Where Money Meets Water

Retiring Sea Grant extension agent reflects on his career

Upon entering eighth grade, Tom Murray moved from West Virginia to Chappaqua, New York—one of the wealthiest towns in the United States. The change was a social shock. And because Murray had a West Virginian accent, school officials placed him in remedial English.

“But I’ve always liked a challenge,” he says with a grin. By the next semester, he was in an honors English class. Murray’s professional career in marine resource economics reflects this same delight in confronting and overcoming obstacles.

As an undergraduate student at Kenyon College, he was studying biology and English until a mandatory economics class changed his life’s course. “I got excited,” he recounts. “ I was deeply interested in natural resources and it seemed to me that economics was a way of looking at problems of scarcity and allocation.”

Realizing that he wanted to work on these types of problems, Murray changed his major to economics, earning his bachelor’s in 1971. He went on to receive a master’s degree in applied economics in 1975 from Clemson University. Following graduation, he began his career at the South Carolina Marine Resources Research Institute studying the economics of the shrimp industry. Then he moved to Key West, Florida, where he became the “southernmost Sea Grant extension agent” with the University of Florida.

Since 1999, Murray has continued his engagement with Sea Grant as a Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) extension staff member affiliated with Virginia Sea Grant, applying economics to marine business and coastal development problems. He’s also been the associate director of Marine Advisory Services at VIMS for seven years, overseeing a unit of scientists whose primary responsibility is to provide expert advice to Commonwealth citizenry, marine industries, and government.

Murray enjoys the intersection of economics and extension because it goes beyond just theory into the application of theory. At VIMS, this means Murray is applying theories from economics to marine resources, like the oyster industry, to give people the information they need to understand the way money moves in their industry.

Murray also develops educational materials for industry members, like a budget calculator for oyster aquaculture that allows growers to input predicted costs and crops to estimate their bottom lines.

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