Director Spotlight: Christina Danis, Ph.D, AICP

An Interview With The New Director of Community Economic Development

My name is Kate Fersinger and I have had the absolute pleasure of working with Centralina’s Community Economic Development (CED) department as a UNC-Charlotte Master of Public Administration Student. Through this, I have been working with and under Christina Danis, Ph.D, AICP. Christina was promoted to Director of Community Economic Development at the start of the fiscal year. To celebrate her successes with Centralina, I sat down with her to pick her brain, which is very full of knowledge, grace, kindness and passion. Come along with me to learn a little bit more about Christina and her goals as Director of Centralina CED.

Kate Fersinger: You have quite a few degrees under your belt! You have a Bachelors in Science, Masters in Environmental Science, Masters in Land Use and Regional Planning and a Ph.D in Public Policy. What inspired you to achieve all these degrees?

Christina Danis: I am a lifelong learner! I have been fortunate enough to have many great mentors who found academic pathways that intertwined my professional goals with academia.

K: Tell us something about yourself that we may not know.

C: I am claustrophobic but was trained in Confined Space Entry because I oversaw the Storm Water Monitoring program in Staten Island and had to crawl into tight spaces.

K: What are your necessities to get through the day?

C: Coffee, puppy hugs and knowing my family is safe.

K: What resources do you utilize to stay informed of economic development trends/news in our region?

C: The Charlotte Business Journal, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, Economic Development Corporation, McKinsey & Company, EDA’s Economic Impact Reports, New York Times, American Planning Association, Area Development Newsletter, NC Impact, International Economic Development Corporation, municipal websites and talking to people in our region.

K: What drew you to Centralina?

C: Regionalism.

K: You just celebrated your first year with Centralina. What are you most proud of accomplishing in your first year?

C: I am proud of my ability to ensure that the CED team members are supporting each other, Centralina and our members in new and innovative ways. I am also proud of our growing staff, while also taking the time to ensure existing CED staff is supported despite departmental and organizational changes.

K: Share something exciting that you and your team are working on.

C: I am excited to share the Regional Resilience Collaborative, which works with nine-county Emergency Management leads and county governments to ensure the region is resilient and better prepared for natural disasters and economic shocks. It has been such an incredible opportunity to participate in this way and be seen as a value-add. Additionally, the CED team is taking initiatives to support affordable housing and infrastructure in some of the most vulnerable communities with limited capacities. Through Community Development Block Grant programs and work done in Anson County, it will be game-changing for the region and Centralina in the next few years and beyond.  

K: What are your goals as Director of CED this year?

C: I aspire to ensure that the CED team has all resources they need to be successful because we have a lot of great opportunities coming our way with the American Rescue Plan Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, funding with North Carolina Regional Councils of Governments (NCRCOG), and increased needs by communities due to an excess of COVID-19 response funds. These goals will involve everyone at Centralina. I have enjoyed cross department collaboration and that will be the key to success.

K: Build a toolkit of resources, networking groups, work experience, etc. for an aspiring leader in community economic development.

C: First, get to know the lay of the land! Take stock of all the good work done already, do not reinvent the wheel. Get to know the history and important actors in community economic development, both new and old. Next, listen! Take the time to listen and make phone calls to understand the concerns and needs of your community. Take this information to determine your value. Lastly, build the capacity of members so that the assistance provided increases capacity and capability of municipalities to be successful on their own.

Kate Fersinger is a Centralina Community Economic Development Fellow.

Read more about Christina Danis HERE.