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Talking workforce development with: Cumberland Area Economic Develoment Corp.’s Laura Potthoff

Laura Pothoff has been director of business and workforce development for the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation since 2014. She started her career in health care programming and moved into higher education at the University of Maryland, East Carolina University, and most recently on the finance team at Dickinson College. Pothoff has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Dickinson and a master’s degree in strategic leadership from Messiah College. She is a resident of Carlisle and has a son, Kaden, who is 13.

Q: What is involved in managing the CAEDC’s relationships to help generate business opportunities and workforce development?

A: I started out just building relationships with everybody in the county, finding out not only what their challenges were but their opportunities and why they were here in Cumberland County. We have been the fastest-growing county in the state 10 years in a row, and with that obviously comes a need for skilled workforce to meet the demands. I also get to work with all the banks, with people looking to start businesses, people looking to expand on current businesses; the other part is membership and engagement. We have quarterly meetings for our members and usually highlight something they’re interested in, to touch base with our members and also to give them something to walk away with. We also get state funding to protect our three military installations, so we meet with them and get updates on their mission and how we can better enhance them, and also let the community know what a benefit they are to have here.

Q: What would you say are the Cumberland Valley’s strengths and weaknesses to prospective employers looking to relocate here?

A: I often do business attraction. When we have employers looking to come to this area, the No. 1 thing we can sell is our quality of life. This is a great place to live, work and play. We met with some of the bigger employers and said if you have a lot of people in town, where do you go and why? They would travel somewhere, like to Pittsburgh to do TopGolf. The thing we’ve changed this year is to start working on some of that product development right here to bring people into the area. We have a great, strong workforce and great work ethic in this area. One of the challenges is having enough people to fill the positions we have open, and one of things we’d like to look at is working more with the southcentral region to market our area as a place to come live and work.

Q: What are some interesting initiatives coming up with CAEDC in terms of workforce development?

A: The first few years I met with employers and tried to get a handle on where their challenges were and then work with labor and industry to take a look at the skills gap. It’s difficult because there’s a lot of duplication of effort. We are building a website right now that will show a lot of who is doing workforce, like what are the chambers doing, what are other organizations doing, even our workforce investment board. We’re trying to create a one-stop-shop. It’s not so much we’re listing jobs per se, but it connects them to (resources) if they want to go back for training. Everybody knows there are problems, and we are trying to find solutions. Our focus was on three areas: advanced manufacturing, heavy equipment and healthcare. We worked with (schools) and employers and said, help us build programs you would value. We all have the same issues, we’re going to have to work together and collaborate. They have done that very well. 

Q: What is your favorite tourist spot in the Cumberland Valley?

A; I love that we have so many different places we can go hiking. We had just given a grant to Long Shot Winery, that is a really cool spot to go outside, sit and see the sun set, and they have some meat and cheese trays as well. Midway Bowling, we gave them a grant, they put an outside facility in with volleyball nets, a deck and outside seating with firepits, bocce ball and different things. I’m excited about that. We’re seeing a lot more breweries popping up and we just completed our beer trail last year, that’s something fun for people to go out and do.

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