Bluegrass Today’s Terry Herd shared this profile of Karen Miller Porter, with whom he has worked for several years in her capacity as Executive Director of the Owensboro/Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau, a position she has just vacated.
Bluegrass music fans have always had a special bond with Kentucky, and for good reason; it is the original home of the International Bluegrass Music Association, the International Bluegrass Music Museum, the IBMA Hall of Honor and until 2005, was the first and only state to host the IBMA World of Bluegrass, a distinction it held for 15 years.
Not to mention being the birthplace of Bill Monroe, whose home state nickname has been used to describe the music for more than 60 years.
Kentucky, and especially the city of Owensboro have never wavered in their efforts to carry the torch for bluegrass music, and for the past 5 1/2 years, they’ve had a strong champion working the front lines.
As Executive Director of the Owensboro/Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Karen Miller Porter was enlisted in September of 2007, at a time when the city was facing a number of challenges, most notably a shortage of hotel rooms and the uncertain future of its primary convention facility, entertainment center and hotel, the Executive Inn – the same venue that hosted the the IBMA’s annual gathering in the early years. “You had to have a real good reason to come to Owensboro”, said Porter, “we simply weren’t viewed as a prime destination.”
To make matters worse, in June the following year the Executive Inn closed its doors for good and Owensboro was faced with the loss of some 600 rooms. “We were already dealing with a lodging shortage, but this really hurt,” said Porter.
One of her primary goals was to refocus marketing efforts to celebrate the inherent strengths of the community. First up, the promotion of the area as a prime destination for bluegrass music and sports. During that time, she was asked to serve as chair for the 13 county area known as the Bluegrass, Blues and Barbecue Region of Western Kentucky. She also served on the Kentucky Festivals & Events Association, which gave her unique insight into the challenges many of the promoters were facing.
“One of the most gratifying things has been working with the many individuals who put together festivals and events, supporting their efforts to bring in visitors from outside the region, and to share all the wonderful things we have to offer here. We’re very fortunate because we have so many entrepreneurs who have been willing to put their money on the line to help our region grow.”
As a result of her efforts and those of her colleagues, the region has recorded steady economic growth every year since she took office, including a 4.4% increase in 2012 – the largest in 41 years. Porter expects when 2013’s tourism numbers are in, they will be even higher.
That growth has also been reflected in Owensboro’s annual ROMP Bluegrass Festival, which logged 20,000 attendees in 2012 according to Gabrielle Gray, event organizer and IBMM Executive Director. More are expected at the three day event which gets underway June 27th.
In a bold move to promote the Bill Monroe Centennial in 2011, Porter concentrated marketing efforts on a multi faceted campaign that included social media, print and national radio. She also reserved space on a large electronic billboard in the heart of New York City’s Times Square where millions saw Mr. Monroe’s image prominently displayed during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Her efforts were rewarded at the annual Kentucky Travel Industry Association convention in 2011, when she received the industry’s highest award “Best in Show.” Her campaign promoting the Bill Monroe Centennial overtook many created by highly respected agencies costing tens of thousands of dollars. It was a great evening for bluegrass music and the Bluegrass, Blues and Barbecue Region.
Today the landscape looks much different than it did 6 years ago. Owensboro currently has around 900 hotel rooms, still shy of it’s peak, but the construction of two new hotels and a state of the art convention center are underway. The city also recently completed a 20+ million dollar renovation of the riverfront area, and good progress has been reported on the proposed 10 million dollar International Bluegrass Music Center.
Throughout her roughly 6 year tenure, Porter has been a key player in the growth and prosperity of the region. Her efforts were acknowledged recently with a special citation signed and presented by Representative Tommy Thompson and Kentucky House Speaker Gregory Stumbo.
Friday, May 31 was Porter’s last day in her role as Executive Director for the Owensboro/Daviess County CVB, but her contribution will be enjoyed by visitors to the region for many years to come, especially bluegrass fans. And the region itself will no doubt enjoy much prosperity from the projected 33 million dollar economic impact of bluegrass music over the next 24 months.