WINCHESTER — Winchester is losing one of the most effective weapons in its business-development arsenal.
Shirley Dodson, business and community development manager in Winchester's Economic Development Department, has resigned to accept a position with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) in Richmond. Her final day in Winchester is Friday.
"It's been six years. I can't believe it," Dodson said in an interview on Wednesday.
Dodson came to Winchester in 2015 about three months after graduating from James Madison University in Harrisonburg.
"I had never even been to Winchester," she said. "It was pretty exciting to come downtown for my interview and see this beautiful walking mall."
Dodson initially served the city's Economic Development Department as its business and workforce development coordinator, working under Economic Redevelopment Director Kimberly Murray. After Murray resigned in July 2016, Dodson's new supervisor became interim Economic Redevelopment Director Tyler Schenck, who now serves as Winchester's innovation and information services director. Schenck's successor, Development Services Director Shawn Hershberger, came to Winchester in March 2017 and, two years later, promoted Dodson to her current position.
As business and community development manager, Dodson has overseen Winchester’s participation in the Virginia Main Street program, which promotes economic growth in downtown districts throughout the commonwealth, and the city’s Enterprise Zone program, which provides financial incentives for companies that operate in specific areas targeted for redevelopment. She has also kept a sharp focus on Winchester's business retention and expansion efforts, guided entrepreneurs to financial assistance programs to help them weather the economic fallouts of COVID-19 and worked with the city's Old Town Advancement Commission and Old Town Winchester Business Association to keep the downtown business climate vibrant.
"It is certainly a bittersweet moment," Hershberger said about Dodson's departure. "We're extremely proud of her professional growth and happy for her to get this opportunity, but at the same time incredibly sad to see her leave."
Dodson said one of her favorite duties in Winchester was developing a strong emerging workforce by partnering with local schools and employers to offer guidance and encouragement to career-minded students.
"Just seeing kids interact with all the businesses we have here in the Winchester area has been so amazing for me," she said.
Starting June 7, she'll be doing similar work with VEDP, an agency she described as "the state's economic development arm."
"I will be in their talent solutions division, focused primarily on helping businesses with their hiring and recruitment processes," Dodson said. "There's a large state incentive called the Virginia Jobs Investment Program, and my office is responsible for administering that incentive to help businesses that need assistance paying for training for their employees."
Dodson said her service region with VEDP will be Lynchburg and southern Virginia.
"I'm so excited," she said. "It's a great organization."
Hershberger said he will miss Dodson, who helped acclimate him to his new job once he came to Winchester four years ago from Cumberland, Maryland.
"She's been a tremendous part of the team here with the city in every respect, and the impact that she's had on the city's economy will be lasting and felt for years to come," Hershberger said. "We certainly appreciate all the time she's spent here."
"I'm going to miss Winchester a lot," Dodson said. "I've made great friends here and it's a wonderful community."