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Pam Swanner Named Vice President of the Greenville (SC)
 Convention and Visitors Bureau
By Paul Huggins, The Decatur Daily, Ala.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Apr. 28, 2006 - Pam Swanner, who initiated the North Alabama Birding Trail and helped push local tourism to the forefront of industrial development, has accepted a promotion in Greenville, S.C. She will leave her job as executive director of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which she's held since 1997.

The Rogersville native's new job will be vice president of the Greenville Convention and Visitors Bureau. She joins a staff of 13 compared to five in Decatur and will help promote a city she described as 20 years ahead of Decatur as far as downtown redevelopment and convention facilities.

"I did not go looking for this. I've never sent a resume out," she said, noting a colleague recommended her and she accepted after six weeks of prayerful consideration. "I'm terrified," she said. "I'm picking up my life and starting all over again. I don't know a soul up there. But at my age, it was an opportunity that's not going to come knocking very often."

Swanner informed her board of directors Thursday, who were surprised and said she'll be difficult to replace. They will soon begin advertising for the position across the state and perhaps in large markets such as Atlanta, but they didn't expect to have a replacement ready before Swanner leaves June 9.

Jimmy Ray Smith, who was part of the board that hired Swanner, said she was an easy and unanimous decision and Swanner exceeded his expectations. "We have moved so much further than we dreamed with the CVB," he said. Bill Briscoe, the board's longest-serving member, added, "I think we're losing a true professional in the business."

Under Swanner's tenure, Decatur lured its first BASS fishing tournament, which led to many other large tourneys as well as current efforts to develop a new recreational boat harbor capable of hosting bigger events. In recent years, she has diverted more of the bureau's attention toward attracting sports events, like the 2008 world horseshoe pitching tournament. Also several years ago, Swanner initiated the idea of starting a North Alabama Birding Trail to take advantage of a growing, untapped market segment and give Decatur a new tourism draw. She personally rallied 11 other county and city governments to join, as well as local industries and state conservation officials. Next week, Decatur will host the inaugural North Alabama Birding Festival.

The trail, lobbying efforts to pass tourism incentive legislation and leadership to statewide tourism associations have earned Swanner a number of awards. These include the 2003 Tourism Executive of the Year from the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel, 2004 Alabama Hospitality Hall of Fame and the 2005 Tourism Professional of the Year from the Alabama Mountain Lake Association.

Swanner said her favorite accomplishments are the birding trail and partnering with the Decatur-Morgan County Hospitality Association for developing the former Ingalls Iron Works property into a new boat facility. Her biggest disappointment was not getting a riverboat to call Decatur home, but she noted the main obstacle of not having a permanent docking site will be gone when the new boat harbor is complete.

Kim Pritchard, bureau board chairman, credited Swanner for pushing tourism to the forefront of economic development. "I'm not sure there was as broad acceptance as it is today even three years ago," he said. Swanner said the hardest part of leaving is that she won't be involved in Decatur achieving its potential. "That was a big part of my agonizing over this decision," she said. "I think big things are about to break out for Decatur, and I'll miss being part of that process."

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Decatur Daily, Ala.

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