Breedlove to resign as Webster mayor, take the helm of tourism agency
It took only minutes for the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority to approve Nick Breedlove as its new contracted director last week, but for Breedlove that moment was months in the making. While the 30-year-old Webster mayor, journalist and photography business owner has plenty of tasks to fill his time, when he first heard the TDA was fishing for a director, it didn’t take long for him to decide to throw his hat in the ring.
“They really need somebody that, day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground, wakes up and says, ‘This is my job, to promote Jackson County,’ and I am that person,” Breedlove said. “I can’t think of a better role for me to step into.”
Breedlove began laying the groundwork to apply for the job months ago, forming a corporation — NB Management — that could handle the contract and developing a 52-page document outlining his qualifications and action plan if given the job.
Fortunately, the TDA board agreed that Breedlove was the man for the task, voting unanimously to offer him a one-year $54,000 contract. The consensus was so easy to form that the board made the decision a full month earlier than originally planned.
“He has the enthusiasm we need to move forward in our marketing efforts,” TDA board chairman Robert Jumper said of Breedlove.
“We are thrilled to have you,” said TDA board member Sarah Jennings.
Unlike most of the five proposals the TDA received for the job, Breedlove doesn’t have a background in marketing and promotion. He’s never led a tourism agency before.
But, Jumper said, when looking at his proposal against those of the other four bidders, it wasn’t hard to decide who would do the best job of selling the county as a tourist destination. Breedlove is a Jackson County native, a Jackson County lover and he’s a master of the skills he’ll need to succeed, Jumper said.
“I think tweaking is better than a total overhaul of someone,” he said. “I think he’s got the tools. We just need to show him how to apply them to what we’re doing.”
Besides, Jumper said, the TDA wasn’t necessarily looking for a marketer anyway. They were looking for a manager, and in that capacity Breedlove is “the best qualified out of the five.”
In addition to running his own photography business and spending 13 years telling the stories of Jackson County people as a reporter for The Sylva Herald, Breedlove has served the past two years as mayor of the small town of Webster. In that time, he’s completed a laundry list of projects, including the town’s first-ever long-range planning effort, a door-to-door survey of town residents, a walking tour of Webster’s historic buildings and a well-attended Veterans Day celebration surrounding a newly relocated and restored World War II monument. As mayor, he’s also served on the boards for the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and the Southwestern Commission.
“I think that I carry a great set of skills, and every organization that I have been employed or worked for or volunteered on the board of has benefited from my experience,” Breedlove said. “When my name is attached to a project, people know it will be a success.”
Breedlove plans to begin work with the start of the new year, using office space the TDA will rent in Dillsboro. He intends to spend his first weeks building a baseline understanding of the TDA and what it’s been up to in its three years of existence. As a reporter, Breedlove attended many of the TDA’s early meetings, but he wants to read through all the other minutes and news articles from the board’s activities.
“I want to gain a complete understanding of its history, actions the board has taken, marketing campaign endeavors that have been successful and look at all of the organization’s history as a whole,” Breedlove said. “I think you need that background when you’re going into a group to accomplish things.”
At the same time, he’ll be working on his first project as TDA director, which will be conducting an audit of tourism resources in Jackson County. The audit will list all the assets that make Jackson County a place tourists can enjoy, including everything from restaurants to lodging to outdoor recreation. Breedlove would then combine that information with analytical data — where tourists are coming from, what kind of experience they’re looking for — as well as data regarding website and social media traffic.
“This is a document that we can reference,” Breedlove said. “It’s a data-driven process, so it will show us all of our assets, and we can use that data to help drive marking decisions.”
Later in the year, he’ll look through the TDA’s current policies and practices and give the board recommendations for improvement. He wants to conduct a poll to better understand local tourism and conduct a visioning session for long-term planning. The next phase would be to turn that information into a roadmap for the future. If all goes well, the TDA could renew Breedlove’s contract for a second year or hire him as an employee.
“A lot of the skills I acquired as mayor will definitely be useful,” Breedlove said. “Project management, keeping this on a tight deadline.”
Breedlove won’t be wearing the mayor’s title for much longer, however. He has sent his resignation to the town board, which will also mean stepping down from the two boards he serves on. He plans to leave The Sylva Herald by early January. His contract stipulates that he can’t hold any job that could be seen as constituting a conflict of interest, though Breedlove said that’s not why he’s resigning those roles. Time is the bigger issue.
“The reason I’m stepping down from these four roles is to focus solely on promotion of Jackson County,” he said. “I want to do one thing and do it extremely well, so to do that I want all my attention to be focused.”
Because, for Breedlove, promoting Jackson County will be more than just a job.
“I don’t just reside here. This place is home to me and I absolutely love it,” he said. “I can’t think of a place I would rather live than Jackson County.”
The timeline toward a TDA director
• Dec. 2012: The Jackson County Tourism Development Authority forms, using a board of directors but no paid staff.
• April 2014: The TDA forms an exploratory committee to look into the possibility of hiring a fulltime director.
• Spring 2015: The TDA decides to hire the director as a one-year contracted job, not as an employee, and agrees on a scope of work to publish with a request for proposals.
• Aug. 2015: The bid submission period closes.
• Oct. 2015: The search committee conducts a first round of interviews with the five bidders.
• Nov. 2015: After a second round of interviews with the top two candidates, the search committee recommends Nick Breedlove for the job.
• Dec. 2015: The TDA votes unanimously to award Breedlove the one-year contract, paying $54,000 in monthly installments.