HEBER SPRINGS — The Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce is looking for a leader after Julie Murray resigned via email, stating that her “effectiveness as executive director is no longer viable.”
Former executive director Jo Price is serving as interim director.
Cathey Cox, immediate past chamber board president, said the board received Murray’s email Nov. 20, saying her resignation would be effective Jan. 1.
Cox said she doesn’t know Murray’s reasons for resigning. A voice mail and text message to Murray’s
cellphone were not returned by press time. Murray was hired in July 2014 to replace Melisa Gardner, who left to take a position at Baptist Health.
Shortly after Murray resigned, Arlene Anderson, the office manager at the chamber for 19 years, retired, Cox said.
“We really hated to see her [Anderson] go; she had been a part of the chamber for so many years and worked with Jo and other directors,” Cox said. “We’re so pleased we have Jo helping us out as executive director while we search for the right folks.”
Both those positions are being advertised, and Cox said the chamber has received several applications.
In addition to both employees leaving, Ina Brown of Jonesboro, who worked on a contract basis for the chamber’s magazine, is no longer with the chamber, Cox said.
New chamber board president Jeremy Bivins said he was “a little bit” surprised that Murray resigned.
Bivins said the interpretation of Murray’s comment in her resignation letter “can be taken in a multitude of ways — to me, maybe that her abilities and skills could best be used in another area.”
Bivins praised Murray’s performance.
“I will say this about Julie. … She’s been a great director,” he said. “She’s gotten us to a point where we are doing pretty good. Our media presence throughout the state has never been better. Julie cultivated a lot of relationships with people …. and did workshops on social-media presence. …
“… We want someone who’s going to continue that … and to provide programs that help [businesses] find success. We want to see someone who continues with being business-focused. A chamber needs to support the business in its community and not just support what’s there … but be an advocate for economic development, be an advocate for talent development, … doing those things that we can do to help our current businesses thrive and create a market where other people want to be — and be a visible member of our community and active in our community. In a small town, it’s very vital for the executive director to be in front of businesses in their offices as much as possible.”
Murray started as director for the chamber in July 2014 during one of its busier seasons.
“She got thrown to the wolves really, really quickly, as far as our event schedule goes, and did a great job,” Bivins said.
After Murray and Anderson left, the chamber looked to Price, who served as executive director from 2000 to 2008.
“When they called me this time, it was like deja vu,” Price said. “I went into this same situation in 2000 when the executive director left, and I went in there to volunteer and ended up staying.”
Price said she told the chamber no “about 20 times” to the recent request to be interim director, but she received many phone calls seeking her help, and she relented.
“They seemed desperate to keep the office open,” she said. “Once you’re involved in the chamber, it gets in your blood.”
On a recent day, Price said, she was sitting in front of the computer in the chamber office trying to figure out how to send out invoices.
“[The chamber’s] so in the now. Everything is on the computer,” she said. “Administratively, [the chamber has] been well taken care of. We’re without employees, or they are, but as far as where the chamber’s at, it’s really good. It’s been professionally taken care of well.”
Murray, a native of Van Buren, said in a 2014 River Valley & Ozark Edition and Three Rivers Edition article that 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 is 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. Julie Murray is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
“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 in the article that she started volunteering at the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce 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?’”
Price said that although she enjoyed her prior tenure, she has made it clear that this is a temporary position for her, adding that she keeps her grandchildren twice a week.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.