By Sally Voth
Ken Jones has spent the past 10 years helping Northern Shenandoah Valley businesses stay open and expand.
Jones, the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission's existing business coordinator, recently announced he is retiring on Friday. He said he'd just turned 62, and was ready for a new phase.
"I'm going to be looking for some other challenges, professional challenges, maybe some volunteer work, some counseling, teaching, something like that," he said.
"I've been in this position for 10 years, and it's time maybe they had some new blood in here."
Jones would be greatly missed, said Josh Phelps, chairman of the EDC's Board of Directors.
Jones' position focused on established businesses, Phelps said.
"His focus was on our existing business development, which is a way in which we retain and help expand our existing business[es]," he said.
Not only did Jones revitalize that program for the EDC, he made it a model for others across the commonwealth and country, Phelps said. He said Jones kept businesses apprised of any grant funding available for expansion and job retraining.
"Ken's been a great asset to the local business community," Phelps said. "He's lined up many great guest speakers. A lot of us have benefited from having guest speakers come in to our different functions."
Jones' previous work history includes stints at Rubbermaid Commercial Products, O'Sullivan Films, Toray Plastics and Capital Records.
He said he'd spent more than a quarter-century in the manufacturing world.
"That set me up pretty good for doing this job," Jones said. "I may go back into that, or just try a whole new field."
Capital Records had had about 1,500 employees, plus 500 more seasonal workers, but was down to 200 when it shut down, he said. Along the way, Jones said, he had to tell many people they'd lost their jobs.
"My job here was all about helping the existing businesses stay in business, grow and prosper, save jobs and create jobs," he said. "This position gave me the opportunity to do just the opposite [as he did at Capital].
"It has been a real pleasure to help out what little bit I could."
A major project Jones helped expand was the Career Awareness Tour Program, according to a news release from the EDC.
About 20 or so businesses participate in the career tour, allowing middle and high school students into their facilities, Phelps said.
"We [have] got now about 450 or so kids that come out and do that," he said.
The tour opens the students' eyes to the possibility of staying in Winchester and Frederick County to work and raise a family even if they don't have a four-year degree, Phelps said.
"Now we started a part of it for the teachers," Jones said.
He said about 130 teachers tour factories and other businesses so they can become aware of careers available to their students and what their requirements are.
"They can show 'what I'm teaching you does mean something to somebody,'" Jones said.
He said he sees a need for more skilled workers. Unemployment in the region is around 5 percent, and could go down to 4 percent, Jones said, and at that point, it'll be difficult to get skilled workers.
That lack has led to a four-year maintenance apprenticeship program at Lord Fairfax Community College, he said.
Phelps said a search is on for a replacement.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or email@example.com