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Emily Upah is the new BDG director; she will be visiting area communities over the coming months.

The new director of the Benton Development Group will bring an intense enthusiasm and understanding of local economics to the area, said BDG Board President Marlyn Jorgensen.

Emily Upah, a Keystone resident and Belle Plaine and U of Iowa graduate, will formally begin her new job in August.

But already, said Jorgensen, she has been busy talking to local leaders about what makes Benton County work and how to make it even better.

After receiving 10 applications and interviewing two finalists, the BDG Board chose Upah.

“We love her enthusiasm,” said Jorgensen. “She is really excited about doing some great things in Benton County.”

As part of her interview process, Upah presented a SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats), summarizing what the Benton County area has going well for it in economic terms, as well as ways to improve things in the future and preparing for challenges.

She spoke to the mayor of Belle Plaine, as well as Virginia Gay Hospital Administrator Mike Riege, who told her what attracted him to the county.

The main thing to understand about local economics, says Upah, is how everything is connected; how a new or improved highway can impact the economy of a region; and how what happens in one area of the county is good for all of the county.

Upah will be on hand during tonight’s meeting at 7 p.m. at the Blairstown Community Center, where the BDG Board will discuss the future of the organization and hear ideas from county residents.

The new director will work with cities and economic development groups such as Vinton Unlimited, focusing on ways residents, business and government can work together. While part of the job is recruiting new businesses to make the county their home, the first focus will be on strengthening and growing existing businesses, as well as increasing housing opportunities.

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