OWENSBORO, Ky. (4/24/13) – After almost six years at the helm of the Owensboro region’s tourism and marketing development efforts, Karen Miller Porter is ready for new opportunities, more time with her family, and at a point with the tourism industry in Owensboro where she feels she’s “leaving it in the best situation that I can.”
Porter had worked with the Owensboro/Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau in the past, but returned to head the agency in August 2007 after serving for two years as director of the Kentucky State Parks department. Of course, as many people can recall, it was a different world in 2007 than it is today, in terms of tourism and the economy. 2008 saw the near-collapse of the housing market and a resulting economic ripple effect that crippled business and industry for nearly three years. Porter said looking back on everything that happened in Owensboro during that time, she was in the right place at the right time to help Owensboro and Daviess County overcome the challenges the housing bubble created.
“I did my first year budget in 2008, and I asked myself, ‘What would I do if the Executive Inn closed?’” Porter said. “The great fear was that we would lose one third of the room tax.”
In fact, the Executive Inn did close during that time, and Porter said the result was the loss of not only one of the city’s best tourism attractions due to its size and amenities, but also about 500 rooms that were normally rented out to people visiting the city during the summer months.
“We lost convention and meeting business,” Porter said. “It was our destination. The Executive Inn was a reason a lot of people came to Owensboro.”
Porter’s approach was to work with residents in the community willing to create opportunities for people to come to Owensboro. Sports marketing, she said, became one of the main focuses that year.
“We did sports marketing in house in March 2008,” she said. “It enabled us to direct our focus on sports marketing and we went after tournaments that fit our community – tournaments that didn’t cost huge bid fees. It was a smart move. I didn’t know how smart it was at the time. People may give up their vacation, but they’re going to the tournament.”
The other shift in focus involved more community support of festival events.
“It became a community-wide marketing effort,” she said. “We really hung our hat on that.”
Continuing the tradition of community supported festivals is critical to the success of Owensboro and Daviess County’s tourism for the next few years, Porter said. Events like ROMP, the BBQ festival, Street Legends, Friday After 5, and other attractions will help the investments being made in the downtown area produce a positive result for the city and county.
Porter said between the River Park Center, the addition of two new hotels, and the new convention center in the downtown area, the result of the downtown renovation is going to introduce “a whole new world on what Owensboro’s going to be able to do.”
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had top property” on the Riverfront,” she said. “Visitors want an experience when they come, and we’re going to be able to offer that in a way we haven’t been able to do that before.”
The decision to retire was a difficult one, Porter admitted, but the right one.
“The timing is right,” she said. “I’m blessed to have had this opportunity. I have a great staff. We’re very passionate and committed. I’m leaving it in the best situation that I can.”
Porter said she plans to still be involved but wants to spend more time with her family, which includes children and grandchildren who live out-of-state. She quickly added that she is “looking for some new opportunities” as well.
When asked what advice she might have for the next executive director of the tourism bureau, Porter said the key to success for any candidate is to “understand the community.”
“I think that’s really important: to get a feel for the community, and really, truly be a part of the community,” she said.
Porter’s official retirement date is Aug. 1. In a statement, the Bureau’s Board of Directors said it is “grateful for her innumerable contributions to this community.” The board will begin accepting applications upon its completion and review of a job description. A timetable for selecting a replacement hasn’t been announced.
Photo provided by Dennis Beard
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