News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Kevin Landrigan, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 25, 2004 - CONCORD, N.H. -- Gov. Craig Benson has nominated a former Manchester hotel executive to run the state agency that oversees state parks, job creation and tourism.
Sean O'Kane of Groton, Mass., is Benson's pick to replace George Bald of Somersworth as the new commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development.
From January 1997 until this month, O'Kane was the general manager of the Center of New Hampshire Holiday Inn, the largest convention hotel north of Boston.
Benson said O'Kane is the right choice because he has been in the hospitality industry for years and gotten to know corporate executives who sponsor workshops and conferences at his hotel.
"He touches a lot of the bases. I think he'll do an awesome job," Benson told reporters.
Bald is expected to become the next executive director of the Pease Redevelopment Authority.
Councilor Ruth Griffin, R-Portsmouth, protested Benson's decision, given that Bald has not formally entered a letter of resignation.
"I am uncomfortable with this," she said.
Benson said Bald will not make his departure official until the Pease board of directors holds its meeting in early April.
"I will not be asking for his nomination until I get a letter of resignation from George Bald," he said.
Attempts to reach O'Kane for comment Wednesday were not successful.
But O'Kane said in a statement that there are parallels between his work in the hotel industry and the demands of his new job, if he wins confirmation by the Executive Council.
"You have to be welcoming, provide good services, foster relationships, and create a friendly environment. I look forward to the opportunity to sustain and promote New Hampshire's tremendous resources," O'Kane said.
Democratic Party leaders are still holding out hope that Bald might decide to run for governor.
Benson said O'Kane is available to take the state job, since the Holiday Inn he ran is now under new management as part of the Radisson Hotel chain.
While Bald said he would stay on until a replacement is chosen, Benson said he felt an urgency to name a successor.
"There is a lot of angst due to the (spring) tourism season starting and parks opening up," Benson said.
"George did a great job, and Sean has some big shoes to fill. I think the sooner we do this the better." While O'Kane ran the hotel, sales increased by 40 percent and it showed a profit of "6 to 10 percent" every year, ending more than a decade when it was in the red.
Executive Councilor Raymond Wieczorek, R-Manchester, said he is sold on the choice.
"I've known Sean for a while. He's really brought the Center of New Hampshire back, and he has a good way about him that I think will be popular at DRED," he said.
O'Kane's nomination won praise from the New Hampshire Travel Council, where he has served as a member since 1999.
"Sean O'Kane has been a strong leader in the tourism industry and has the communication skills and respect from the businesses of the state," said Peter Frid, council chairman and chief executive officer of New Hampshire Public Television.
O'Kane is past chairman of the board for the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, whose president, Paul Hartgen, also praised the choice.
He also is chairman of the board for the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and holds a seat on the board of the New Hampshire Political Library.
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(c) 2004, The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.