BERRYVILLE — Felicia Hart has been hired as Clarke County’s economic development and tourism director after serving as the interim director since March.
She was named to the full-time post after she and three other applicants were interviewed Friday afternoon.
The vote to hire Hart was unanimous among the joint committee that oversees a memorandum of understanding for Clarke County and Berryville to cooperate on economic and tourism development matters. Clarke County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Weiss, Russell District Supervisor Doug Lawrence, Berryville Town Council Recorder Jay Arnold, who will become mayor on July 1, and Councilwoman Kara Rodriguez serve on the committee.
Hart was previously community development and tourism director in Front Royal. She lost her job there as part of a government reorganization.
She succeeds Len Capelli, the county’s former part-time economic development and tourism director. Capelli left in February after the supervisors terminated his contract in November with 90 days notice. Although they gave no reason for the termination, they indicated they believe changes are needed in how economic development is done, such as representing Berryville’s interests more heavily.
Berryville is the county’s business center and largest town.
But “the town is not big enough to do its own economic development,” Arnold said.
Economic development activities have been limited in recent years because residents have told officials they want Clarke County to remain mostly rural and agricultural.
But officials maintain jobs are needed for people who don’t farm or commute to jobs elsewhere, and businesses are needed to offset the tax burden on residents as costs for providing government services rise. They say a full-time director is needed to attract new businesses and help ones already in the county prosper, as well as reach out to tourists, who boost the local economy by spending money on things such as food, gasoline and lodging.
Weiss said Hart’s knowledge of the Northern Shenandoah Valley and the enthusiasm she has already shown make her “the perfect fit for the job.”
After Capelli left and the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, “she quickly stepped in” and began making contacts with businesses, Weiss said. “Even though she couldn’t get out and see people,” she was able to point businesses in the right direction get assistance to help them cope with the pandemic’s effects, he said.
Hart lives in Stephenson in Frederick County. Living there and having worked in Front Royal/Warren County and now Clarke County, she has developed an extensive network of regional business contacts, Arnold said.
She also has contacts in state economic development circles, he said.
Overall, “the committee felt she understands Clarke County and will be able to meet goals” for the county, Weiss continued. The goals will be set during a meeting of the committee planned in either August or September, he said.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Hart said.
She noted that the pandemic has created “a lot of unknowns and variables” that she must figure out to help businesses.
Supply chain matters are an example.
When the pandemic began, Hart said, “the whole supply chain became a question mark for some businesses.” Basically, they had a hard time obtaining products and services they needed because of heavy demand or suppliers being closed.
Hart said she will be paid an annual salary of $70,000.