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Jackson gets closer to having a tourism director

jacksonJackson County could have a tourism director in place closely following the new year if the field of five that bid for the position — currently offered as a one-year contract — proves to contain any winners.

“I think this is a huge step forward in what the board says they want to do,” said Robert Jumper, chairman of Jackson’s Tourism Development Authority board, at the board’s meeting last week. 

Some board members were a bit taken aback, however, to see that some of the bids came from firms that employ multiple people rather than from individual contractors, and they questioned whether that is indeed the direction the county should proceed. 

“Their submissions don’t sound like it’s coming from an individual — it’s the whole company,” said board member Henry Hoche of some of the applications. “Is that what we’re looking for?”

Another concern is that two of the five firms that bid are not based in Jackson County —the request for proposals asks that potential directors either live in Jackson County or be willing to relocate there. One bidder, Martin-McGill, is based in Asheville, and another, J Brendle Media, is located in Waynesville. It’s unclear whether either organization has staff who live in Jackson County or would be willing to move there if offered the job. That’s something the board will have to figure out during the interview process. 

There’s also a good bit of swing in the price points of the five bidders. J Brendle Media has the lowest bid at $53,000, with Jackson-based companies NB Management and TenBiz, Inc. clocking in at $54,0000. Meanwhile, Sylva-based Insight Marketing is asking $73,000 and Martin-McGill listed a range from $75,000 to $100,000 for the one-year contract. 

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Jumper reminded the board that they have bargaining power when it comes to compensation. 

“Just because they bid a certain amount doesn’t mean we’re committed to their bid amount,” Jumper said. 

Following that discussion, the TDA board voted unanimously to have its five executive members conduct a first round of interviews with the candidates, to be scheduled sometime before the board’s Nov. 18 meeting. Jackson County Economic Development Director Rich Price and representatives from Brandon and Pineapple marketing agencies, which the TDA works with, will be asked to sit in as advisors on the second round of interviews. 

Created in 2012, Jackson’s TDA was formed from what used to be known as the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Agency. The TTA and the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce shared an executive director — current chamber director Julie Spiro — prior to the formation of the TDA. 

The TDA currently has no paid staff. The Haywood County TDA, by comparison, employs four people. Both organizations get their funding in the same way — through a room tax charged on overnight stays in the county, money primarily paid by out-of-town visitors. 

Hiring an executive director has been the plan since the Jackson agency started, but the conversation has accelerated over the past year as the board’s activity and workload increased beyond what a volunteer board could handle. This spring the board decided to hire the director as a contract worker, with the potential of making the job a staff position in the future. 

If all goes smoothly, the board could hire someone as early as January 2016, with a possible start date in January or February of that year. However, the timeline assumes that the field of five contains a viable candidate who is still willing to accept the offer by the time the board’s ready to make its decision.  

“If the committee of five comes back and says there’s not really good potential for any of these folks, I think the board would understand that,” Jumper said. 

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