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Wednesday, 15 February 2017 15:07

Permanent tourism director hired in Jackson

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The Jackson County Tourism Development Authority has its first permanent employee following a unanimous vote from the Jackson County Commissioners this month.

Tourism Director Nick Breedlove isn’t new to the job, however. He was hired in January 2016 but has been serving as a contract worker for the past 13 months, with the county paying him $54,000 for the year — a sum that does not come with benefits typically given an employee, such as reimbursement for mileage and office supplies, or health insurance. 

“We initially looked at it and said, ‘We don’t know if it fits into the category of job or contracted work,’ so we took this time under contracted to determine as to whether we needed a long-term contractor or someone on staff,” TDA Chairman Robert Jumper told commissioners Feb. 6. “As we did that evaluation over the past 13 months, it became very apparent to us that we need someone on staff.”

In particular, Jumper said, they need Breedlove on staff. Prior to landing the contract director’s job last year, Breedlove hadn’t had any direct experience in the tourism industry and bid one of the lowest contract amounts submitted to the TDA. The board opted to give Breedlove a chance and has been impressed by what he’s delivered over the past year. Its vote to recommend Breedlove’s hire to the commissioners was unanimous. 

“Nick Breedlove has excelled at the work for the county with regard to tourism,” Jumper told commissioners. “The man lives, eats and breathes tourism for Jackson County, and he loves Jackson County. We have been very satisfied with his work.”

The proof is in the numbers, Jumper said. The TDA is funded by room tax collections, and it’s been posting double-digit increases from the previous year just about every month, with the January 2017 numbers showing a whopping 41 percent increase over January 2016 numbers. For the calendar year 2016, total collections were up 13.6 percent over 2015, before Breedlove joined the TDA. 

Jackson’s TDA formed in December 2012 with an all-volunteer board. However, as the workload became too much for volunteers to bear the board formed an exploratory committee in April 2014 to consider whether to hire a director. A year later, the TDA had decided to hire a contract worker for the position and launched its search. Breedlove started the job in January 2016. 

“In the last 13 months, I’ve been working day in, day out, long hours to get our tourism program up to speed,” Breedlove said. “Without having a director for that long, there was so much to hit the ground running, but it’s the most rewarding role I’ve ever been in.”

A typical workweek includes about 50 or 60 hours work, he said, with few days off, but it’s been worth it. 

“I have a true passion for it,” Breedlove said, “because it enhances the lives of not only the people who visit here, but also our residents.”

With the change to a permanent position, Breedlove will get a salary bump from $54,000 to $61,500, which Jumper said is a “midrange, average starting point for a salary.” The county’s total cost for the position will be $78,000, an amount that reflects costs such as health insurance and 401k. 

Breedlove’s own costs will go down, as he’ll no longer have to pay self-employment tax or purchase his own gas and supplies. The TDA did reimburse him $7,940 last year for some expenses such as networking, social media reports and postage but not for gas or supplies. In March, Finance Director Darlene Fox will submit a budget for the director’s position that anticipates those additional expenses. 

Jumper pointed out that the TDA’s own profitability has grown since Breedlove came on board. Room tax collections for the calendar year 2016 were $119,426 higher than for calendar year 2015.

“Obviously it’s working for us,” Jumper said. “We feel like we justified the need for the position.”

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