If you set out to list the sort of experiences that might qualify someone to run a Main Street-accredited program like the Orange Downtown Alliance, Charlotte Cole seems well suited.
Cole, who lives in Culpeper with her husband, David, has just been hired by the ODA, which defines its mission as encouraging “community involvement and economic growth” while promoting the town of Orange to “create a strong model of sustainable growth and a prosperous community in which to live, work and visit.”
In an interview last week during her first week on the job, Cole detailed her previous experience in tourism, economic development and marketing. Her employment in the field ranged from the Virginia State Travel Service (now Virginia tourism) to the Southern Governor’s Association, where, as a marketing and communications project manager, her efforts were focused on the economic vitality of the southern region of the U.S.
Along the way, the new director also worked in jobs with the military and other entities as her husband’s career in the Army took the couple around the country and the world.
Cole was a staffer for an organization formed to create a “capstone Army museum” in Carlisle, Pa., and for a program set up to create commercial sponsorships at Fort Drum in New York.
Toss in more local turns as a member of the Culpeper Economic Development Advisory Commission and as a volunteer for several years with the Main Street program called Culpeper Renaissance Inc., and Cole said she felt like the ODA job was a good fit.
She said members of the ODA board see the turnover in the director’s job as a reboot of sorts. They have also rewritten the group’s mission and vision statements and a reorganized of the group’s standing committees.
“The nice thing about the Main Street movement is that it provides the cohesiveness for all the entities involved to invest in the future,” said Cole. “I think a group like ODA can provide the structure that people can fill out to the extent they believe necessary to make their communities prosperous and successful.”
She pointed to words the ODA has included in its mission and vision statements: dynamic, attractive, historic, strong, sustainable and prosperous.
She said the last—prosperous—has taken on a new meaning in recent years in economic development circles.
“While it once was perhaps thought of simply in terms of financial wealth,” she said, “I’ve discovered in recent years that it’s often now used to evoke a feeling of energy, as well as a sense of investment and commitment. Those are things I’m already seeing in this community that we want to build on.”
Cole was born and raised in Roanoke, educated at Ferrum College and the University of South Carolina and lived at times in Richmond and Alexandria.
She said that Job 1 with the ODA is getting to know and begin working with all the partners and entities in the town, county and region, as well as nearby entities like James Madison’s Montpelier and Woodberry Forest School.
Talking to Orange’s mayor when she dropped in briefly, Cole said her guiding principle right out of the gate is “One team, one dream.”
“Folks I’ve met so far seem to have that innate sense already, that moving forward requires us all to work together,” said Cole. “They just perhaps haven’t had either the cheerleader or the spark plug to remind everyone that it is always a collaborative and collective effort.”
She’s got a lot to digest and get a grip on quickly, but said that one idea she has about spreading the word about the quality and quantity of businesses and experiences available in Orange will certainly involve social media.
“I want to create an Instagram account where we can offer something I’m considering calling ‘The Daily Orange,’ a picture and some content that focuses on a unique feature around town,” said Cole. “It might be an interesting individual, something in a store or maybe a new product in one of our restaurants. It could even be something like a spectacular sunrise over a building in town that has something special to offer.”
She said the hope is that the Instagram postings could happen every day—though she’s not ready to commit to that right now—and that they would come not just from her but from a cadre of folks in town always on the lookout for things that would fit.
In closing, Cole noted that during her job interview, she was struck by how interested ODA leadership is in having the group’s director reaching out to counterparts in Culpeper, Charlottesville, Fredericksburg and others in Central Virginia.
“We think there are a lot of opportunities to help each other and build by cooperating where possible,” she said of that directive she has going forward.
For more information about the ODA, or to get in touch about volunteering, go online to theoda.org.