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New economic development manager sees opportunities for Strasburg

Kimberly Murray, Strasburg's new economic development director, stands along Radio Station Road in front of Mercury Pape Inc. in Strasburg on Tuesday. Murray has been hired by the town to market the industrial park as well as businesses along the U.S. Route 11 corridor. Mercury Paper, the town's most recent large employer in the industrial park, started manufacturing paper towels and tissue products in 2010. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Alex Bridges

Kimberly Murray sees a lot of Vermont in Virginia.

The Vermont native also sees a lot of opportunity for Strasburg to grow and thrive. Last week she took on the role as the town's economic development and planning manager. Murray brings her years of experience in both fields and working in the public service sector in Vermont.

"Professionally, what drew me to Strasburg was the assets and opportunities that this community has," Murray said at her office Tuesday. "I saw it sort of as a framework or a skeleton of what Strasburg could become or grow into with input from the community, and I found that really intriguing."

Assets include Strasburg's downtown, currently undergoing revitalization, Murray noted. The town's infrastructure -- public water and sewer, roads, the adjacent industrial park - can attract commercial development, she added.

"Not a lot of communities have something like that ready to go, ready to develop a little more, to find tenants," Murray said.

Strasburg also can draw from regional tourism, culture and recreation, Murray added.

But Strasburg leaders and residents need to figure out what type of development should occur in the town. Murray expressed a desire to talk to Town Council and Strasburg residents to receive input on future development.

For those residents interested in lower taxes, Murray has one possible solution: bring more, higher-paying jobs into Strasburg. The town also can help smaller businesses grow and expand. The fact that Strasburg has land helps.

"I've come from communities that didn't have water and sewer, that didn't have large parcels of land. They didn't have the political support, political will ..." Murray said. "The priorities have been set for the council and they need some help in kind of guiding them in that direction that they want to go in."

"So that was very exciting to me and, plus, everyone has been really nice and friendly and really seemed to be on board with going in that direction," Murray added.

Strasburg stands poised to annex the Northern Shenandoah Industrial Park north of town near Interstate 81 by January. Murray's job includes the marketing of the industrial park as an economic engine for the town.

Murray, 44, lived in Virginia briefly after she completed graduate school. The area reminded her of Vermont and she took a job working for the valley's planning agency in Front Royal, now the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission. Murray soon returned to her home state, where she has spent most of her career working in the public service sector with a focus on economic development and planning.

Murray has more than 17 years of experience in planning and economic development. She also is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Murray most recently worked as the development coordinator for the city of South Burlington, Vt. Prior to that job, she served as the community and economic development director for Colchester, where she assisted in bringing the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to that community.

Murray's hiring comes months after Strasburg officials and leaders decided to make personnel changes following last year's departure of the assistant town manager, whose responsibilities also included economic development.

At a planning session in September, Town Council identified economic development as a top priority, according to a press release. Council directed staff to consider the creation of a position to lead economic development efforts for the town. Staff evaluated and proposed the restructuring of some positions in the administration. Staff eliminated the assistant town manager position and reclassified the zoning administrator from full time to part time. Former Zoning Administrator Laura O'Dell left the position and now works for the town of Dumfries as its planner and zoning administrator.

Strasburg administration created the economic development and planning manager position. The town began recruiting for the position in March. The restructuring saves the town approximately $40,000 a year.

"I think they really wanted to hire someone with economic development experience," Murray said. "The fact that I had a planning background and could understand the land-use ramifications and implications I think was intriguing to them, and that's what makes me fit really well with this position."

Murray's objectives include filling the vacant downtown manager position and working closely with Shenandoah County on the annexation of the North Shenandoah Industrial Park. In marketing the industrial park, Murray noted that the town wants "clean" industry that may include technology firms or manufacturers similar to those already in the park. Firms that locate in Strasburg need space to grow or the town risks losing that employer, Murray said. The park would offer that room for growth.

Murray also will work with the Planning Commission, the Ordinance Committee and the town's consultant, Planning Works, on a rewrite of Strasburg's zoning and subdivision ordinances.

Murray and her husband, Dan Tuffley, a contractor with IBM, have three children. They are in the process of moving to Strasburg.

Town Manager Judson Rex has said he plans to introduce Murray to Town Council at its regular meeting July 9.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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