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New tourism office opens



Published: Wed, June 29, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The interim executive director is working on a month-to-month basis.

WARREN -- Opening of the new Trumbull County Tourism & amp; Information office is "a really good foot forward" toward making locals and out-of-towners aware of happenings in all the Mahoning Valley, the interim executive director says.

The refurbished office is at 2931 Youngstown-Warren Road, next to the county board of elections, opened Tuesday after a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Inside, new carpeting, ceiling tile and greenery were donated. There's a new window sign for the office -- "funded by the Board of Commissioners." A large photograph of the Trumbull County Courthouse, as well as some paintings liberated from the county's archives, now hang on the office walls. Brochures and business cards from Trumbull County sites line the countertops.

Taking care of business

Billie Jo Zimmerman, 34, is running things for now, as well as handling tourism duties for a tourism bureau in Mahoning County. She said she has 11 years of experience in the field and was born in Youngstown. "I'll be back and forth between the two of them," she said of offices in both counties.

"Trumbull County commissioners co-op'ed with the Youngstown/Mahoning County visitors bureau -- we're the original bureau for Mahoning County," she explained. "We decided we're all about promoting the Mahoning Valley and that this is a complete region."

Her $1,500 contract with Trumbull County is on a month-to-month basis. "I'm here to help them get this set up and get this rolling," Zimmerman said.

Two summer workers are in the office through August. Hospitality and marketing programs at Youngstown State and Kent State universities will be contacted about internship possibilities later in the year, she said.

Other public relations and community service organizations in Trumbull County, meanwhile, are interested in the office and may submit proposals to commissioners for its operation.

Tax elimination

In May, Trumbull commissioners eliminated the 24-year-old Trumbull County Convention & amp; Visitors Bureau Inc. as the designated recipient of county lodging tax dollars. They established this new Trumbull County Tourism Board to receive 2 percent of those tax dollars. The lodging tax is 4 percent with half of it supporting the Western Reserve Port Authority.

Commissioner Daniel Polivka is the new board's chairman; members are county Treasurer Christ Michelakis and commissioners' clerk Paulette Godfrey.

"It's critical that we get it right," Polivka said of the new venture, which he called an economic engine helping to power efforts bringing people to hotels and motels, luring seminars and other gatherings, as well as motorcoach tours.

In October 2003, Mahoning County had taken a similar tack in forming a new vehicle for tourism and marketing.

Zimmerman remains the executive director of the older, Youngstown/Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau. She said that her Mahoning tourist bureau job continues because it still has some $300,000 in its account. Mahoning commissioners, meanwhile, have formed a new board called the Mahoning County Convention & amp; Visitors Bureau.

Oversight

In both cases in each county, part of the dispute between commissioners and tourism boards involved dollars kept in the bank. Also in both cases commissioners have oversight of the new tourism boards.

Only the new visitors bureaus in each county are supported by proceeds from each county's lodging tax, paid by everyone who rents a hotel or motel room.

For "big dollar efforts," the new Trumbull bureau and the old Mahoning one will work together "as a unit" to cooperatively market the Mahoning Valley without regard to borders. "We'd like to see this co-op continue ... This would be the first in the state to do a cooperative venture between the two bureaus," Zimmerman explained.

"A lot of people don't actually understand the functions we provide," she said. "We don't only draw tourists from out of town -- we're an entity for local people to use, too. You can be a hometown tourist."




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