County official adds economic development to job

Jenna French

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County shuffled two departments and responsibilities this week in the hopes of boosting the local economy.

County officials announced Thursday that Director of Tourism and Marketing Jenna French would take on economic development for the locality as part of a departmental reorganization. French’s title changes to director of tourism and business development effective Sept. 1, Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass said. French’s salary also increases from $54,405 to $69,477.

“So I’m really eager to take on these new responsibilities with economic development,” French said Thursday. “Working with our local businesses has always been a passion of mine and it’s something I get to do in my current role through tourism but this is a way to continue to expand that playing field and reach additional businesses and resources and, of course, then work in the aspect of trying to recruit new businesses here.

French’s office assumes all facets of county business development and tourism-related efforts such as agri-tourism and development in the areas of small businesses, large-scale industrial facilities and manufacturing, Vass said. The county hired French in August 2013 to the tourism and marketing director position.

“It’s not a static position,” Vass said. “I look for this position and reorganization to evolve over time and potentially require additional resources.

“But our anticipation is that we’ll work closely with our town governments,” he added. “When you look at economic development as a spectrum, from tourism to small business development to more traditional forms of industrial development, our towns are a critical partner in that.”

French already works with towns on an informal basis. The new position formalizes those efforts, Vass said.

Bradley Polk recently announced his resignation as the director of the Office of Community Development – a county department created through a reorganization several years ago that consolidated economic development, planning, zoning and subdivision, land conservation, building inspections, and erosion, sediment control and stormwater management.

Polk took over the county department in late April 2016, succeeding Brandon Davis who left to lead the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission. Polk announced earlier this month he would resign and return to working for the Loudoun County Department of Planning and Zoning where he had served prior to coming to Shenandoah County.

French recalled that she occasionally would take on the economic development projects that didn’t quite fall under Polk’s or her responsibility. Examples include the Entrepreneur Café and the Farm to Fork event.

“So we really look at this expansion as a continuation of some of those things that we’ve already been working on within that gray area and continuing to build upon that,” French said.

The Board of Supervisors had been made aware of the decision to reorganize the department and to change French’s title and responsibilities, Vass said, adding that the county did not advertise the director of community development position.  Rather, the county plans to rename the position the director of planning and zoning, which officials intend to fill.

Asked if the county’s previous consolidation of economic development with the other government responsibilities took the focus off the former, Vass said the arrangement can work if the person in charge stays on long enough.

“The model works,” Vass said Thursday.

“I think it requires longevity in the position and in the span of 18 months, we’ve had two directors of community development and we believe that this consolidation or this reorganization will be more beneficial for the full spectrum of economic development, from tourism to industrial development,” Vass added.

During Polk’s short tenure, the Industrial Development Authority tried to convince the Board of Supervisors that the county needed to change the name and approach of the agency and create a position focused solely on economic development. Authority members and supervisors had not yet agreed on a way the players could share the cost of the position.

Polk’s resignation gave officials the chance to look at the county’s strengths and opportunities relative to economic development, Vass said. French already oversees the economic development efforts involving tourism and small businesses.

Vass called French “the right leader” in place to cover the full spectrum of economic development.

Tourism ranks as the county’s largest industry after agriculture. The county ranked first in visitor tourism spending in the Shenandoah Valley. Tourism-related industries support approximately 1,700 jobs in the county – 22 percent more since 2000. Tourism spending generated about $6 million in local tax receipts from the county and its towns.