By Jessica Farrish
Judy Radford joined then-fledgling The New River Gorge Regional Development Authority in 1989.
For the next 23 years, she and her team worked “magic.”
“It’s been kind of funny, “ remarked Radford, who began serving as executive director of the NRGRDA board in 1997. “
“When you try to do something, and it works, it all comes together. We used to laugh and say, ‘We can do magic,’” she recalled. “Everything is just about perseverance, I think.”
Radford was honored Monday night at a special dinner at Tamarack in honor of her retirement from the executive director’s position.
Unlike sleight-of-hand or smoke-and-mirror tricks conjured by a savvy showman, the “magic, Radford and the board of directors have made at NRGRDA over the years is solid, supported by the bottom line:
The Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County, the development of industrial parks in Raleigh, Fayette and Nicholas counties, and the development of a high-technology cluster in downtown Hinton in Summers County show a few of the ways Radford and other board members captivated national stakeholders, “charming” millions of dollars into the region.
“You can make things happen, “ said Radford. “So everybody needs to understand? This area can become whatever we want it to be.
“We just have to have the vision.”
For years, Radford’s vision helped guide the economic growth of the New River Gorge region.
Paul Flanagan, who served as the organization’s first president, lauded Radford’s efforts.
Flanagan pointed out that when Radford first started working for the NRGRDA, she wasn’t experienced in economic development.
“But she loved it. She was determined, and she went back to school to obtain her certifications, “ he said. “She has been a great leader for us and the region.”
Radford said she first started with the authority when she heard of the legislation, working its way through the state Legislature, that would form regional development authorities.
“It did intrigue me, “ she said. “That we would bring together a group of people and try to do something in a different way.”
Bill Baker, NRGRDA’s immediate past president, who has been active in education and economic development of the region throughout his working career, echoed other board members in support of Radford’s accomplishments
As the state’s first certified regional development authority, New River Gorge RDA has served as a model for branding and marketing an area, advancing past the more traditional model of officials of each single county and town marketing their locales.
“The first year that I became a member of the 4-C Economic Development Authority board was Judy’s first year as our executive director, “ said Baker. “Over these many years, Judy assisted me in developing a better understanding of economic development.
4-C Economic Development was the organization’s name prior to the change to New River Gorge Economic Development.
“She and Mayor Emmett Pugh, past 4-C president, convinced me that the only successful way to grow, recruit and maintain jobs in southern West Virginia was through a regional approach, “ he said. “That is the approach Judy has faithfully and effectively led the NRGRDA board in marketing our four counties.
“Through her leadership we have been successful, “ Baker added. “She will be missed.”
Current NRGRDA President Matthew Wender said Radford’s excitement and “enthusiasm” for the work never waned.
“Rarely in life do we have the privilege of working with someone as exceptional as Judy Radford, said Wender. I truly believe she was born for the job she has had for the past 25 years.
“That excitement brought together our diverse communities and spread throughout the region,” he added. “I am sure we will continue to see a lot of Judy as she will continue to be pulled in many directions for her talents and ability to get things done.”
Summers County representative and past president, Larry Meador, joined other board members in their praise of Radford saying, “Judy is a longtime key member of maintaining the economic stability and growth within the New River Gorge region and her shoes willbe hard to fill.
“She is taking a well-deserved retirement.”
Radford said that, prior to her work with the NRGRDA, her enthusiastic spirit led to a typical pattern of employment.
“My pattern is to work four years at anything, “ she said. “At that point, I’d felt like I’d conquered it, get bored, then moved no to something else.”
The thing was, she never quite conquered the work the NRGRDA was doing, she said.
“It is truly something different every day, a different opportunity, “ she said. “There’s not getting to a point to get bored.
“It gets to a point I’m tired, so that’s different.”
Radford said when her retirement begins at the end of the month, she’ll rest awhile but will still be in the area to assist in ways she’sneeded.
She said she’s leaving the NRGRDA at a “summit, “ pointing to the Boy Scout project as one project that has catapulted the region into another developmental phase.
“We’re fishing in a much bigger water, “ she said. “It’s going to take awhile for us to begin to see what happens, but as a result, we have climbed to the top, and now we are here.
“We’ve reached the summit, “ she said. “So now it’s that tipping point you read about.
“We’ve laid a lot of foundation. Now the next person coming in definitely has a place to work and take it and go.”
The new executive director has not yet been named.