Young Professionals network at The Gristmill

Economic development is a term we hear frequently in the Allegheny Highlands, and it always seems to be paired with “what can be done to stimulate it?” How do we attract more businesses? What kinds of businesses will be compatible in these small communities? And who is going to run these businesses?

Bath’s Chamber of Commerce is taking a refreshing look at one way to approach some of those questions. Get some young people talking. Garth Newel Music Center in Hot Springs hosted the first of a Young Professionals’ gathering over a month ago, and the second was held Sunday evening in the Inn at Gristmill Square in Warm Springs. Kate and John Loeffler, with executive director of the Bath’s Chamber, Emily Plecker, welcomed a group they hope will continue to grow over the next year couple of years.   I asked Kate what role she thinks regular gatherings could achieve. “I think that this county has an opportunity for young people to get involved with not just employment, and being employed, and clocking in and clocking out, but being involved in the community as a whole, you know politics. The evolution of our county is important, and the more young people get together and have those conversations starting at a young age, I didn’t . . .”

It’s true. It’s not always easy for young people to take time out from busy work schedules and other family obligations to focus on their whole community, and what its needs may be. Yet their fresh perspectives, enthusiasm and energy are much needed.   Some activities this group may consider are: listening to experiences of established long-time local business owners, mentoring younger employees, and improving that ever-important career skill- networking. Just some of the people I met in a short visit to one gathering were; several in the lodging business, two restaurant owners, one of the two new hospitalists at Bath Community Hospital, and a recruiter for the Girls Scouts. I asked Elizabeth, who works in Augusta and Rockbridge County as well as Highland and Bath how she heard about this networking opportunity. Her answer: Facebook.

She also was eager to share the relevant information about her group.

“Hi my name is Elizabeth Buckley. I’m with the Virginia Skyline Girl Scouts Council. We’re looking to establish troops here in Bath County. Girls Scouts builds girls of courage, character, and confidence to make the world a better place. To find out more about Girl Scouts, go to Girl Scouts, “

Even if Girls Scouts is a non-profit, and not yet available locally, I had to admire the networking skill of this regional coordinator who came so far on a Sunday evening.

Crystal and Kyle have worked in resorts up and down the East Coast, from larger metropolitan areas such as D.C. and Charlotte to the Greengbrier in West Virginia. Now they are co-owners, and managers of LCd’O in Hot Springs, and are glad to be here. Just reading the reviews of their restaurant online tells anyone Crystal and Kyle are off to a very good start. In addition to friends who already lived here, what encouraged them to start a business in Bath County? Kyle responded.

“It was just the fact of change of pace; I mean we were both looking for something that was manageable, somewhere where there would be support for small business.”

If you are a young professional, or businessperson, the Bath Chamber of Commerce will offer this opportunity again. Consider that you have skills and experience to share, and that others are willing to share theirs with you. If you’d like more information, please contact Executive Director of the Chamber, Emily Plecker at 839-5409 or

Kate reflected again, on what already makes this initiative for young people working in Bath County a definite success.

“I’m appreciating meeting new people, and amazingly enough in Bath County, I can still meet some one new. As small as it is, it’s such a vast county, so I just appreciate seeing new faces and making new connections, and hope that others will feel the same.”


Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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