The Twin Engines of Tourism and Economic Development, with Connie Stopher and Melissa Barry

Episode 117

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Connie Stopher serves as Executive Director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization. In this role, she oversees the business and talent recruitment for a seven-county region. Since taking on the role of executive director in 2017, the southern Idaho region has experienced nearly $500 million in business expansions and nearly thousands of new jobs created. Previously, Connie served as the executive director of the South Coast Development Council in Coos Bay, Oregon, and as the economic development specialist at Bannock Development in Pocatello, Idaho. In both of those roles, Connie enjoyed the opportunity to create new business retention and expansion programs that helped revitalize struggling communities and assist existing and new businesses. Melissa Barry is the Executive Director of Southern Idaho Tourism. She is responsible for developing and promoting tourism and recreation in southern Idaho and helping to strike the balance between economic impact and environmental stewardship. Since taking the leadership role at Southern Idaho Tourism, lodging collections have risen from historically flat numbers to double-digit increases. Southern Idaho Tourism, has received multiple national press stories, and partner approval rating is at 94 percent. Prior to joining Southern Idaho Tourism, Melissa managed the marketing department at Cabela’s, the world’s foremost outfitter. On this episode, I talk with Connie and Melissa about how tourism and economic development go hand-in-hand, and some specific partnerships that they have forged in their region. From recruiting people to live and work to inviting visitors without damaging the natural resources that draw people to a region in the first place, working together with all potential stakeholders is the only way to really get the job done.  

What You Will Learn on this Episode:

  • A “best-kept secret” pitch for talent recruitment 
  • Strategies you can use to marketing your region
  • How to get locals to become tourism cheerleaders
  • Ways stakeholders can manage visitor impact on natural resources
  • How to grow tourism in rural areas

Tourism as Economic Driver

Tourism and economic development can get siloed, hampering the collaboration that can happen and boost a region economically. For Connie and Melissa, that means working together. For instance, they might combine their video promotion budgets to create a better end product than each could have done separately. Or what if tourism agencies and local chambers of commerce work in conjunction with each other? In some areas, this is a stretch, but it shouldn’t be. There is a synergy that can happen when local communities welcome visitors, new residents, and new businesses to the region. When all of that happens together, communities thrive.

Tourism in Rural Areas

Why would anyone want to visit? That can be the sentiment from locals who don’t realize the beauty and wonder of their own backyard. Connie and Melissa share how sometimes they need a little bit of help in identifying the assets they have, even in the smallest of communities. It comes down to realizing that they have assets that are worthwhile for visitors to see and participate.


Nicole Mahoney 00:24 Hello listeners, this is Nicole Mahoney, host of Destination on the Left, I am passionate about travel and tourism and love learning from the experiences of professionals in the industry. That is why I’m so excited to introduce today’s guests. Two guests, Connie stouffer and Melissa Berry.

Nicole Mahoney 00:35 Connie serves as the executive director of the southern Idaho economic development. In this role, she oversees the business and talent recruitment for a seven county region. Since taking on the role of executive director in 2017, the southern Idaho region has experienced nearly $500, million in business expansions and nearly 1000 new jobs created. Connie has also managed the growth of the s I e d o team from a one and a half person operation to a four person team and a little over a year creating new programs and services to assist communities and businesses throughout the region. Previously, Connie served as the executive director of the South Coast Development Council in Coos Bay, Oregon, and as the economic development specialist at bannock development in Pocatello, Idaho. In both of those roles, Connie enjoyed the opportunity to create new business retention and expansion programs that helped revitalize struggling communities and assist existing and new businesses.

Nicole Mahoney 01:37 Connie has her ba in political science and her MPA from Idaho State University where she specialized in state and local government and nonprofits. County has over 10 years of experience in economic development, human resources and organizational management and economic development. She is focused on business retention and expansion, entrepreneurship and international trade. We’re also joined today by Melissa Berry, Executive Director for South Idaho tourism. Melissa is the director of southern Idaho tourism. She has a bs in resource recreation and tourism from the University of Idaho and 12 years of marketing experience. She is responsible for developing and promoting tourism and recreation in southern Idaho and helping to strike the balance between economic impact and environmental stewardship. Since taking the leadership role at southern Idaho tourism lodging, collections have risen from historically flat numbers to double digit increases. Southern Idaho has received multiple national press stories and partner approval. Rating is at 94 percent. Region four has been noted as an extremely successful model to other regions in the state of Idaho and locally.

Nicole Mahoney 02:53 Prior to joining southern Idaho tourism, Melissa manage the marketing department and the largest and most profitable at Cabela’s, the world’s foremost outfitter. Melissa was chosen for leadership and Cabela’s at first district pilot. Her lonestar district team was known for cutting edge campaigns, community engagement, and a focus on customer service. They were recognized internally is the highest performing region and earned awards from Dallas Safari Club, Texas parks and Wildlife, Texas team trail and many others. Melissa has also held tourism marketing positions with Idaho state parks and recreation and the National Park Service. Thank you for joining me, Connie and Melissa. I’m really excited and looking forward to our conversation today and to hear of all about the things that you’re doing in southern Idaho. Um, but before we get started, I find it so much better and gives us so much more context to our conversation for us to hear your story in your own words. So let’s start with you connie, if you wouldn’t mind telling us a little bit about your journey and how you got to where you are today.

Connie Stopher: 03:54 Sure. Thank you for having us. So I started my career by going to school at Iowa State University in Pocatello, Idaho, which is in eastern Idaho and I studied political science for my bachelor’s and got a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in state and local government and kind of fell into economic development there and practiced economic development there for a number of years. And then I moved to the Oregon coast and was the executive director of a regional economic development agency there that covered half of the Oregon coast from about the middle, mid point to the California border and I was there for about three years and then came back to southern Idaho. Idaho has a way of pulling people back in and I’ve been here for just about two years practicing economic development and I cover eight counties and a number of communities within those counties and in practice economic development and market the region here.

Nicole Mahoney 04:44 That’s really awesome and I’m super excited to have you on, as we were saying in our preinterview chat and to to hearing the economic development perspective for our tourism audience and tourism professionals. I think you’re going to lend such a such great insight to the conversation, but I’m equally as excited to also have sitting right next to you. Melissa Berry, the tourism director for southern Idaho some. Alyssa, can you share a little bit with us about your story and your background and how you got to where you are today?

Melissa Barry: 05:12 Yes. Thank you so much for having me today. I really appreciate it. It’s an honor to be on your show. I’m ever since I was young, I always wanted to be in tourism. It was very glamorous. I’m very adventurous, sketch experience new cultures, so when thinking about where to go for college, I wanted to stay in state for obvious financial reasons, but also I wanted to make sure I got a really high quality degree. And so university of Idaho had a really fantastic program where they partnered with Washington State University for their hospitality department and so I decided to go into a there for their program and when I got there, fortunately they got some of the paperwork mixed up and I got put into kind of their natural resources, um, portion of tourism. So while they were working on figuring out their paperwork and trying to get all those little pieces put back together, I decided to go to a few of the classes and found that it was really intriguing.

Melissa Barry: 06:05 There was a lot of information that I don’t think has maybe taught in a traditional hospitality class. So getting kind of that environmental stewardship piece involved with tourism and how people in their day use and you know, backpacking trips and things along those lines. Um, so many of our tourism assets are really natural resource based. It’s really based on the natural beauty and you know, what we have or outdoor recreation and so it’s good to know what that impact is from a tourism standpoint because we want to make sure there’s a good balance between growth as well as being kind of the steward of our environment. So I think that was a really good eye opening piece and then from there, you know, coming back to my home area to be able to promote. I’m southern Idaho has been an extreme honor on my side. Um, I never thought this is where I would end up being able to go other places and come back to where I, I currently am, um, was really eyeopening to what we have to offer here. And so on that end, you know, I spent a lot of years marketing for different programs and companies, um, and to be able to kind of take all that and pull it together to not only make sure that our area is protected naturally, but also shared with the world is a really unique opportunity and I really enjoy it.

Nicole Mahoney 07:18 That’s great. I love that. I always love it when I’m two things about what you just shared, actually, first of all, that you had this pull to, to be in tourism. A lot of our guests actually accidentally find their way into tourism, right? But you actually kind of as, as a in your younger years, had this poll to explore that as, as a profession, but then accidentally you end up in these classes, this natural resources class and how that, um, or track if you will and how that kind of actually propelled you to be where you are today. I just think that’s really awesome and I love how, you know, our journeys. You never quite know where it’s going to take you, but it all sort of really lines up in the end. Right. So I think that’s great. Um, so before I dive into the questions, I’m Connie, I just wanted to have you talk a little bit about, you mentioned, you know, that you’re, you have eight counties in southern Idaho. Can you talk a little bit about your organization and kind of, um, just to give our listeners some context about, you know, the geography of where you are and kind of the structure of what your organization and your role is in that area.

Connie Stopher: 08:25 Sure. So I cover southern Idaho and it’s really south central Idaho and we cover eight counties. Counties across the country are different sizes and so that could be a really small footprint or a really large footprint like I cover. And so, um, it’s about, I’d say close to 200 miles from end to end in every direction if I was to guesstimate. So it’s a pretty large geographic footprint, um, and very diverse in both the size of communities and the natural resources and assets that those have. So we have some communities, um, our largest community is twin falls, Idaho, which has about 50,000 people and has a community college, lots of big box retail shopping and lots of natural adventures to have and lots of high end hotels and things like that for visitors. And then we have communities that are really, really tiny and have 300 people in them but are no less beautiful or no less rich in natural resources to explore, but they may have a little bit less, um, resources to them as far as for the visitor, but that also can lend itself to a different kind of adventure in trip for that particular visitor.

Connie Stopher: 09:32 And so from a tourism perspective, I think we have a lot of different experiences just within that geographical footprint. And as far as my organization goes, we were founded in 2001 to be a regional marketing agency for the southern Idaho region, but marketing, not for tourism, but for economic development and so forth. Primarily business recruitment. And so bringing in big industry and big businesses to the area. And we’ve been pretty successful at that over the years. Before I came on board, the organization recruited Chobani and they built the largest yogurt processing facility in the world in twin falls, Idaho. They recruited a Clif bar for their first. I’m baking facility in the United States and a number of other large employers in the region. And then just recently, over the past year, we’ve started doing talent recruitment, so trying to get people to move to the region because we have too many jobs and not enough people to fill all those jobs and so it’s a nice problem to have, but we realized as we start looking at recruiting talent to the region, it really lends itself to that tourism and because it’s usually for lifestyle reasons, they want to have a great quality of life.

Connie Stopher: 10:36 And it also lends itself really well to business recruitment too, because when people come to relocate a business, they’re also relocating people, um, and they’re going gonna have to love to live where they, where they are and where that new business is going to be located in. So making sure that we’re partnering well with our tourism, um, agency here in southern Idaho makes a lot of sense and it’s, I think, brought more synergy to what we do in economic development to make sure that we’re thinking about tourism as a recruitment tool but also as an economic driver.

Nicole Mahoney 11:05 Yeah, I think that’s such a great point. And, um, I just love that you pointed that out on the tailored talent recruitment side and how important, you know, tourism is not just to the economy but also to your ability to recruit folks to live there and how closely tied it as to quality of life. I think that’s a really great. I’m looking forward to exploring that more with you and Melissa, before we, again, before we dive into the questions, is your tourism region the same as the economic development region or do you have different boundaries? How does your organization structure? It’s mostly the same. Um, we do have a little bit where seven counties instead of eight counties, but essentially the same footprint. Um, the South Central Idaho area region, [inaudible] oh, that’s great. Um, we’re in New York state and our economic development regions don’t usually actually with our tourism regions, so I was curious to know and that always brings a whole new set of challenges as to how you aligned with, with, uh, with folks and work together.

Nicole Mahoney 12:04 So that’s really awesome. Well, the first topic that we like to cover on our show is creativity. And I’m sure both of you have some really good insights on this and, and uh, we’ll start with you connie, in terms of, you know, what types of things have you seen out there? Um, I mean it is a very competitive environment, not just for tourism, but also in your case, talent recruitment and business recruitment. And what types of things have you seen, um, that have really helped you kind of stand out from the crowd or are you doing.

Connie Stopher: 12:37 Yeah. So we, we try to, in our region, we were pretty lucky. All of our communities really are champions for the other one. But at the same time we’re very competitive with each other. One of our local city manager says economic development is a bloodsport. And so the same time, if, you know, we all are one of our communities, it’s the project that the other one doesn’t work this super glad, you know, everybody wants it in their community first and if it doesn’t get in their community, the region, it doesn’t get into our region than in, at least in the state of Idaho. And if it doesn’t go in Idaho, that we don’t really care, but I’m try to be complimentary to each other and be creative in the ways that we work to recruit projects to the area, but then also think about how do our assets align with each other.

Connie Stopher: 13:20 Um, as far as tourism goes, some of our assets would be the snake river, which runs through a lot of our communities. And so it’s an asset that a lot of them have. And if you’re going to have an adventure in one community on the snake river, you can have a similar adventure on that river anywhere else. But it also can be very different. You can have a really relaxing standup paddleboard trip and part of the river and then have a crazy, exciting whitewater trip on a different part of the river. And so I think in some ways the way we market the region can be, has been kind of a little bit of a creative endeavor to figure out how do we sell that one asset in different ways to different visitors. And then, um, you know, as far as creativity and we try to, you know, I think the out of the box a little bit about how we sell our region, I’m one of the, we put out a video last year for talent recruitment that said don’t come here.

Connie Stopher: 14:12 Um, and it was kind of sells off the idea that idahoans I love the state so much, but we also don’t want too many people to come and spoil it. And so I get that a lot in economic development when people were like, well, I hope you’re successful in what you do but don’t bring too many people here. And so that’s a hard challenged to have when you’re trying, when you’re job is to bring people here either for tourism or for economic development. So we were, we kind of just went with that and, and put out a video that highlighting how beautiful and exciting that region is. Then we’re like, yeah, maybe don’t come. And so it was kind of something we tried to be creative about, um, and say, um, that it’s a unique,

Melissa Barry: 14:52 special place and come here if you love that sort of thing but don’t spoil it. And so, um, I think that was something that we did different this last year.

Nicole Mahoney 15:00 Yeah, I love that kind of playing off of what might be perceived as a negative right and really playing it up as a positive and I can see how that would really talk to a certain type of person that likes, likes, that kind of atmosphere and like, you know, the smaller crowds in the smaller towns and the natural beauty that you have. And um, and I would be drawn to that. So I think that’s a great example. I love that. And I’m Melissa, I’m wondering what types of tourism programs or campaigns have you done that really have helped you stand out, uh, from the crowd in terms of visitors and attracting visitors to the area?

Melissa Barry: 15:36 Yes. I think, you know, kind of what Connie was saying, we try to partner with them as much as possible to make sure that we’re highlighting all these different places. Um, I think, you know, we really try to capitalize on some of our better known assets. So social and falls, um, we have a number of national park properties in our region and so that’s a really fantastic pool on a national audience. Um, but I think what Connie touched on about the fact that, you know, we’re kind of this unknown area, um, and to be able to let people know about it and kind of a cheeky way is a fun way to put a spin on some of the, um, perceptions that maybe people have about Idaho. Unfortunately, we just don’t have kind of that national awareness. But a lot of people when they talk about Idaho, they think about potatoes or, um, a few years ago the blue turf was a really important aspect because, you know, we were really doing well with Boise State University and the football scene there.

Melissa Barry: 16:29 Um, but other than that, you know, Idaho performs just as well as many of the other Pacific northwest when it comes to outdoor recreation. Um, and I think, you know, when we look at how to stand out from a crowd, I’m providing that high quality visuals that shows what we have is extremely important. Being inspirational. I’m talking about all the different activities that there are to do here. When you look at all the outdoor recreation, it really comes down to the only thing that we’re missing is an ocean. And yet even then we have wave parks that people can go surfing on and plenty of people do wake surfing. So there’s lots of things to do. Um, it’s just a matter of getting more people aware of that fact, but in a, a nice, balanced way. Connie touched on it as well, that we have a very strong, fierce independence culture here. Um, people, you know, they came and they were pioneers and they enjoyed their independence. And so we need to make sure that we’re cognizant of that and that as we promote, we’re responsible with how we bring people here and how we introduce the world to Idaho and southern Idaho.

Nicole Mahoney 17:34 Yeah, I think, uh, I think those are great examples and I love how you kind of are thinking about yourself like you were part of the Pacific northwest and what does that, what does that experience deliver and then how do we deliver as part of that experience and how do we differentiate as part of that experience as well. Um, I think that that’s just a really great way to, to look at it. Um, I’m curious, I wanted to back up a little bit, kind of you had mentioned some of the larger companies that um, you know, that had come into your region, food companies, Chobani, and then cliff bar. Is there synergy then with your food scene as, as you have brought these types of food producers in or does that, does that play any part into, into tourism?

Connie Stopher: 18:21 Um, you know, not as much as I think that it could. We have a really strong food scene here. Um, this southern Idaho region is the third largest dairy producer in the country. No, you know, and so just in dairy alone and then you figure I’m all, we’re were the number one trout producer in the world. We have tons of other agricultural products. It’s orchards in, in Greens and of course potatoes, but we have a really diverse food scene here, but a lot of it is big industry. Um, but we’re starting to see, um, I think a resurgence of homegrown local food scene, you know, and we have some new local breweries that are opening up and some local restaurants that are using a lot of local products in there and their food and I think we’re starting to see that grow even more. Um, but, uh, today I think we’ve been a really big, like a big ag kind of kind of place and we’re starting to see that grow a little bit more. And I think, I hope that we see more agritourism because I think there’s a lot of opportunities to see the diversity in, in the ag experience. Either from farm stays or things like that. And Melissa might have more to add on that, on that as well.

Nicole Mahoney 19:31 Yeah. Yeah. What, what is your perception of that, Melissa?

Melissa Barry: 19:35 So I definitely think there’s a market for it. The problem is the timing, unfortunately when a tourist is in the area and wants to see those types of things, it may not always be the best time for the farmer to show, um, when we’re talking about some of the local, um, food spots and that kind of scene. Um, it’s definitely growing and we’re getting a lot more development of people who have small businesses that realize the importance of sourcing locally. Um, there’s a couple of co ops that have been in development to try and get the small town food producers to actually be in the grocery stores and in the restaurants. Um, but again, it’s all a seasonality issues. Um, you know, if they put themselves as a pinnacle of locally sourced and then during the winter time they don’t have availability for certain things. Um, it’s a challenge and it’s something that we’re definitely working on and we would love to see. There’s actually a perfect trail that could be created if we can just make all the little pieces fit together perfectly. And so that’s kind of one of our bigger projects that we’re working towards. Um, especially with the rural economic development group, that CDU I’m overseas as well and so we’re really looking towards, you know, kind of developing that and creating it into actual asset to be able to provide.

Nicole Mahoney 20:48 Yeah, that’s great. And I think, um, you know, product development, like what you’re talking about creating that trail or trying to find those connections is such an important role for both of you. Right. And both of your roles. So I think that was a really great point. So I want to kind of switch our conversation just a little bit because I love to hear from our guests about, um, creative solutions that come when we’re faced with a challenge or some sort of adversity. And um, I, I like to ask each of you if there’s a particular challenge that you’ve faced and then maybe some creativity that came from it. Um, and I’m, I’m actually wondering, and I don’t know if this theme will continue with your answer and that they want to lead your answers and we can come back to this, but the whole idea of that balancing of the natural resources that both of you have talked about, right? And preserving a, you know, preserving this, the small towns and, and the number of people that you have there at the same time trying to attract people there. I’m curious as to what maybe creative solutions you might be working on or, or are aware of, um, to kind of help with that challenge.

Connie Stopher: 21:54 Uh, well, you know, um, I don’t know that there, I think that was a conversation that Melissa and I have been talking about as far as those challenges and I think we’ve been really blessed to not have been faced with too many adverse challenges. I think people here out west kind of just have a can do spirit and figure it out. And, and we’ve been really lucky that uh, there’s been a canyon rim trail developed that goes, you know, a really long distance. And I think in other communities that would be really hard with number of property owners and deciding what to do with that natural resource and, and how do you develop it and not that there’s not some detractors about, about development along the Canyon rim, but it’s been a huge asset that not every community would have been able to figure out how to do that.

Connie Stopher: 22:35 And I think people just came together and did it. And so that’s been really exciting. And um, you know, for me and economic development, if there’s always creative solutions that you have to figure out about how you get a business located and how do you get an industry in a certain location and infrastructure and all of that. But I think for creative solutions, one thing that we have added as far as talent recruitment is really focusing on veterans. And so we’ve been a targeting a lot of our messaging too, millennials, of course, but to veterans as they exit the military. And that’s um, I think when a demographic that is underserved in marketing as far as jobs, lifestyle, location, and in assets that would be of interest to them. And I think one thing that really compels veterans to move out West, particularly the Idaho is kind of, it’s still kind of a little bit the wild west. We kind of let people do what they want to do out here. Um, for example, the Prion Bridge that leads you into twin falls. It’s the only place in the country that you can base jump 365 days a year without a permit. And some people might think that’s crazy, but we’re like, if you’re crazy enough to jump off the bridge, you can do it. We don’t care. So, um, and we recently had a staff member moved here from Pennsylvania and she’s going out

Melissa Barry: 23:46 exploring the, you know, the different trails and wilderness here. And she was like, there’s no fences anywhere. She was just so surprised that we could just go wherever we want. And we’re like, well, yeah, you just said you’re smart enough to go out into the woods. We figured he, he’ll be smart enough to know where to go and so it’s kind of the wild west out here still and I think that really appeals to different people, you know, her looking for a different lifestyle experience and so we’ve been trying to figure out who we are and how do we appeal to people and I think if you’ve lived in Idaho your whole life, you may not realize what you have until you leave. And I was definitely an experience for my husband and I when we left and moved to Oregon and we didn’t realize special treatment had living in Idaho until he left and really what a unique place it is. And so we’ve been trying to, I think, get people here to realize how unique and special it is. Um, and that’s been, I think, a challenge for people who have lived here their whole lives.

Nicole Mahoney 24:35 Absolutely. I think, um, that’s a challenge for, for I think anywhere you live, right? People don’t really realize exactly what they have right in their own backyard. And especially from a tourism perspective, getting the locals to understand and, and cheer on their own local community. You know, I, I love it when you say to somebody, yeah, we’ve got all these visitors coming in. Why would anybody ever come to, well, why would it say I’m Melissa? How about you? Do you have anything to add on the topic of creative solutions?

Melissa Barry: 25:11 Yeah. So, um, we obviously work really closely with most of our natural resources. Outdoor recreation is probably the number one thing to do well in the area. So I’m essentially any type of creative resource that we can come with a new project or product development, I believe strongly in that, you know, we obviously work really closely with the cities and counties and so when we look at all the different assets that we have in the area, some are a little bit more fragile than others and some are a lot more well known and better developed, but then they tend to get more exposure and people start visiting them more. And so it’s important to be able to communicate with the cities and counties and the different stakeholders that have interest in those places. When that comes to mind is blue heart springs. Um, it’s an a beautiful place in small town Hagerman.

Melissa Barry: 25:59 They’re very much catered to a visitors, but at the same time, you know, how that visitor impacts the spring and um, that’s got this beautiful blue bottom and the sand is I’m gorgeous and so it’s really a really unique place to go. But as more visitors come, unfortunately they’ve kind of stirred the waters and we have, um, you know, it’s kind of detracting from the blue water portion of it in the sand. And so we’re really just trying to figure out the best way to handle that and make sure that we can continue to promote it because it is a source of tourism for the Hagerman valley, which they depend very heavily on it. But I’m also protect that as well. I’m one of the other things that we kind of have done that’s a little more creative. I’m just in our terms, we wanted to showcase shoshone falls in a different way.

Melissa Barry: 26:46 You know, as people have seen it over the years, it’s lovingly referred to as the Niagara of the West. And so it’s a beautiful place to go. It’s really seasonally dependent. Um, so during the springtime we can have extremely strong flows and you can go and stand right next to it and you get that thundering power that is similar to Niagara Falls and um, except for it’s in this very stark landscape. So it’s a beautiful, um, view of something that maybe people haven’t experienced before. And so what we did is we ended up deciding to, um, showcase it in a different way and we did a event called lights and lasers. Um, and so we lit it up and we invited people to come in and after our sense. And so we, first of all, I wanted them to explore the park and be a part of it.

Melissa Barry: 27:29 And so it was not only for the visitor, but it was also for the locals to understand how amazing these natural resources are that we have locally. And really appreciate that, you know, we’re pulling people internationally to come and see a waterfall that’s in your backyard and to come explore it and at the same time as the visitor is as well. And so I think it was a great way to kind of couple, um, both the local and the visitor and have them enjoy this amazing light show at one of our most beautiful waterfalls that we have and we do have a lot of waterfalls. So that’s, it’s good that we can kind of showcase those as we continue to grow. Yeah. And I think that lights and lasers show was really amazing because they took an asset that you could usually only experience and enjoy during the day and made it an evening activity for people to go out and see kind of a tech show with the lights and the music and everything on a natural resource. And I think that was just a really different sort of event and it drew in tons of people, busloads and busloads of people.

Nicole Mahoney 28:26 That’s really, that’s really awesome. Yeah, it sounds, it sounds amazing and I think that’s a great example of really kind of thinking outside the box, right? We have this asset and there’s only certain times that you can see it. How do we expand that experience and, and they actually offer a new experience and I love that you engaged the locals in that as well because I’m, hopefully now there’ll be talking about how cool it was set of why would you, why would you come here? So that’s awesome. So I’m going to ask each of you actually, if they’re, you know, looking into the future, is there a project that you are really excited about that you’d like to share with our listeners? And maybe I’ll start with you this time, Melissa.

Melissa Barry: 29:04 Yeah, absolutely. Um, we’re actually really excited. I think Connie mentioned the base jumping or one of the few places in the world that allows base jumpers jump without a permit and so it’s a, I’m a really unique aspects that we have and kind of shows that, you know, fiercely independent, um, wild side. And so it’s, it’s a pretty cool attraction for people. And so what we’re going to do is this fall, we’ll invite many of the professional base jumpers who have kind of been noted as being exceptional in their field and we currently have a miles dasher who is a red bull sponsored base jumper that lives. He’s been a great ambassador for area and he’s going to kind of spearhead this, um, with the help of his wife because she’s kind of the brains behind everything. So we’re very excited to have her help as well.

Melissa Barry: 29:51 Um, but for the most part they’re going to send out invites to the top eight professionals in the world to have them come and be a part of southern Idaho experience it. I’m bring along with them their brand and have that story told as well. And then the day before we’ll actually open it up to, I’m kind of an open jump. Um, there are specific criteria is that will allow. So we need to make sure that obviously they’ve done a certain amount of jumps on that they have insurance coverage that we know, you know, their identification things along those lines. But for the most part will have kind of the celebration of base jumping and again, it’s one of those things that here locally base jumpers, um, we all love them, but then there’s been kind of this, um, maybe not so understanding of their culture and what they’re doing because of course they’re jumping off a bridge.

Melissa Barry: 30:38 Why would you want to jump off a perfectly sound bridge? Um, but you know, when you start to talk to them and listen to the stories that they tell their, you know, they’ve got a lot of former military that are involved in that and that’s one of the ways that they cope with ptsd. Um, there’s lots of really fantastic stories about people who just enjoy the outdoors and the adventure. And so it’s, it’s really amazing to hear those. And even the patrol of the bridge, you know, they’ve, they’ve stopped people from doing things that they probably shunned. And so we really want to take some of those maybe negative understandings and perceptions of what base jumping is and really celebrate it because it is a destination here to do that. And I don’t think our area has capitalized on that yet, so we’re very excited to invite the world in a base shopping sense and, um, see what kind of a experience we’ll have.

Nicole Mahoney 31:26 I think that’s awesome that I, I mean, I love it and so many levels because a, I love the idea of really uncovering those stories and, and what you just shared in terms of not understanding like I don’t know anything about base jumping, right? But I also think it’s a really cool because you keep using the same words both of you do when you talk about your strong, fierce, independent culture, you know, we’re still the wild wild west and I mean you’re really portraying what it’s like to be in Idaho in until, you know, to live there and to experience it, um, you know, through these types of, uh, initiatives. And so I think that that’s just going to be another one that we’re really show off, you know, who you are and what it really is like to be in Idaho. So I think that’s awesome. Um, how about you connie? Uh, is there a project or projects that you’re working on that you’re really excited about?

Connie Stopher: 32:18 Um, well if you. So Melissa mentioned earlier that we have a new rural program. Um, it’s rural economic development services that we’ve added to [inaudible]. So instead of just marketing to bring new business in and to bring new people in, we’re a have expanded our services to help our rural communities grow from within. And so a lot of these rural communities, tourism is going to be their biggest driver for economic success. And so one thing I’m excited about is working with them more to identify their assets where visitors would have a really great time and then help them develop more things in their community to support the visitor experience, whether that’s restaurants or lodging or you know, just other services, you know, shops and things like that. That would be nice amenities for a visitor to come to their communities that they can support. And so we’re excited about making that a little bit more robust in our really small communities because they do have a lot of cool things for visitors. Whether that’s catering through old lava flows or birding and chemists lilies, there’s skiing and snowshoeing and mountain biking. There’s so many things that you can do in these really small communities, kayaking and fishing and just you can do just about anything just in our region alone and so a lot of our communities just need a little bit of help capturing those visitors and identifying their assets and again, it comes down to them realizing that they have assets that are worthwhile for visitors to come and see and we’re excited to help them do that.

Connie Stopher: 33:39 And then we’ve also just recently launched our podcast called secrets out Idaho that we’re excited about because it shines a light on those rural communities and shines a light on those rural Idaho wins that call it home and why do they call it home and and what did they find special about it. And so we’re excited about that too and we’ve only have a couple of episodes out so there’s more that we’ll be highlighting. We have a rodeo cowboy. He’s a millennial and so you don’t think about millennials being cowboys, but we have cowboys here and so I’m talking about what that experience growing up being a cowboy in Idaho and why do they do what they do and why do they love living in Idaho? And so I think just, we’re excited about shining a light on what a special place it is here.

Nicole Mahoney 34:17 Absolutely. And we’ll, we’ll have a link to your podcast in our show notes as well so our listeners can go find it there. Um, but I, I saw that when I was preparing for this interview and I thought that was really, really cool and I’m looking forward to listening myself, so that’ll be great. Yeah. Well those are really exciting projects and um, I’m sure there’s no shortage of things for you to work on, right? But one of the things, and I feel like this whole conversation is we, although we haven’t talked about it directly, is all about collaboration already because I am talking to, you know, the director of economic development and the director of tourism and it’s a topic that I love to explore and especially I’m what I call are I like to call coopertition, which is kind of this perceived competitors come together to actually create bigger winds and they can do on their own. And, and I think you’ve already talked about, we’ve already kind of touched on this quite a bit in our conversation, but I’m wondering if each of you can kind of share a time when a collaboration between competitors or perceived competitors has really worked for you. And maybe we’ll start with you connie.

Connie Stopher: 35:25 Well again, I think that it goes back to that economic development is a bloodsport thing, you know, and every community is buying for the visitor to come see them or for the business to come to their community. And it really work out well when we have something we call ready teams. And so when we have a business coming to town and be pulling those ready teams and that includes city managers from across the region and county commissioners, business leaders in different folks who have a knowledge about the area and its and its infrastructure and things like that. And we work as a region to recruit a business no matter what community is going to. And that’s how we recruited Chobani, that’s how we recruited Clif bar. And they looked at a number of communities in the region and, and settled on their topic, but it wouldn’t have been successful if they didn’t see us as a collaborative area. And even though I’m sure there’s other communities in the region who would have liked to get those, I think they’re also happy that they came and glad and we continue to have that collaboration even though each communities fighting as hard as they can to get a win and in their own communities. And, and that’s really the foundation of our organization and how we work to promote the region and grow economic development.

Melissa Barry: 36:31 Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great example. And I love that, um, blood sport analogy that you shared. I can relate to that. That’s great. How about you, Melissa? Do you have an example of where collaboration has really worked for you? I think Kinda the same thing. Um, we’re set up as a regional organization, so a lot of our small cities, I’m kind of combined with some of our larger cities and you know, we’ve just really tried to work together and make sure that we can expand as far as we can with the limited resources that we have. I think working together is the best way to, um, expand our message on a national platform. Um, we also work really closely with our chambers of commerce. Those are kind of our key contacts in each one of the communities there that are boots on the ground. They really know what’s going on.

Melissa Barry: 37:15 Um, a lot of them are community managers and their own sense of, they’re the ones who put together the events and really know the business climate. And so it’s really easy to kind of pull, um, information from them. We work with them in a, um, cooperative way as well because, you know, a lot of times the DMO can be seen as competition to a chamber. And so the way that we have it structured is that we are additional benefits on top of what the chamber’s provide. So it’s kind of this dual membership that we have that works really, really well. And I’m so not only do we work with the individual businesses, but we also help promote the chambers and their missions as well. And so I think, um, being a smaller community and smaller destination, um, it’s one of the ways that we really kind of push ourselves to the forefront and have been able to attract the people that we have

Connie Stopher: 38:00 and if I could add something to, um, I think that tourism and economic development in a particular region aren’t necessarily competitors, but I think they definitely get siloed because people see it as two different things oftentimes. And so, um, I think one way that we’ve collaborated in the past is combining our budgets when it makes sense for projects. So we’ll both need new photos or new videos to promote the region and so we’ll say I can put this much money in the pot, you can put this much money in the pot and now we can do a lot better projects than we could have done on our own. And I think that’s a, um, something that most regions don’t look at combining economic development with their tourism agencies, uh, to, to leverage their resources a little further. It’s been a good collaboration between the two of us for that.

Nicole Mahoney 38:43 Yeah, and I think that’s a great point that um, you know, competition isn’t necessarily so clear. The city manager and the city manager and they both are trying to attract the same business as it could be. Like you described this whole idea of silos, right? And operating in silos and even with the chambers of commerce, I thought that was a really good point to talk about how you, they’re part of, they’re an asset to you. They’re your boots on the ground there, your community managers and then how you kind of collaborate with them and sort of get around that whole idea of the perception that you could be competing right as, as the DMO versus the chamber. So I think that that’s really great perspective and I appreciate you both sharing that. That’s awesome. Um, and so, uh, before we get to the end of our interview, I do want to ask each of you to kind of share some best practices with how you work within a collaboration. Um, you know, when you’re working with partners that can really be a challenge to manage expectations and get everybody on the same page. So I’m wondering if, um, if you can share with us, Connie, maybe some best practices or some things that you do that you’ve seen that really work and help these collaborations to be more successful.

Connie Stopher: 39:58 I think the key to successful collaboration is just communication and I think that sounds really simple, but in practice isn’t always very simple. Um, when I very first started, we were kind of both tourism and my organization. We’re in the midst of a video project and I think neither of us were super happy with how that video turned out and part of it was I didn’t know what the expectations were for what we wanted out of it because I was new and I didn’t feel empowered to communicate what I wanted or what I thought I should get out of it. And, and then at the end I got the project and I was like, oh, I don’t love this. Not a love with it. And so we don’t really use it very much. We spend all this money on it and don’t love it. And I think if we had, if I had felt more empowered to communicate or at least ask questions about why are we doing this, what is the end goal?

Connie Stopher: 40:42 What are we trying to achieve with this? We might have gotten a better product. Maybe we wouldn’t have with that particular project. But I think communication is always the most important. And if you don’t feel empowered in, in a meeting or in a room to ask the questions, um, you need to work through those relationship issues. And you do need to eat to make the other people in the room feel empowered to share their voices and their ideas because in tourism related, I am not the most creative person in the room and I just know that and I know that about myself and I need the creative brains to feel like they can bounce things off the wall and not be worried about brainstorming sessions and ideas being bad because that’s how we come up with their best ideas. And I think having a real supportive environment, it’s important to have good communication amongst partners.

Nicole Mahoney 41:24 Yeah, I agree. How about, how about you, Melissa? Do you have anything to add to that? For Best Practices and working in partnership like that? I also think communication and being very

Melissa Barry: 41:34 clear about it as extremely important. Um, I think starting off a project with, you know, identified goals and knowing what the end vision is, um, is extremely valuable. I think the vision in general is something that we can all grasp onto and, you know, kind of follow a project all the way to the end. Um, and so having all of those key aspects and then being able to communicate clearly as to what kind of goals have been accomplished, um, you know, if there’s any hangups, things that maybe aren’t going correctly at some point, um, you know, those are always very, very valuable, um, to a um, organization and to making sure that that partnership is successful. And I think when we look at the fact that we are these regional organizations, um, so many people are looking at us to lead that kind of vision or to provide the end goal. And so, um, our jobs ended up being a lot of that communication and making sure that those aspects of the partnership or I’m being delivered on. So I think that would be kind of what I would think is probably the, the best part of what we’ve been able to contribute to these communities.

Nicole Mahoney 42:34 Yeah, absolutely. I think, um, those were all great points and communicate. It does really come down to communication. But I also liked how you talked about, you know, making sure it’s a supportive environment. So you’re feeling, you know, the ability, whether it’s a brainstorming environment or like you just said, Melissa, to talk about things that aren’t going well and to be able to have that constant back and forth. Um, and then also those clear goals and kind of would the vision of, of what the end game is and where you’re trying to get to. I think that was really great advice. So I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. I knew it would be a great one. And um, before we say goodbye, um, I’ll just give you an last opportunity to share anything maybe that I didn’t ask you about that you wanted to share with our listeners or any final words from you, Connie.

Connie Stopher: 43:20 Well, one thing we didn’t touch on in, I don’t want it to be overshadowed by us talking about like the wild west and people don’t want you to come here because one thing that people always say when they come here and they’re shocked at how friendly people are. It’s just a super friendly place. And I think idahoans, if I have a feeling that if you took the time to come to Idaho and experience it, they will embrace you and are just so excited that you found something that they love to. And so I would just encourage people if they want to know more about Idaho to either visit one of our websites or did just come for a visit and see for themselves why it’s so special because they’ll, there’ll be embraced and they come here and they’ll be shocked by how friendly and what a beautiful wild place I’m still exists here.

Nicole Mahoney 43:59 That’s great. How about you, Melissa? Any final words?

Melissa Barry: 44:02 Well, first I’d like to say that was beautifully said, but seriously, uh, we are very friendly people. It’s crazy to me how many times we hear from visitors as they come through the visitor center or as I’m on my travels, um, that we are just a friendly, welcoming people and how people when they come here was not expecting that because, you know, we are a little bit more rural and Idaho has had some interesting press released about it. So for the most part, I think the perceptions don’t always fit with what the people are actually like and um, for many who actually come here and experience it, they’re shocked and they’ve told me many times that were similar to the south, um, with our hospitality and the welcoming and um, just general love of the area and that pride of Idaho. And so it’s, um, it’s pretty amazing to live here and it’s amazing to promote and get people to come here and experience that.

Melissa Barry: 44:52 Um, you know, I think I would just ask that people even get onto google and look at some photos of Idaho because I guarantee you you’re going to be blown away. The, um, the vistas and the diversity and terrain is just amazing. And um, you know, if, if you don’t come necessarily for the outdoor recreation, at least you can come and have some of our fabulous food as well because we have a lot of that. All right. That’s awesome. Well, thank you both very much for taking some time out of your busy schedule and we will look forward to catching up with you. Again. Thank you so much. Yeah, thank you.

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