Tracy Slaybaugh Mitchell managed economic
development projects in the former Soviet
Union, Eastern Europe, and Africa for 11
years before becoming economic development director for tiny Saltville, Virginia in March 2004.
Mitchell helped develop sausage and juice processing factories in Russia, and an artificial insemination business in Poland. In Zimbabwe, she worked
to create associations that enable small, rural enterprises access to international
markets as a group. She also coordinated efforts to improve the national dairy herd in Tunisia.
"I still work with local businesses on issues such as access to
markets, and working with citizens in community development is still an important part of
my job," she says.
The Southwest Virginia town has had an industrial history since 1799
when an Irish immigrant sank the first mine and began producing salt there. In its heyday,
Saltville was the most booming town between Roanoke
The chemical plant closed in 1972, and presently one out of three
downtown storefronts sits vacant. Now citizens tell Mitchell theyd like to see a
call center employing locals and build up the downtown to serve tourists.
"Weve got the call center," Mitchell says. "Global
Contact Services moved into the former Piggly Wiggly store on February 9. They will employ
200-300 people and become the towns largest employer. This is the most positive
thing to happen here in a long time."
The quaint little tourist town envisioned in public meetings may take
longer, but Anderson & Associates is already
doing site engineering for converting a downtown building into a visitor center.
"Weve got a lot of interesting attractions the salt
ponds, a unique wildlife habitat, the Museum of
the Middle Appalachians, and a nationally significant Civil War battlefield, but we
need a place where visitors can get information," she says.
Saltville history goes back 14,000 years to the days of woolly
mammoths, mastodons, and other prehistoric creatures, and they have the fossils to prove
it. The Museum of the Middle Appalachians also houses Native American artifacts,
industrial relics, and a Civil War display, including the infamous First Battle of
The town is in the planning stages of a 13-mile long trail running
through downtown Saltville. Residents have come to Mitchell with plans for a bed and
breakfast and bike shop.
She can relate to the process of starting a tourism-related business,
having recently opened Backcountry,
where campers "rough it" in canvas-sided structures with modern comforts and hot
Mitchell is a Virginia Tech alumna
with two masters degrees in International Development and Animal Breeding from Iowa State. She and her husband Mark live in Abingdon with their five-year-old son.