The Shenandoah County Tourism and Economic Development department oversees both tourism and economic development in Shenandoah County, Virginia. Entrepreneurial development, tourism development and agricultural development are all key players in driving the county’s economy in addition to traditional industry and manufacturing, and combining the offices enables the organization to focus on diverse business factors. The county has a broad range of businesses, which has helped to keep the economy strong over the years.
A large portion of the organization’s tourism efforts are based on attracting visitors from outside a 50 mile radius of the county, and these efforts also assist in attracting new business. “We are actually able to adapt a lot of our tourism marketing efforts to also promote a strong quality of life when it comes to recruiting businesses for economic development,” says Jenna French, Director of Shenandoah County Tourism and Economic Development.
The Tourism and Economic Development organization works closely with the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce and the municipalities within the county to provide business development workshops and host various events throughout the year. Last year, a program called Rev-Up Marketing was launched; this was a six-week workshop program that taught businesses how to better market and promote themselves, and upon completion they had the option to submit an application to compete for up to 5000 dollars to promote their business.
The county also held an event to help support its agricultural producers called the Farm2Fork Affair. It was a platform for the farmers and agricultural producers of Shenandoah County to promote their products to commercial consumers from outside of the region. The tradeshow also featured a variety of vineyards, craft breweries and distilleries. It was a great event that encouraged local businesses to build new commercial relationships with restaurants, grocers and retailers. A good number of businesses walked away that day with several new contracts.
Naturally, many of the major businesses in Shenandoah are tied to its agricultural industry. Bowman Andros Products is a food manufacturer primarily focused on apple products and Georgies Chicken is a chicken processing plant. “We are able to find these ancillary industries that also support our agriculture industry,” says French.
To be sure, it is a community with an abundance of natural resources since most of the county is either agricultural land or conservation land. 26 percent of the county is either national forest or state forest, which adds to the area’s quality of life. There are multiple outdoor recreational opportunities as a result including 178 miles of hiking trails through the George Washington National Forest. “For businesses coming here, not only is it a good place to operate a business but it is a great place for them to enjoy a high quality of life after work,” says French.
A unique aspect of Shenandoah County compared to other rural communities in Virginia is its fiber optic broadband connectivity. Shentel is a growing telecommunications company headquartered in Edinburg that allows the rural region to offer its businesses and residents advanced, high-speed telecommunications services.
Another bonus for businesses in the county is its location. Shenandoah County is close to the Virginia Inland Port, it is only 90 minutes away from Washington, D.C. and it is situated on the intersection of I-81 and I-66, providing easy access to the majority of the east coast population. The rural county is equidistant between the cities of Harrisonburg and Winchester, giving it the opportunity to pull from the workforce in those areas and to take advantage of the universities located there. The county is within a 30 minute drive of three universities: Shenandoah University, James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University and it also has two nearby community colleges.
Shenandoah Valley is an area that encompasses eight counties in Virginia and has a strong sense of regional collaboration. The Worlds of Work Expo is a workforce initiative and a great example of the regional partnership in Shenandoah County.
Worlds of Work is a product of that regional partnership; several counties and cities joined together to give eighth graders the opportunity to meet with local businesses and expand their horizons before entering high school. “We often hear of students graduating from college and high school that leave the county to find employment and they are overlooking the opportunities that are available here in their own backyard,” says French. Worlds of Work is a great initiative to help create a pipeline of students to feed the local industries in the county when they graduate.
Local businesses from all types of sectors participate in the program: manufacturing, healthcare, IT, banking, tourism and retail companies are all present at this event. These businesses provide hands-on activities for students, opening their eyes to the variety of experiences and options available in the county and throughout the Shenandoah Valley. It has been a very successful workforce initiative for the entire region. “We’ve gotten fantastic feedback from the business community, parents and students involved in the program about how beneficial it is,” says French. “It’s just a win-win on all fronts.”
The county is fortunate to be served by one of the top workforce development boards in the state; the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board does a tremendous job of taking advantage of different federal and state grants to provide services to local businesses and job seekers. Its wide variety of services includes customized job training programs for the businesses in the region, apprenticeship programs and incumbent workforce training.
One of the workforce challenges in Shenandoah County is its low unemployment rate, giving new potential companies the impression that finding employees could be difficult. However, with the county’s close proximity to Washington, D.C., many of its residents commute outside of the county for work every day. There is a great opportunity for businesses to recruit those commuters who would prefer to work closer to home.
People are often attracted to the county for the scenic drives through the natural beauty of the area. The tourism base in Shenandoah County generally surrounds its outdoor recreation options and conservation land; it has great potential for multi-use trails, hiking, biking and horseback riding. It is also home to the largest publicly maintained OHV trail system in the state where ATVs and off-road vehicles can be enjoyed.
Many outdoor recreation activities even offer innovative handicap accessibility options, which is something that distinguishes Shenandoah from other places. “In addition to really challenging trails, we also have handicap accessible trails here in our community that still offer some of the best views in the county,” says French. There is one trail in particular, called Storybook Trail, that is entirely paved and leads to a stunning vista overlooking the Page Valley.
Beyond its natural resources, the county offers numerous other tourist attractions including Shenandoah Caverns, Bryce Resort and the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. It also boasts a robust and growing number of vineyards and craft breweries. Shenandoah County is a four-season destination with Bryce Resort offering skiing and snow sports throughout the winter, which allows it to remain an active community for tourism year-round.
The population in Shenandoah County has grown to approximately 40,000 and it has maintained its friendly, small-town charm. “One of the interesting things about Shenandoah County, especially when you look at a lot of the other parts of Virginia, is that we have been able to grow without losing our strong sense of identity as a rural community,” says French.
The low cost of living of a rural community combined with plenty of access to larger cities is ideal for a balanced and relaxing way of life. The county is blessed with beautiful scenery, great amenities and a variety of activities for all to enjoy.
Plans for the future of Shenandoah County include continuing to diversify its economic base while supporting its agricultural and rural identity. The area is not looking to become the next suburb of Washington, D.C., as the residents in the county truly embrace the history and the unique environment of the region. “We want to see growth that makes sense for our community and will help to complement the resources that we already have available here,” says French.