Three months into her job as Vienna’s new economic development manager, Natalie Monkou has an abundance of ideas for how to boost business in the town.
Monkou, an Annadale resident, previously worked in Arlington County as a liaison between the county and three business improvement districts (BIDs): Rosslyn, Ballston and Crystal City. Before that, she worked as the special assistant to Prince George’s County’s deputy chief of economic development.
Currently, Monkou has been on a “listening tour” around the town and holding public forums to receive input.
So far, the tour has been “really good,” Monkou told Tysons Reporter at Caffe Amouri earlier this week. “I’m trying to meet everybody.”
“Everybody” includes local businesses, commercial real estate brokers, local organizations that work with businesses and the Vienna Business Association.
While Monkou said she hasn’t heard anything surprising yet — mostly issues about high rents, property owners, vacancies and traffic — she said the people she has met with have different opinions on what economic development is and how it should work.
In an hour-long conversation with Tysons Reporter, Monkou shared a variety of ideas she’d like to look into for boosting Vienna businesses, like offering a walking tour with the mayor, improving the website for tourists and looking into how to turn the industrial area — what she calls a “sleeper hit” — into more of a destination.
But she said her main goal for this year is to get more data before she starts to make big changes. “I’ve heard lots of stories,” she said. Now she wants the data.
Currently, she said she’s working on a proposal for a market study that will look into Vienna’s competitiveness in the D.C. market, along with collecting demographic information and a SWOT analysis.
Using the study’s data, she wants to create an economic development strategy. Both the study and strategy could take anywhere from six months to a year, she said.
Her other top priorities for this year include a focus on the town’s budget and also figuring out how to market local businesses better outside of the town.
“I think there are opportunities to do more marketing and promotion of business here,” she said, adding that Vienna already supports local businesses well. “Why would I come here? Why would I shop here when I don’t live here?”
How to make Vienna a destination for nonresidents is on Monkou’s mind, as are controversial topics like the moratorium on new development guidelines for Maple Avenue — known as the “MAC” — and Tysons’ potential impact on Vienna.
“I want to be a part of MAC convos,” she said, adding that businesses have brought it up in discussions with her.
Monkou is clear that whatever happens with the MAC, which has been put on hold until June so the town can redo its guidelines, won’t slow her down and that there are plenty of areas around Vienna — like near Caboose Tavern — that she can focus on.
As for Tysons, Monkou said business owners can look to the growing community for potential customers.
A part of that involves making it easier for people to get to Vienna, which will require a look at traffic congestion and parking problems, she said. (For cycling enthusiasts, Monkou said she’s aware of how “special” the W&OD Trail is to the town and she said she wants to promote it more.)
As she dives more into these areas, Monkou expects lots of conversations with several town departments, like parks and recreation staff, as she works to merge traditional economic development with a “BID-like overlay” that includes online ads and events.
At the end of the day, Monkou said it’s all about “unique ways to promote the town’s assets.”