HOTSEAT- Econ dev 101: DeMauri still 'splaining

Robert DeMauri heads possibly the most misunderstood entity in the region: The Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development.

For one, says DeMauri, the partnership was not created to encourage growth. Nor, he alleges, is it cozying up to developers trying to build more houses or shopping centers.

"Our focus is on attracting basic jobs," says DeMauri, and by that he doesn't mean Target or Wal-Mart.

After 10 years as executive director, he's still explaining what the heck the partnership does. And with a stable, University of Virginia-based economy, and low unemployment, "People say, 'Why do we need economic development?'" says DeMauri.

His response: "It's important to know a segment of our population is hurting and being left behind." And he's got some data to back it. The partnership was the first to collect information on the cost of living in the area and to compare it with other metropolitan areas. Not surprisingly, "Charlottesville has the highest cost of living in Virginia other than Northern Virginia," says DeMauri. 

And on the other end of the scale, "The average pay here is lower than Richmond," he says. Ergo: "The average worker here is more economically disadvantaged."

So the partnership ponders what kind of companies can pay salaries that would allow people to be self-sufficient– and hospitality jobs don't cut it. Health care and biotechnology pay more, but require more skills. "It's the chicken and the egg," muses DeMauri. "Do we attract jobs or pay for training?"

Another rub for DeMauri in being the source of economic information for companies that might be interested in locating here: While UVA, PVCC, Charlottesville, Fluvanna, Louisa, Greene, Madison and Orange have long been members of the partnership, Albemarle County refused to join until earlier this year.

"I think it was a reflection of how economic development is defined in the region," says DeMauri, who's retiring December 31.

He heads toward the door with three lessons about economic life in Charlottesville. Number one, the university is always the economic engine and will become an even larger driver with its new cancer center, John Paul Jones Arena, and performing arts center. "All are designed to be world-class facilities in a world-class university in a small city," he says.

Number two: Quality of life here generates growth, attracting independent people with their own money– and companies– who can live anywhere. "At social events, my first question I ask people is, why are you here, and they say, I wanted to live in a small college town and did an Internet search," instructs DeMauri.

And number three, he predicts the National Ground Intelligence Center will have major influence on the area since the 1,000 jobs it'll soon bring will pay an average of $90,000. "Probably for every job," DeMauri supposes, "four jobs will be created in the service industry."

Going to UVA wasn't an obvious choice 48 years ago for a boy who grew up in New York City and went to high school in Brooklyn. But once he walked on the Lawn and took in the Academical Village, that degree in city planning eventually brought him back here.

And of course he'll stay here. "Everyone comes here," he says. "Why would I go anywhere else?" 

Age: 66

Why here? To accept the position of "founding" executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development. 

What's worst about living here? The inability of the community to make timely decisions directed toward addressing obvious needs that when met would make Charlottesville an even better place to live.

Favorite hangout? Kluge Estate Farm Shop

Most overrated virtue? Political correctness 

People would be surprised to know: That I have a love of trains and still possess a fairly extensive collection of the '50s Lionel variety.

What would you change about yourself? My lack of patience over trivial matters– long traffic lights, misplaced glasses (or anything else) and inanimate objects that don't perform as they should or as I want them to.

Proudest accomplishment? I graduated from Virginia.

People find most annoying about you: I would say my lack of displaying an emotional or urgent response to those things that others believe to be important or are moved by.

Whom do you admire? Margaret Thatcher

Favorite book? The Fountainhead

Subject that causes you to rant? Most any subject presented with intellectual dishonesty.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Using the Internet.

Biggest 21st-century creep-out? Cloning

What do you drive? 1997 Lexus

In your car CD player right now: The Best of Simon and Garfunkel, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Hooray for Hollywood, Elvis Presley – 30 #1 Hits, God Bless America, Greatest Movie Hits

Next journey? To Italy or maybe the Cotswolds

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Although not facing the consequences that I would today, I was stopped for speeding three times in a year.

Regret: That I did not take the time to develop my athletic skills or to actively engage in a sport.

Favorite comfort food: Ice cream

Always in your refrigerator: Ice cream

Must-see TV: A great old film on Turner Classic Movies

Favorite cartoon: Beetle Bailey 

Describe a perfect day. On a beautiful spring morning, have breakfast with my wife on the terrace, take a drive along the Blue Ridge in a Thunderbird, stop to have wine and cheese on a blanket at a spot with a view, return for dinner at Fossett's, and finish the day with dessert while watching the sun go down over the grounds at Keswick Hall.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Fly an F-14

Who'd play you in the movie? Robert Wagner

Most embarrassing moment? When I was just old enough to take notice of girls at school, one of my classmates phoned me impersonating one I thought was particularly attractive, asking me if I wanted to go on a "date." The next day, feeling pretty "pumped up," I approached the girl I thought had called only to learn that she had no idea what I was talking about. The perpetrators had a good laugh. 

Best advice you ever got? Let go and let God

Favorite bumper sticker? Have you hugged your kids today?

Robert DeMauri