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Valerie Shaffer on developing quality of place, talent for economic health

I first interviewed Valerie Shaffer on this site back in 2017 about what the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County does, how they measure success, and the rollercoaster of wins and losses in helping our community find its path forward.

Recently her team at the EDC went through a strategic planning process that has shifted their focus not only to include recruiting new employers and supporting existing businesses, but also to focus on important related goals like improving quality of place and developing talent within our workforce.

In this episode I talk with Valerie about those updates, what the pandemic has meant for her work, and what opportunities are ahead in 2021 for helping Wayne County shine.

I hope you enjoy the conversation. If you find it interesting or useful, please share.


The below transcript was generated with the use of automation and may contain errors or omissions.

Chris: I think you and I last talked in a conversation for this website back in 2017, back in April 2017. Obviously, a lot has happened since then. Before we talk about some of the exciting things that are happening within the EDC, I did want to ask, and maybe people are tired of talking pandemic. I know we’re in 2021 now. When that was starting to unfold, I wanted to ask what that meant for you and the EDC staff, in your offices generally, what’s the last 10 months or so been like just related to the situation we’re in with public health?

Valerie Shaffer: As you can imagine, it’s been very hectic because we certainly did not want to falter in what our primary responsibilities are for the community. We certainly had to shift gears at the start of the pandemic. First and foremost, the health and wellness of our businesses, and checking in with them, was our first priority. The staff, as we were working from home, we split up a list of our major businesses, and just started making phone calls checking in, trying to get a sense of who was shut down, who had issued layoffs, what the status of those layoffs were, and how the company was impacted.

Since we’ve been checking in on those businesses to find out how they’re operating today, and I will say, for the most part, the majority of businesses are back open. They’re still trying to ramp back up to post-pandemic production or services, because it’s a challenge to get people to come back. There’s still a lot of uncertainty within our citizens and the safety of the workplace and just their safety in general. Certainly, workforce has been a challenge.

In addition to checking in on our local businesses, we spent a lot of time reading and trying to keep up with all of the programs that were being released, both from the federal state and local governments trying to understand how we can get information out to the businesses that need the support. We quickly created a COVID-19 resource page that we were updating almost daily. Sending that information out by email to companies, making phone calls, making sure that they are aware so that they can take advantage of any opportunities that were there for them.

Chris: That’s great. Yes, it feels like there was such a flood of information about programs or support that was coming. Then when it came, what it actually meant, and how to apply for it, and what that meant. I can imagine staying on top of that as a business that’s also struggling, just run day-to-day operations would have been tough. Did you find that people were learning about new programs through that communication and able to take advantage of it because of the resources you were sending their way?

Valerie: Yes. We received a tremendous amount of positive feedback thanking us for the information, having it cataloged in one area, easy to find, but then also the fact that we were sending it out on a regular basis, notifying them of updates.

Chris: That’s great. That’s great. What kinds of conversations have you had with site selectors, business owners, other people who think about how to make our economy thrive? When they’re thinking about the impact of the last 10 months or so on that work, are there themes that are emerging for you, and what’s ahead?

Valerie: Yes. I really think that rural America is going to have a bigger spotlight on it in terms of being open for business, because we do have more wide-open spaces from a talent perspective. Some are moving out of large, highly condensed metropolitan areas. The site selectors that I’ve talked to have said that, “As talent moves, business might move along with it.” It really will bring an opportunity for us to maybe have more opportunities to compete when we didn’t before.

Chris: That’s great. Yes, it does feel like the landscape is really changing. The shifts to remote work that were necessitated by the pandemic. For a lot of people, it’s altered our notions of what work looks like, and at least in any kind of knowledge worker space, people might be less attached to a particular place because it’s a hub for a certain industry, and they might be more willing to think about choosing where they live based on other things.

I assume at the same time, traditional manufacturing may still be subject to a lot of the same concerns or constraints around supply chain proximity or just transportation routes and other factors. Do you see a divergence there in how work is understood for more brick and mortar operations versus a knowledge worker space? Or how are you thinking about that?

Valerie: We did dive in to look at that knowledge worker space over the summer to see what kind of incentives or how we would position ourselves as a community for those knowledge workers who are working remotely to consider relocating here. Ultimately, we feel a stronger need at this time to focus more on our existing businesses and ensure that they have the workforce that they need. Coupled with the fact that we have housing challenges in the community, which does not make it easy to attract that knowledge worker when we don’t necessarily have the types or the volume of housing that would be needed to embark on a big endeavor like that.

Chris: I know you’re working with a housing study, so we can talk more about that. Let’s talk about the recent announcement of a new strategic plan and a shift in the goals that the EDC is working toward, and how you measure the impact of your work. Can you talk us through that planning process and how you arrived at those new goals and what they are?

Valerie: Sure. I think it’s important to mention that the EDC, we have been in operation since 1993. When I was hired in as the president back in 2013, we embarked on our first-ever strategic plan as an organization. At that time, we made the decision that we should focus on a plan strictly for the EDC, what is the EDC’s primary role in this huge scope of economic development within Wayne County.

Over the last six years, we have been implementing that plan, and that was a very traditional economic development plan focused on upgrading the skills of our workforce, focused on business development, and then also aligning our stakeholders and making sure everyone was engaged and informed of our activities.

Moving into 2020, as we embarked on a new five-year plan, we decided to make this more of an all-inclusive strategic plan for Wayne County, not just the role of the EDC. As we looked at the needs of the county, we went through a process of engaging many, many stakeholders seeking input on what each of our communities feel that they need in order to be successful, what our citizens need to feel proud of the place in which they live, and then what our businesses need to be successful. We had many, many work sessions and opportunities for input.

Ultimately, that quality of place element rose to the top of the needs. We didn’t want to ignore that, we wanted to include that in the direction that we’re going for Wayne County. As we have diversified the focus of economic development for the EDC, a big part of that will be engaging other partners in order to help us move this work forward. While it seems like a tall task for us to expand into so many new areas, it’s really a way for us to help coordinate all of these efforts as well, if not everything will be led by the EDC.

Chris: I think it has been reported elsewhere, the four new goals or alignment targeted growth, quality, place, and talent. It seems like alignment and targeted growth are more in line with the work you’ve been doing or the focus areas you’ve had in the past, whereas, as you just said, the quality of place and talent are a bit newer or just a shift in focus. Is that right?

Valerie: Yes, absolutely.

Chris: Let’s dive into that a little bit because quality of places, it’s one of those phrases that’s been used in a lot of different ways. Sometimes people use it to talk about creating a distinctive character for a city or region. Sometimes they talk about it as amenities or services. Sometimes it’s about what young professionals can do after work. Can you talk more about what it means when the EDC talks about quality of place, at least in this planning context?

Valerie: Sure. In traditional economic development, the three legs of the economic development stool that we tended to focus on were business development– well, it was all business development. It was entrepreneurship, it was business retention and expansion, and then it was attracting new businesses. We know that in order to be successful in business development, that we have to be able to attract people to this area. In order to do so, we have to have a viable quality of place that people want to live in. Because it’s not as common for people to relocate for a specific job. They tend to relocate to an area in which they want to live and then find a job there. When we think about quality of place, we think about those elements that are important to people as they are considering where they want to live and thrive. That’s really in our eyes, that’s housing. So diversified housing options, old, new, multifamily, single family, townhomes. We think about broadband. High-speed broadband connection is incredibly important today. I think that has certainly been emphasized by the pandemic, and everyone shifts to either working from home or attending school from home.

Childcare is another one of those issues. We need to have affordable high quality childcare. Those two things combined are difficult. However, we do already have a task force in Wayne County, the early childhood coalition that’s been working on that. We want to support their efforts to ensure that we have those opportunities for people who are deciding to go into the workplace, childcare is a really big factor for them. Then I would just add the transportation is kind of that other element, having good public transportation within our community to ensure that people can get back and forth to work and school.

Chris: There may not be a good way to quantify the importance of those things, but if we can put ourselves in the shoes of someone who maybe has gotten a job offer, is doing an interview for a job in town, is driving through town looking for housing, or they’re asking about childcare. Do you have a sense of how important it is? Like when do we lose someone? Do people say like, “Okay, well, I really like this job, but I haven’t quite found the house that I’m going to live in yet. I’ll just hope for the best.”? Or is that so important that if we can’t present good options on that first impression or that first visit where we’re likely to lose someone or maybe more importantly an employer who’s thinking about setting up a business here, do you have any examples or just a way to help us think about how important these quality of place things are?

Valerie: In speaking with employers, I can just say that many will find qualified candidates that go through the process of applying for the job, but when it comes to the point where they’re offered the opportunity and the candidate starts to dive in more into the community, there are many factors in which people decide not to make that relocation decision. We do hear time and time again that childcare is certainly a factor. Outside of the why, we don’t have any big names that would give a person confidence that they trust the facility that’s taking care of their child. Having some of those.

Chris: It sounds like it’s a pretty important thing, and I guess it’s also an area where we never quite know who we might lose because of that, because the impression can be developed in their brain as they’re wandering through, and they might not say out loud, “Sorry, there just wasn’t enough childcare. Sorry, I didn’t find that find housing that I liked,” but that could still happen and behind the scenes.

It seems like there have been times in our past where as a community, quality of place felt like kind of a nice to have, but if it came down to a decision between, say, like preserving green space or supporting the expansion of the business, then the interests of a business would win out. I know you can see those tensions play out with something like preserving older buildings for housing if a developer’s receiving some kind of assistance or grant or subsidy for doing that.

Existing landlords might say, “Well, hey, why are they getting that and we’re not.” We see these tensions arise when we talk about quality of place. How do you help people in the community think about the notion of quality of place when it might seem to be in conflict with other economic development goals, or just what seems fair to people when they think about where the money is going?

Valerie: In incentivizing any initiative or business relocation or expansion, is always tough for some people. We want to be fair and equitable in how we spend our tax dollars and making sure that it’s of benefit to the majority of our citizens. I feel like we have sat back for too long, and I’ll just give an example in the area of housing, and we just wait for builders or developers to come our way and find a site and decide to build.

That is no longer working if we want to be proactive in economic development and ensure that we have the right opportunities for individuals who want to move to this community, or even just relocate within Wayne County to a new home. We have to be going after those opportunities. We have to be making calls. We have to put together sites, inventory, similar to what we do for industrial development so that when a housing developer does call us, or if we reach out and there’s interest, we have areas in which we can point them to.

For that reason, there’s always going to be winners and losers. There are many private land areas that we could be looking into, but we have to look at what has the best or the closest infrastructure in place, what’s in close proximity to amenities, is it in any type of development district that might provide us more opportunities to be able to incentivize the project, which is always more enticing to investors. There’s a lot of different things that we must consider when we’re looking at subsidizing a project. We would love to subsidize all opportunities, but that just isn’t feasible.

Chris: It seems like maybe that like the Elder building acquisition was a good example of a project where the EDC along with other community partners saw a real opportunity there to be proactive about what was going to happen to that space, and there’s plenty of counterexamples of times where we haven’t been and bad things have happened or things have taken a long time. Did that project feel like one of the first ones where that slightly different way of thinking or that new way of thinking and proactive came into play with that building?

Valerie: Absolutely. We took a risk by moving forward and acquiring it, and we’re still sitting on an empty– Well, not empty, it’s being used for COVID testing, which is a great opportunity for us to utilize the space at this time. We’re being patient and trying to find the right developer and the right fit. That is an example of being proactive and saying we are going to take control of the state of that building rather than sitting back and waiting for an investor to come along and hoping that their intentions are a good fit for downtown.

Chris: You used the phrase winners and losers. I guess my hope would be that the people could see where there are targeted investments that benefit the whole community, even if a landlord across the street from an EDC project says, “Well, I’m not getting any funds, so I’m not benefiting from this.” It seems like there are plenty of ways in which this kind of work or this kind of thinking rising tide lifts all boats, and we can move ahead with those successes together.

Do you think we have work to do as a community to think through investing in each other’s success, even if it’s not directly benefiting our own businesses or our own neighborhood at that moment? What are those conversations like when you have them out in the community?

Valerie: Yes, we certainly have work to do, but the hope is, when we take these risks and when we have these new opportunities, like the acquisition of the Elder-Beerman building, the hope is that we are successful in that endeavor and create a process that we can duplicate and invest in more properties. It’s not just a one and done effort. It’s a strategy to try to find success that we can replicate all across the County.

As part of this strategic plan, I’ll just add that when we think about quality of place, we’re also focused on downtown development and helping to revitalize other buildings like Elder-Beerman. That will certainly be a focus moving forward as well, because there really isn’t one in an entity that’s focused on downtown development. We know it’s so critically important because many outsiders and even local citizens, they will judge the health and wellness of the community based on their downtown, and we want to make sure that we are focused on making it vibrant.

Chris: Yes. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. You’ve talked about the small business loan program that the EDC facilitates, which I think you said recently has around $130,000 available to help with operating costs. Can you give some examples of where you think that program might make some impact?

Valerie: Sure. Going back to the start of the pandemic, I was able to help coordinate pulling $900,000 in funding for small business loans. This was for any business up to a hundred employees, they could apply for up to $25,000, have a 0% interest loan to help them through this pandemic. We have $130,000 remaining, and so right now, I am working directly with Best Fields with the City of Richmond, and we are putting together the program scope for a new subsidy program for restaurants specifically. Restaurants have really been hard hit due to the pandemic. Moving into these winter months, outdoor seating is eliminated. Many people are still not eating out and probably not carrying out as frequently as we’d like them to. We know that our local restaurants are really the lifeblood of our communities. They are what sets us apart and makes us unique, in addition to local retailers. We want to make sure that they can be sustainable throughout these winter months. We’re looking at providing funding of up to $1,000 a month to help them pay mortgage payments, risk payments and or utility payments.

Chris: Great. If anyone listening is interested in that, is that a call or an email to you or to Beth to find out more and figure out where they would fit into it?

Valerie: We are hoping, I keep saying this, next week we’re hoping to launch, but we are really, really close. I’m hoping within the next 7 to 10 days that the application will be live on the city’s website. Even though it’s housed and will be administered by the city, it is a county-wide program with locally owned and operated restaurants.

Chris: I think beyond that loan program, people might be curious to know what your involvement in downtown might be. There’s so many entities, as you said, no one who’s always thinking just about downtown, but so many entities involved in thinking about it. The business owners themselves, residents, property owners, the center city organization, city government. I could understand if someone was wary of [chuckles] adding another entity to the mix of thinking about helping downtown. Where do you think the EDC’s involvement could really add value in a way that hasn’t already been happening?

Valerie: It’s interesting, because our mission really did not encourage us to focus on restaurants and retail. That historically has not been an area that we played a role, but this year, it’s like all the rules are out the door. We had to shift our focus to provide aid where it was needed most. That’s the beauty of economic development, is that our needs are continually evolving and changing. The EDC were an organization that is focused on the success of our local economy, and so we had to make that shift to make sure that support was provided where it was needed most.

Through this new strategic plan and the quality of placed efforts that we will be playing a more intentional role in, I will see us maybe being a little more engaged, continuing to move forward with retail and restaurants, but I’m not entirely sure exactly what that looks like at this point.

Chris: Let’s talk about the talent piece too, because there are a lot of layers there. As a community, we’ve had conversations for several years now about making our workforce more ready for the modern jobs that are available. We’ve talked about even things like addressing the opioid crisis and the effects that substance abuse has on workforce readiness. We thought about availability of childcare, as you said, there’s a lot more to that. Where does the EDC see itself working on building and expanding that base of talent that’s available in our area?

Valerie: Historically, over the last two years, we’ve been more focused in that career awareness piece where we have created a program called Find a Job Friday. We have employers in all five of our high school lunch rooms, two Fridays a month, setting up tables and talking to students about what their company does, who they are and what they have to offer, and what skills are needed. That was a good way to get our major employers more engaged in the educational process, as well as building awareness of themselves.

We’ve also tried to work really hard of connecting our residents to local job opportunities. We know it’s a challenge to look for a job. There are so many different ways in which to look for a job, so many different websites that we created. Hoosier Opportunity is an effort to try to condense the way that employers have to market their job opportunities, but also trying to provide one portal for job seekers to look at when they’re trying to find a job locally within the region.

Home in Wayne is another talent campaign that we’ve created. It started off as an initiative to build pride within ourselves, within Wayne County, and promote all the positive happenings that are going on, sharing photos using our hashtag on social media. It evolved into a full website that we engaged our major employers and creating that tackles all of the elements that an individual would want to research in order to consider a relocation.

We were finding that there were so many different websites or pieces of literature that employers were having to send out piecemeal, that we wanted to condense that into one website that would make it easier for someone to understand who Wayne County is, what we have to offer and how they would fit into the community.

Chris: How have those efforts gone in terms of– I don’t know, if you have any metrics on Hoosier Opportunity or Home in Wayne in terms of engagement, but do you feel like they’re going right now?

Valerie: Hoosier Opportunity, honestly, I don’t feel like has caught on as much as we’d like it to. It’s just one more website that employers have to post on. They’re not willing to give up the larger career builders and the national brands that they’re using. I wish it was utilized more, but we’re looking at building out a section on the website this year that is more focused on that career awareness. Looking at the high wage, high demand jobs in Wayne County, and building out career pathways so that individuals understand if they want to obtain a certain career or a certain position, how they can gain the skills in order to do so. I think that could be an attractive element, especially for our students.

Chris: It does seem like professional development is an area where people aren’t always aware of the options available to them, either through local workforce development agencies or local college or universities, even online access to courses or programs that might be held elsewhere. Right now, if someone’s out there thinking about they want to level up their skills or learn a new trade or just generally improve their appeal to an employer, how do you think we’re doing on those kinds of offerings as a community?

Valerie: I think the Next Level Jobs program developed by Governor Holcomb and his career and talent cabinet, I don’t know the formal name, I’m sorry, I totally messed that up, but it offers free job training through Ivy Tech or Vincennes University, and it’s really easy to go on the website, identify that you’re a job seeker. Then there are a number of different industry sectors that you can choose from, and training programs within them, where you can sign up and be trained for free here locally at Ivy Tech and obtain a certificate that would then help you have the skills needed in order to embark on a new career.

Chris: That’s great. In terms of the Home in Wayne campaign, have you heard any stories? I know that, especially younger people can be skeptical naturally of any kind of organized campaign for increasing awareness about a particular thing. As much as it seems like a campaign that’s centered around social media or just telling stories, I think it’s a great way to go. Has it worked? Has it gained traction in terms of raising awareness and engagement for people who are thinking about where to locate and where to have a job?

Valerie: We think we raised a lot of awareness here locally at home. We’ve seen a great use of the hashtag. We had a photo contest in the fall, where we’ve actually used photos from our citizens to put together a new marketing piece. That will be a new element to Home in Wayne, it will be digital and in print. It’s just a fun way to highlight a lot of the aspects of our communities through the eyes of our citizens.

Chris: It’s great.

Valerie: We just received positive feedback from employers. I can’t state a situation where an employer came to me and said that Home in Wayne was the reason why someone decided to locate here, but we do get a lot of positive feedback especially in regards to the cost of living calculator, which will show someone if they’re moving from a large metropolitan area in relocating to Richmond, that the cost of living is typically significantly lower. When the wages that are offered might be lower than what they’re making in bigger cities, it will help them understand that the cost of living is also lower.

Chris: So many smaller Midwestern cities are making that pitch now, especially in pandemic times, about cost of living or, hey, you don’t have to live in a big city. Do you think we have a good shot at distinguishing ourselves there, or is that just a starting place to say, yes, cost of living is low, and dot, dot, dot, here’s all the other things that you might care about?

Valerie: I think we do have a great shot. I have spoken to several realtors this year, who have seen people moving here from all across the country, from California to New York, as close as Illinois and Kentucky, but people are starting to relocate to smaller communities. I’m sure there’s a large number of factors that play into that, but they are choosing to be here.

In my role, I’m always trying to meet new people. When I meet them, I want to know their story, I want to know why they moved here, did they have any challenges with relocation? Could they find a home? I’ve been pleased to hear so much positive feedback about people who have relocated to Wayne County, and just love the community, they love the people, they feel that they fit in, they can make a difference, and they can be engaged.

Chris: It seems like that’s a place where that community pride that you referenced earlier that really comes into play. It’s one thing for someone to be talking to an economic development professional who is in your job, and you spend a lot of time thinking about that. It’s another thing for them to have a conversation with a server at a local restaurant or someone they pass on the street about what’s it like to live here. I know we’ve talked about ways to help people who already live here, see the importance of reflecting back to visitors, people passing through tourists, the things that they love about their community. I know the Home in Wayne may not be the particular vehicle for doing that, but how do you think we’re doing on that community pride angle and helping people who are here feel excited about what we have, excited about what’s coming?

It seems like it’s been a year where we struggled with that just for many reasons, but where do you think we’re headed there?

Valerie: That’s a good question. Just as I feel like we’re making some headway, all it takes is to get on Facebook and read some comments on an issue, and it feels like it sets us back. I don’t really know, it’s really hard to tell. I think it depends on individuals’ circumstances and how happy they are in their own life, how much they’re working towards creating their own happiness, rather than relying on others to do so for them. There’s just so much that plays into how people feel about the place in which they live. I think that’s a hard question to answer.

Chris: Let’s talk about the housing study real quick too, which we’ve mentioned a couple of times now. You’ve mentioned that that is a piece that people look at when they come to town, it’s a piece where there are some gaps right now. What will this study cover? What do you think we’ll be able to do with the results that come from it?

Valerie: Well, what we learned from the process of sending out a request for proposals for the redevelopment of the Elder-Beerman building, is that the major developers that we were reaching out to trying to seek their interest, they just didn’t know enough about our market. We had that time and time again. We feel like we need a more in-depth analysis on our local housing and our local economy to give investors the confidence to invest multi-millions of dollars into our community.

We were fortunate enough to find a company called Tracy Cross & Associates. They are housing economists. They have vast experience in doing these types of analyses for either individual building projects, to see if an investor can receive a return on investment, or for communities who are trying to determine what the opportunities are. Tracy Cross & Associates, they’re already underway and collecting data about Wayne County.

The point of this study is going to be, really we’re going to be able to know what types of housing units, how many of those housing units, the cost of those units that our community can support, and it will be broken down by community. We will know what Richmond can handle, Cambridge City, Centerville, Hagerstown, Fountain City, so that we can be really focused on development opportunities within all of our communities. Then try to match those opportunities with the right size developers who will have greater competence in our market, and be willing to, hopefully, find a project that fit.

Chris: Again, maybe using the Elder-Beerman building as an example, if you’re talking to a developer who is considering investing millions of dollars in second storey housing units, do they care most about what kind of rent they’ll be able to charge? Do they care most about how many people are looking for housing, what the square footage price per square foot is? What’s the thing that they might look at where they can say, “Oh, okay, now I see the opportunity here, and I’m going to invest in it.”?

Valerie: Yes, it would be all of the above. All of that information will help them determine the size of the apartment units, the amenities that are in the building that would then, of course, add to the rental rate or the lease rate, how many of those units can be built, what’s the interest level. They want to know, what period of time will they potentially be at full rental rate. They don’t want to be holding on to empty units for five years from now after the project is complete.

Chris: Right. Okay. I’m curious, too, is access to groceries or food and food security in general, a piece of that puzzle, because I know a lot of people have talked about, if you’re going to live in like a downtown area or in a particular neighborhood, a lot of people think about like, “What’s my travel time to a grocery store for a more kind of urban experience, walk out my friend door and walk down the street to a deli or a smaller grocery?” Is that a piece of the puzzle at all that you think about it at your level, or is that something that tends to come after the housing is more figured out?

Valerie: I think it can definitely occur both ways. We’ve not done any in-depth analysis on food deserts, and where and which we would need new groceries in order to support more households. I do think from a quality of life perspective, certainly, when you’re talking about living downtown, you want to have walkable amenities where we know that is desirable by people. That’s not anything that I’ve really spent a great deal of time thinking about.

Chris: Well, as we wrap up here, I wanted to ask you, you’ve been in this job, as you said, since I think late 2012, early 2013, and obviously your experience goes back well before that. What are some things that have surprised you the most or stood out to you the most about the role and the work that the EDC does now that you’ve been in it for a while?

Valerie: I grew up in the industry, so to speak. The EDC was my first job out of college. I started out as the administrative assistant. I would just say, I’m continually surprised about how important the work we are doing. When you’re in it every day, and you’re just ingrained in it, it’s just it comes natural, that these conversations and the planning, and all of our efforts are so highly important to the overall economic success of Wayne County. Sometimes when your head is down, and you’re working within the project, you lose sight of that because it’s just what we do every day.

I have been so blessed to work with so many great people in this community. I feel like now, more than any other time in my career here, that we have a high level of collaboration. I can’t think of a time where we had any more people that were willing to take on roles and responsibilities that are willing to be at the table when we have an issue that arises.

I’ve had so much support from my colleagues at tourism, and the chamber, and SBDC, and it’s at the city and county government, it’s just been really great to work with a group of people who care as much about this community as I do.

Chris: That’s really great to hear. It’s probably worth just emphasizing how important that collaboration is because we’ve certainly had periods in the past as a community where there were a lot of people working on making the community a better place, but they might have been doing it in their own way or their own silo. The result of that isn’t always pretty because you have people competing for resources or people just getting far enough along on a project and then realizing that there’s some overlap or conflict with another project. To see that collaboration, and especially in the last year when there have been just these real daily challenges with public health situations, to see people coming together and saying, how can we work together on this, it’s impressive. I’m sure there’s room for more of that, but it’s been neat to see.

Valerie: Yes, it makes me have a lot of comfort knowing that moving into this big strategic plan that requires a high level of support from many different entities across the county that I think we will be able to accomplish the goals that we’ve set, as long as this collaboration continues.

Chris: Yes. If someone is listening to this and thinking to themselves, okay, this is great that these projects are happening, but I want to be a part of supporting economic development in our area, or I want to be a part of getting the word out about job boards or housing study, what do you need more of when it comes to everyday resident engagement with the work you do? What’s something that the people could help with?

Valerie: I think, as we talked about earlier, spreading more positivity, being one of those people that is always looking to help elevate our community, focus on the good and not the bad. Certainly on social media, having those champions that are sharing the good news that we put out, or congratulating people who are making a difference and just trying to lift everyone up, I think that is extremely helpful, and then just educating people.

One of the roles of our board members is to be an advocate of the EDC, to talk about the work that we’re doing within their networks. I’m an open door, if anyone ever wants to talk about the work that we’re doing, provide us ideas, I’m always open to that. Since we’ve had articles about the plan in the local newspapers, I’ve received calls and emails from citizens, and that hasn’t happened in a while, and they’re excited about the work, and they want to provide input. We’re open to that, so feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email.

Chris: That’s great. Valerie Shaffer, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today and for the work you’re doing, and I certainly wish you the best in seeing results and moving us forward in all these different ways. Thanks.

Valerie: Thank you so much, Chris. It’s been a lot of fun.

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