How has the Bedford County Chamber’s membership grown and changed in the years since the organization’s founding? The Bedford County Chamber of Commerce recently uncovered a journal of meeting minutes with pencil-scribed articles of incorporation dating back to 1921. But our modern-day Chamber was chartered in 1986, an effort of the Rotary Club of Bedford to create a membership organization to serve the business interests of Bedford County. Rotary’s commitment to Service Above Self was infused into our Chamber’s most fundamental values, and is alive and well today. Our Chamber has grown from a few dozen members to more than 600 diverse businesses, organizations and individuals, from major manufacturers to family farms. The Chamber leads our vibrant and collaborative membership in an ongoing effort to improve the business climate, making Bedford County a wonderful place to live, work, play and prosper. What are some of the Chamber’s signature achievements? Founded in 2000, the Bedford County Chamber Foundation is the Chamber’s 501- c3 educational improvement organization, committed to providing unique enrichment opportunities for students and adults of the Bedford County region. The Foundation serves as a bridge between the business and educational communities, providing an array of services, including: literacy and work ethic initiatives, career exploration and workforce development opportunities, business/educator roundtables and industry tours for administrators and educators. We are particularly proud of our leadership development programs. Leadership Bedford County is a servant leader program that takes adults through a 10 month journey of exploring their leadership traits and potential, while also studying the in’s and out’s of Bedford County’s history and heritage, government and social services, recreation, judicial system, education and more. Each class also plans and executes a community service project. Youth Leadership Bedford County is a similar program for Bedford County 10th graders. Our leadership programs have graduated more than 400 students and adults, who have gained a better appreciation for their home region, as well as the confidence that they can make a difference in the world around them. In recent years, we have made a commitment to incorporate more student involvement into the Chamber’s signature events. For example, we expanded our annual Business Community Showcase, a business-to-business trade show and networking event to include a morning career fair. More than 350 high school students from throughout the county have the chance to interact with dozens of employers, learning about careers from engineering to heath care, truck driver to park ranger. As an added bonus, students have also heard inspiring messages from guest speakers like Bedford County native and Olympic medalist Natalie Dell and Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Charlie Batch. The Chamber has also made a significant effort to support the county’s No. 1 industry: agriculture. With the leadership of a very engaged agribusiness Committee, the Chamber presents a series of seasonal events designed to inform the community about the significant role that agriculture plays in our economy. These programs include Agribusiness Education Month in the county’s elementary schools, an agriculture-themed street fair/farmer’s market, Local Foods Luncheon with an Agribusiness Panel Discussion, Farm to Table Chef Showcase, Fall Farm Tour, Bedford County Fair Partnership and yearround multi-media marketing campaign. In what ways does the Bedford County Chamber work toward its mission of regional economic growth? The Bedford County Chamber has long been providing government affairs events and educational programs for businesses as well as career/workforce development programs for students, to help local companies and our region grow and prosper. But in 2017-18 we are taking our economic development efforts to the next level, with the largest and most visionary project in the history of the Chamber. The Chamber is in the process of purchasing the historic Russell House, a 6,400-square-foot landmark in the heart of our county seat of Bedford borough. The $1.4 million renovation project will not only preserve this beautiful building, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, but will also update the facility to provide exciting new opportunities for our county. In addition to becoming the permanent home of the Bedford County Chamber office, the Russell House will also become a Business & Education Center for the region. With two community conference rooms, this will be the site for new educational programming for local businesses. Seminars and workshops for large or small groups will be offered at low or no cost to our membership. The meeting space will be available to local companies and community organizations for their gatherings as well, including monthly meetings of committees like the Bedford Fall Foliage Festival and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. Rotating community art exhibits will fill the walls, and historic displays will tell the interesting tales of the building’s many incarnations, from private residence to funeral home to (haunted) county office building to Chamber of Commerce. The building’s second floor will offer up to five new rental opportunities with ADA accessibility, providing needed office space in close proximity to the Bedford County Courthouse, post office and downtown shops and restaurants. The furnished rental offices will be supported by a shared business center, with mail and copy services, meeting room and kitchenette. The long-vacant third floor will be transformed into a shared-space business incubator, providing work and collaboration space for as many as nine sole proprietor start-ups. With an experienced incubator manager/business coach at their disposal, these budding entrepreneurs will be given the best-foot-forward in launching their businesses and their dreams. Our hope is that with a supported start, they will hatch into a larger space within our county, creating new businesses and new jobs. The Russell House Business & Education Center project has been embraced by our entire community, and we anticipate many partnerships developing in the coming months. St. Francis Small Business Development Center will have a dedicated meeting space within the building to provide consultations and workshops for aspiring business owners. The Chamber will continue our long-standing intern partnership with Allegany College of Maryland. Students at the Bedford County Technical Center will have job shadow opportunities during the construction process, and culinary students will have the chance to cater future events. High school students will be placed with businesses within the Russell House through the Senior Challenge program, providing real-world work experience, and a Heritage Garden will cultivate relationships between Master Gardeners and area FFA Clubs. A Leadership Library will provide resources to educate and inspire our business community, and the Veranda will provide outside gathering space adjacent to Veteran’s Grove, a quadrant of the squares which houses memorials to the county’s War Veterans. We look forward to the many ways that our new Chamber home will serve our businesses and the community at large and hope to officially open the building in 2018. What are the chamber’s goals and upcoming special events in 2017 and beyond? Our goals, in addition to completing the Russell House project, are to continue to grow our membership while providing the best service possible to our members, community partners and the community at large. Our Annual Dinner & Awards Celebration is our most prestigious event, recognizing outstanding accomplishments among our business community. Held each November at the beautiful Omni Bedford Springs Resort and Spa, the sell-out crowd of 330 guests spends an evening celebrating local companies and individuals for excellence in business, community service, innovation, heritage preservation, property improvement, agriculture, education, tourism, economic development, hiring people with disabilities and mentorship of women. We are very proud to have this chance each year to showcase our amazing membership and community partners. Our Fourth Annual Women in Business Conference, also held at the Omni Bedford Springs Resort, will take place Friday, May 19. This event brings a regional audience of professional women together for a day of enlightenment and inspiration, with wonderful presenters from Pittsburgh to Penn State and beyond. Keynote speakers, breakout sessions, interactive exhibits, delicious meals and breaks and attendee gift bags make for a unique day of education and networking for professional women and those who do business with them. New in 2017, the Chamber is presenting a Craft Beer Festival at Old Bedford Village on Saturday, November 4. A fun combination of history and hops, the festival will give guests a chance to explore the charming log cabins and cottages of the living history museum, with crackling fires, live music and an array of Pennsylvania brews, just in time for the winter season. We look forward this becoming an annual event. What recreational activities would you encourage travelers to your region to experience? If you love the outdoors, Bedford County is the perfect getaway. More than 90 percent of our county’s land is forests and farms. Hunting and fishing are favorite pastimes of many residents. Our rural roads offer some beautiful bicycle routes, with little traffic and lots of things to see. Fourteen historic covered bridges are here to be discovered, along pristine creeks offering shaded climbs, and rolling hills through cornfields and cow pastures. We have three state parks to visit, featuring Shawnee Lake for fishing, swimming and kayaking; Blue Knob and its adjacent ski resort; and Trough Creek with wonderful hiking trails. The Juniata River is another favorite destination for anglers and kayakers. The Chamber supports and celebrates many of these recreational offerings of our region by hosting the annual Bedford County Outdoor Challenge: a three-day, three-stage, non-competitive quest, which drew participants from eight states in 2016. The fun begins with a Friday evening sunset paddle, followed by Saturday’s Bike Bedford County, with cycling routes for all ages and skill levels. One of the event’s claims to fame is the Allegheny Ascent bike ride, a challenging metric century with 5,000 feet of climbing, but there are routes for intermediate and beginner cyclists as well. The weekend ends with a Sunday break-of-day 5K-10K trail run. Hundreds of participants have taken the Challenge over the last three years, participating in one, two or all three activities, which all begin and end at Shawnee State Park. This year’s Challenge starts Friday, August 18; details are available on Active.com.
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