DeKalb’s new director of economic development likens his job to that of a coach.
“You’re not on the field most of time,” said Charles Whatley, who took over the position on Oct. 3. “You’ve got to have a strong team, and we do have a strong team.”
And by team, Whatley doesn’t just mean the five members of his staff.
“There’s no economic development staff in America that’s large enough to take on the real challenge of a city or a state or a county,” Whatley said. “The partnerships with the private sector and with the departments within government are all critical. Every department in DeKalb County is tied in to economic development directly or indirectly.”
Whatley, who has a bachelor of arts degree in economics from Yale University, brings to DeKalb County 20 years of professional experience in economic development, including six years as the manager of the business development division and as the director of commerce and entrepreneurship with the Atlanta Development Authority.
Whatley also worked for 15 years as an independent consultant specializing in business models, strategic and marketing plans, opportunity and economic feasibility studies, and market forecasts for clients in the United States, Malaysia, India and Canada.
The Atlanta area native is an advisor to the Green Loan Fund for the Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs. The Green Loan Fund gives loans to small businesses to start or expand an eco-friendly product or services. Whatley is also a member of the Urban Land Institute, the International Economic Development Council, the Council for Development Finance Agencies, the International Council of Shopping Centers and Lambda Alpha International, the Honorary Society for the Advancement of Land Economics.
Whatley and his wife Heather have two teenage boys.
“We are excited to welcome director Whatley to DeKalb County and I am confident that director Whatley’s extensive background in economic development will enhance the quality of life for all stakeholders who live, work and play in this great county,” said CEO Burrell Ellis.
With its Perimeter area, which has become the central business district for metro Atlanta, significant industrial areas, small town centers, and urban redevelopment opportunities, Whatley said, DeKalb is “an interesting place with a lot of potential.”
DeKalb County has an advantage over cities, Whatley said.
“Cities are built environments that have limited land,” he said. “A county like DeKalb brings all of that—cities with limited land, more suburban areas with more open space as well as land for industrial and distribution as well as rural. That combination is really what allows for a more diverse economy and opportunity to attract a wider range of business types.”
The county also has an opportunity to implement some key sustainability initiatives, Whatley said.
“DeKalb over the years has made pretty strong investments in infrastructure,” Whatley said. “It’s hard to be green without a strong gray infrastructure.”
A key challenge for DeKalb is the world economy, Whatley said.
“Everyone is facing the same challenge,” Whatley said. “The uncertainty globally makes it difficult to convince investors to put their money anywhere. It’s not unique to DeKalb.”
Whatley believes county leaders have a “commitment to make sure that DeKalb is business-friendly in the sense that businesses understand what the rules are and the rules don’t change in the middle of a project.”
Whatley said he is glad to be working in DeKalb and is excited about the potential here.
“There’s a real desire, you can tell, on all levels to keep DeKalb strong and really move it forward,” Whatley said. “It’s a pretty challenging time and nobody’s backing down, and that’s critical for future success.”