Speaking as workers or potential workers from four different age groups, panelists at the Bedford County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Community Showcase said Wednesday there are many reasons why they wanted a career in Bedford County. They also said they would like to see future changes to keep or attract more business owners and entrepreneurs.
The panel was part of the Chamber’s two-day event at the Bedford County Airport, carrying the theme “Celebrate Freedom.” The expo serves to give students a chance to talk with the more than 50 employers who attended, and also as a networking event that included a lunch Wednesday and a mixer today from 5 to 8 p.m.
Panelists Erin Jay, owner of Whipped Bakery in Bedford; Chase DeLong, homeschooled student, who is pursuing an associate’s degree while still in high school; Casey Cover, administrative assistant to the superintendent at Bedford Area School District; and Mark Szanca, owner of Szanca Solutions, Pinnacle Computer Technologies and Eye in the Sky Aerial Systems, gave their insights into what they see in the community and what they would like to see.
State Rep. Jesse Topper served as facilitator for the panel discussion.
Jay said her journey as a business owner started with the influence of her grandmother, Helen Jay, who also was a baker.
Jay attended culinary school in New York City, and finished second in her class and said she was approached at the age of 17 about starting a business.
She held off until she was 19, having gained an education and the experience of working in a hotel. But, she said, when she finally did launch a business, she knew it would be in the county.
“Bedford County is a place where people open doors for me,” she said. When she was away, “Bedford County followed me everywhere I went,” she said referring to social media.
DeLong said he believes the Bedford area is looked at as “a crop growing agricultural area.”
He said the county in the future needs to continue to develop technology-based industries. The more those jobs are developed, he said, “the more appealing it will become.”
He also said one of the barriers he sees is “cheap housing.”
Cover, a Bedford graduate, said she moved away, but when she started a family, returned to her roots.
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be to raise a family.” Like DeLong, she said the area needs more affordable apartments and condos to house those who don’t want to commit to a house.
She also said child care is another potential obstacle. “Child care is something that’s very tough to come across,” in the area.
Cover said young workers entering the labor force are worried about college debt. They are turning more to trade schools and training programs instead of college and even “starting businesses in high school to pay for college education.”
Topper asked the panelists what they want the work place to look like.
Cover, 32, said as a young mother, she needs flexibility. “I need to have a flexible work schedule,” she said, such as in the case of a sick child.
DeLong, 17, said he sees a job that has different schedules.
“I don’t think the traditional 9 to 5 job would even appeal to me,” he said. “I’d much rather have flexibility in my job.”
Jay, 20, said she already has flexible, “crazy” hours. Her focus is on a workplace that is safe for her workers.
Szanca said employees are more and more working outside an office, saying there is not as much need for “brick and mortar.” But although they work at home very often, they also like the face-to-face contact they may find at the office.
Chamber president and CEO Kellie Goodman Shaffer said the hope is that the area will provide jobs that will persuade all young adults to stay in the area to pursue their future “and go wherever you want to go. For us, as a Chamber, we want people to know the opportunities’ in the area. But if they move away to find a career, she said the hope is that they become “a good ambassador for Bedford County.”
As eighth graders stopped at booths of the vendors, Bedford Candies’ marketing manager, Gwen Querry, was giving job-finding pointers to a couple Chestnut Ridge eighth graders who stopped by to sample popcorn and ask questions about the company’s job openings as part of their school assignment.
She told the two youngsters, Abigail Rummell Lukehart and Olivia Kamisky, even though they enjoy social media, they need to go out and interact with people face-to-face.
In that interaction, Queey said she could measure a potential worker better.
“You will interview better, you know, because you look me in the eye,” she told one of the girls. “You seem interested.”