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Porter retiring as tourism director (Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.)

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 12--Karen Miller Porter will retire as executive director of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau on Aug. 1 -- six weeks before her sixth anniversary in the post.

"I'm just ready," she said Thursday. "I'm looking forward to doing other things in the community. I want to spend time with my parents, and there are other things I want to do."

Porter recently married County Attorney Claud Porter.

"I don't think people realize the great job Karen did leading the CVB through the Great Recession and the blow the community suffered from the closing of the Executive Inn," Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said. "She did a great job, and she will be missed."

The Executive Inn Rivermont, the city's largest hotel, and its convention center closed in June 2008 -- nine months after Porter was hired to head the county's tourism agency.

And the Great Recession hit at the end of 2008.

Hotel revenues in Owensboro plummeted 8 percent -- from $13.9 million to $12.8 million -- that year.

"We've certainly been extremely happy to have had Karen at the helm through this period," Rick Hobgood, the CVB's board chairman, said Thursday. "She was the right person for the job."

"I had some great board chairs who saw us through some difficult times," Porter said. "But I think I was the right person at the right time."

She's leaving at a time when a new $39.5 million convention center and a $20 million hotel are under construction downtown -- and another $14 million hotel is about to break ground next door.

But even without those amenities, the city's tourism industry has roared back in recent years.

Last year, the Kentucky Department of Travel and Tourism said direct tourism spending in Daviess County jumped 7.6 percent in 2011 to $164.5 million. Total spending here, the report said, grew from $240.3 million in 2010 to $258.6 million.

And in July 2012, the CVB reported its best year in more than a decade.

The agency, funded by a 3 percent tax on local hotel room rentals, finished the fiscal year that ended on June 30 that year with a $78,430 surplus.

"We had a banner year," Porter said at the time.

Mattingly noted that Porter is highly respected in the tourism industry.

Last year, she was named member of the year by the Kentucky Travel Industry Association, which said she "distinguished herself by making outstanding contributions to KTIA and its mission of promoting Kentucky tourism."

Porter had served on the organization's board as communications chairwoman for the past four years.

In 2011, the local CVB won the KTIA's Best in Show award for its yearlong Bill Monroe centennial campaign.

Mattingly cited Porter's decision in 2010 to spend $15,000 to put a 15-second ad on a digital billboard in New York City's Times Square to promote the 2011 Bill Monroe Centennial in Owensboro as an example of her expertise in promoting the community.

The ad in Times Square ran 18 times a day for 48 days from Nov. 15, 2010, to Jan. 1, 2011 -- the busiest time of the year for the area that bills itself as the "Crossroads of the World."

In the past year, Porter helped create a new hospitality association with members from hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and other groups that deal with visitors to the community.

She was also instrumental in creating a housing bureau for the community.

The bureau, actually a website, will let people attending festivals, conventions and other major events here to book hotel rooms, buy tickets and find out what else is happening in town with one-stop shopping.

And Porter secured an invitation for Daviess County to become a part of Bourbon Country, a 6-year-old organization that promotes bourbon-related travel to Kentucky.

The CVB's news release about Porter's retirement says it "will bring to a close a remarkable career of service to the tourism industry both locally and at the state level."

Porter started her career 48 years ago as a 10-year-old, taking tickets, waiting tables and cleaning restrooms at her family's Windy Hollow campgrounds, racetrack and restaurant in western Daviess County.

She later developed and hosted OCTV's 51 Magazine television show, handled public relations for the Big River Arts and Crafts Festival at Audubon State Park in Henderson and was one of the organizers of the old Owensboro-Daviess County Motorsports Festival.

Eleven years ago, she joined the CVB as marketing and communications manager, holding that post for 2 1/2 years before moving to Frankfort in 2005 to become director of marketing for the Kentucky Department of Parks.

Over the next two years, she redesigned the department's website, developed the state's "Unbridled Spirit" gift card and expanded the state parks' marketing.

"We are so fortunate to find someone like Karen who has tourism experience on the local, regional and state level with a passion for the Owensboro-Daviess County region with enthusiasm and high energy," the CVB Board Chairman Larry Mayfield said when she was hired as executive director.

Porter, the 41-year-old agency's fifth director, succeeded Burley Phelan, who retired after 22 years in the post.

Don Butler became the agency's first full-time director in October 1972. He was followed by Bonnie Voyles and Mary Donna Martin before Phelan was hired in 1985.

All were hired from inside the community.

But Hobgood said he expects the CVB to conduct a national search this time.

"I think this position will be highly sought after," he said, "with all the things the city and county are doing."

That includes a $68 million renovation of Smothers Park that has made it a magnet for visitors to the community.

The new hotels and convention center are also expected to be a big draw.

"We have tough shoes to fill," Hobgood said. "And we want to make sure we find the right person for the job. We also want to look at what other CVBs across the country are doing and be planning for the next 25 to 50 years."

He said he expects the board to go into closed session Tuesday to discuss the hiring process.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,


(c)2013 the Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Ky.)

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