know that before coming here. I had a sense of it, but as I spend more time here I see it’s a very thriving community. I can’t say that I have encountered very many surprises.
Reporter: What kind of projects will you be working on during the next six to 12 months?
Bansal: We’re still finalizing that. I want to develop marketing materials as soon as possible and get them up on our Web site. That is one element that helps when I am talking to any prospective business owner. That is going to be a very key element.
The other focus area is to understand our properties, what is available and networking with the community. Helping them to find resources, I think we’re heading into a difficult economic environment, at least in the next 12 months. There may be some assistance that we can find through small-business-oriented programs that will help them leverage their business and grow it or at least sustain it.
I’m more of an assistant on the town center planning process. We haven’t crystalized this yet, but I want to get started in that process.