The meetings will start in Marion on Jan. 11, and continue with town meetings in Johnston City, Carterville and Herrin. The tourism bureau will follow-up the four community meetings with a county-wide meeting in March at the Pavilion.
"This is about creating new jobs, improving our quality of life, community development, historic preservation, whatever," explained Jon Musgrave, Williamson County’s new tourism director. "These meetings will be as broad or as focused as the people of this county want them to be."
"You see, there’s not much difference between tourism development and community development. For the first we are putting together a plan to get people to come visit our communities. For the second, we’re trying to get people to stay and settle," said Musgrave.
The Williamson County Tourism Board set a goal in November for a 50 percent increase in tourism expenditures over the next five years.
In 2005, the latest year the statistics are available, tourists spent $84 million in the county. In terms of employment tourists already support 840 jobs in Williamson County according to state estimates.
"There’s a number of new developments taking place in the region and educating everyone about those will be the first part of the community meetings," said Musgrave. "Next we'll break into small groups and brainstorm, both to identify existing problems hampering or preventing tourism development, as well as generate ideas for new proposals."
"We won't be looking at feasibility or costs in the first round. At this point we're just looking for ideas, and that’s something in which everybody can participate," Musgrave added.
While the tourism bureau will be especially working to attract representatives of the area’s tourist service providers – lodging operators, restaurants, tour guides, artists, etc. – to the meetings, Musgrave stressed members of the general public should feel welcome to attend.
"We need that. We need input from everyone," said Musgrave. "The bike trail we might propose for tourism is also the bike trail that would be used and enjoyed by local residents every day."
Meeting dates and locations are as follows:
- Jan. 11 – Marion, at the Williamson County Pavilion.
- Jan. 25 – Johnston City at the Johnston City Community Building.
- Feb. 1 – Carterville at the Carterville Community Center in Cannon Park.
- Feb. 15 – Herrin at the Herrin Civic Center.
- March 1 – County-wide meeting in Marion at the Williamson County Pavilion.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with the meetings to start at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome.
Following the first county-wide meeting a committee will be formed to help pull the proposals together for the overall tourism development plan. Once that is finished a second county-wide meeting will be held to unveil the proposals.