March 2005

by Su Clauson-Wicker

Tracy MitchellTracy 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 and Knoxville.

The chemical plant closed in 1972, and presently one out of three downtown storefronts sits vacant. Now citizens tell Mitchell they’d like to see a call center employing locals and build up the downtown to serve tourists.

"We’ve 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 town’s 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.

"We’ve 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.Artifacts on display at the Museum of the Middle Appalachians

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 Saltville.

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 showers.

Mitchell is a Virginia Tech alumna with two master’s degrees in International Development and Animal Breeding from Iowa State. She and her husband Mark live in Abingdon with their five-year-old son. &


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(3) GIS as an Integration Tool / Erin Palmer: On Duty
(4) Congrats! / A&A Out and About / We're Working For

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