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Bedford County has a new director of economic development.
Traci Blido’s first day on the job was Aug. 1. She’s been spending her time meeting with companies, learning about what their challenges are and what can be done to help them.
Assuming the city’s reversion to town status goes through in 2013, her department will assume the economic duties for all of the area. When the reversion plan was announced, that fact was a big selling point for reversion: the two localities need to work together in attracting businesses to this area.
Blido grew up near Columbus, Ohio, and came to Central Virginia to attend Liberty University, graduating with a degree in journalism with a public relations concentration. She has worked for Babcock and Wilcox, spent a few years on the staff of the Smith Mountain Eagle and has done public relations for Georgia Pacific. She spent 10 years in corporate communications with Ericsson and then went to work for Region 2000.
Bedford County is headed in the right direction, she states.
“When you compare us with the rest of Virginia, we are in excellent shape,” she said.
Unemployment is lower than it was a year ago. Bedford County’s unemployment rate is 5.9 percent. This is lower than the state rate of 6.5 percent and regional rate of 7 percent. It’s far lower than the national rate of 9.1 percent. Companies are showing sales that are better than they were last year. Sales and meals tax revenue is also up, both indicators of consumer confidence. She said that the county also has a great deal to offer businesses with low taxes, a cooperative government and a great work force.
There are also some good programs in place. Blido points to Grow 1, which informs high school students about job opportunities in the area. This year, the school division started a pilot program of student internships. The pilot program is at Liberty High School.
Then, there’s Bedford Science and Technology Center.
“That is a great asset for the county,” she said.
Looking ahead, Blido wants to develop a new marketing plan, deciding on what the best ways are to attract business to the county. She has scheduled a full day of strategic planning with the Economic Development Authority to set goals, priorities and action items.
She also wants to look at her department’s Web site to make sure that it is both user friendly and answers the questions that prospective businesses have.
“One of the first things people do is look at a Web site,” Blido said.
Blido also plans to restart business roundtable meetings. She said that these used to be held quarterly and offered a good opportunity for area businesses to learn from each other.
Once Bedford reverts to town status, the economic development efforts will be consolidated in the county office. Blido, however plans to promote both the county and the city right away.
Blido anticipates that the county’s economy will continue to grow at its current rate, or faster. She expects the presence of the Center for Advanced Engineering and Research (CAER) in New London to spur growth in that area. Bedford County’s location between Lynchburg and Roanoke will also be a plus.
She isn’t focused on high tech alone. Blido said that she wants to draw a diverse set of businesses to the county to include manufacturing and food processing.
“I would like to attract companies that pay good wages and want to be here,” she said. “If they want to be here, they’ll stay here.”