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Heber Springs chamber hires new executive director

By Tammy Keith

This article was published July 3, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

HEBER SPRINGS — Julie Murray, the new executive director of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, said two things struck her when she moved to the community 15 months ago: how beautiful it is and how vibrant it is.

Murray, a native of Van Buren, said she had never been to Heber Springs before she and her husband, Doug, moved there.

The first thing she noticed about Heber Springs is “that it was stunningly beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful,” she said.

The Murrays were living in Bella Vista, and she was working as a consultant for Solutions House, based in Florida, when Doug took a job as plant manager of Tigg Corp. in Heber Springs.

“The consulting job I did was really helping other companies develop their ethics programs,” Murray said. “I was ready for something else.

“I really didn’t want to travel that much, and also, this is such a progressive, friendly community. I wanted to be a part of it.”

Murray said she started volunteering at the chamber almost right off the bat.

“I’ve gotten involved with the chamber and special events, and I’ve been really impressed with the progressive thought this community has, and I’ve been impressed with the business owners,” Murray said.

“When this opportunity came up, I thought, ‘What better way to contribute?’”

Murray replaces Melisa Gardner, whose last day was May 19. She left to take a position as assistant to the president, Troy Wells, at Baptist Health.

Heber Springs Mayor Jackie McPherson, a member of the chamber board, sat in on interviews with the final three candidates, he said.

“We’ve had some great leadership at the chamber through the years with Melisa and Jo [Price], and we’re just as confident that Julie is going to shine,” McPherson said. “She’s very professional; she’s got a great attitude. She has great ideas, and we think she’s going to do great things.”

Murray has a degree in political science from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

“Ultimately, I really wanted to go into civil service, become an ambassador,” she said. “I was going to undergrad on grants and loans, ran out of money and had to get a job.”

That job was at Sierra Corp., just outside Fort Smith, which was bought by the camping company Coleman.

From there, she went to work for Meek Manufacturing in Fort Smith, then earned a master’s degree in leadership and ethics from John Brown University in Siloam Springs.

Murray spent six years, until 2010, working at the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville in strategy and development for the company’s Global Ethics Office.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “It was global in the sense that we promoted an internal code of conduct, and my responsibility was global communication of that to all the countries Walmart operated within,” and the training that accompanied it.

Murray traveled to other countries to meet with her counterparts, her favorite location being Tokyo, she said.

Murray, who was hired from among about 15 applicants for the chamber job, said her strength is probably the relationship building.

“I think this position revolves around that,” Murray said, “and also my business experience. I can help the local businesses grow and develop, grow profits. … I know what it takes to grow a business, not only in just sales, but in the marketing behind it — the strategy to get a marketing plan in place, not just next month or so, but the next three to five years.

“I hope to get more involved in the growth of community planning as well.”

She said the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce has “an amazing volunteer base.”

Murray wants to up the ante on chamber members, too.

“I think there are other things we can include in the chamber membership,” she said. “I think there’s more value that we can add on, more benefits to being a member.”

Not that she’s discounting the work that has gone on before her.

“I think the chamber has done a phenomenal job to date,” she said. “Most towns this size, you see the Main Street boarded up. As far as small towns go, it is quite impressive; it is vibrant. The community as a whole — it’s very active, very busy. One of the things I was struck with, for such a small town, there’s so much to do, not even including the lake and the river.”

Murray started to work last week, getting on board just in time for two of the biggest events the chamber hosts: the Fireworks Extravaganza, which will take place Saturday, and the World Championship Cardboard Boat Races on July 26.

“The staff here is amazingly organized, and the director before me was incredibly organized, so it’s done. They’ve got a handle on it. Since this is my first round, I’ll help as much as I can and try to stay out of their way because they certainly know what they’re doing,” Murray said.

“I’ll work on learning as much as I can so I can help them make it bigger and better next year,” she said.

McPherson said he joked with Murray about the timing of her hiring.

“I said, ‘You really jumped in the middle of a fire here with two of our biggest events, with the fireworks and cardboard boat races.’ She’s really going to be tested. If she survives that, she’ll be good to go.”

Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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