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Jackson tourism group tightens up granting requirements

jacksonWhen the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority sat down this spring to review applications for its advertising grants, it wound up facing a slew of existential questions: What is the grants’ purpose? Should the money go toward long-standing events or only start-ups? If the money’s reserved for advertising, what precisely is the definition of “advertising?”

That discussion prompted the board to direct members Clifford Meads and Sarah Jennings to revise grant guidelines, and now the two have returned a draft that aims to clarify the timetable and zero in on who, exactly, the funds should target.

“The goal of the revision was making it more cut and dry,” Jennings explained. 

Jackson’s TDA is still a fairly new organization, formed in 2012 and wrapping up its second granting cycle this April. The grants are supposed to promote event advertising outside the local area, encouraging overnight visitation. But this spring the board had trouble agreeing on what, exactly, qualified as “advertising.” The Tuck River Cleanup, for example, wanted money to fund the event’s direct costs, but as the largest single-day river cleanup in the country its very existence garners substantial press — couldn’t awarding the grant be considered an indirect form of advertising? 

The board wound up approving all grant requests, with awards to the 13 applicants totaling only $15,600 of the $35,000 grant funding pool, but they acknowledged they’d have to take another look at the guidelines before the next cycle came around. 

The most notable changes in the proposed revision are a four-year cap on how long an event can receive grant funding, as well as additional application questions and follow-up reporting. Applicants would have to write a paragraph explaining how the project will increase tourism to Jackson and, after the fact, list any materials or advertising where the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority was mentioned. 

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“As much as we love our local advertising opportunities, we would prefer that this money be distributed on advertising outside of a two-hour driving radius in order to encourage folks to come and stay overnight instead of it just being a day trip,” Jennings told the board, “because we are here to put heads in beds.” 

That’s not to say that the TDA wouldn’t give any money to groups or events if the endeavor didn’t specifically meet granting requirements. The board could still award funding — just not through the grants. 

“I think it was agreed that those types of requests that might not align with those guidelines be considered under contingency funding, or you could have some amendment to the budget to allocate money on a case-by-case basis,” said Stephanie Edwards, executive director of the Cashiers Chamber of Commerce. 

The draft revision would also clarify the timetable of the granting cycle, as the existing version has caused some confusion. It makes clear that the application window is Jan. 1 through April 1 and that the money is to be budgeted for sometime in the following fiscal year, which runs from July to June. 

The board will likely vote on the changes at its Oct. 15 meeting. 

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