When Betsy Fields began her new job two weeks ago as director of economic development for the Town of Leesburg, her new key didn't fit most locks in Town Hall, her e-mail address still read Elizabeth instead of her preferred Betsy, her office walls were bare, and she had file upon file to read and organize.
But those were not major priorities, she said.
Fields, who filled the job after an 18-month vacancy, said her main goal will be to help Leesburg expand its commercial tax and employment base and retain businesses. "A town is known by the companies it keeps," she said. "The biggest advocate for recruiting companies is existing companies. Especially in a sluggish economy, a focus on existing businesses is important."
Such firms, she said, account for the 60 percent to 80 percent of growth in towns and cities.
Fields, a former Air Force captain who has worked as an administration officer and executive officer of student training, came to Leesburg from Texas with her husband, Terry, and son, Michael, 4, after her husband lost his job as a Continental Airlines dispatcher in cutbacks one week after Sept. 11, 2001. In an attempt to find a more stable position, Terry Fields began a federal job search and started working for the Transportation Security Administration on July 1.
Fields left her job as vice president of the South Montgomery County Woodlands Economic Development Partnership near Houston to move to Leesburg. In her previous job, she was primarily responsible for a business retention program but was also involved in marketing and research.
Fields said that during her three-month job search, she applied for more than 50 jobs but Leesburg was her "hands-down" choice. "I am so incredibly lucky," she said.
For her, the town is perfectly situated, not too far from a large city yet not too large itself. The town's progress, size and location were ideal and the job is "a natural progression" from her previous position. Fields said she will spend her first few months identifying the players in the community. She plans a "visitation program" to meet with managers, business owners and chief executives to ask what they need, what they like and what they would change.
This will help her decide what industries would fit well in Leesburg and what sort of companies the town should try to recruit, she said. "That way, we can be much more effective to . . . do a more focused search."
She also planned to meet this week with a consultant the town hired for advice on land use, streetscape and other details. And she said she looks forward to a partnership with the Loudoun County Economic Development Department.
Fields has a master's degree in public history with a specialization in historic preservation from the University of South Carolina and a bachelor's degree from Texas A&M University, where she majored in theater. She is a certified economic developer and a graduate of the Economic Development Institute, a professional development course accredited by the International Economic Development Council.
Her historic preservation background will play nicely into downtown Leesburg's historic sites, she said. "The downtown certainly is an important part of Leesburg, both as the location of the commercial district but also as part of the tourism program," she said.
Before her job with the South Montgomery County partnership, Fields was business retention manager for the Mansfield, Tex., Economic Development Corp.
-- Amy Joyce