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Term ends for TDA chairman

After leading the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority through what will likely become four of the most formative years in the organization’s history, Robert Jumper’s term on the board has ended.

“We’ve done a lot of building and constructing and organizing, and it’s going to be a little sad not being part of that anymore, but it’s good to have a break,” Jumper said.

When Jumper, who is employed as editor of The Cherokee One Feather, was appointed to an unexpired term on the TDA board in the spring of 2013, the TDA was a fledgling organization that had been in existence for mere months, with no staff and no framework as to how it should be run.

Jumper was named chairman in December 2013, and in the years since he’s guided the TDA from a hodgepodge organization run on volunteer labor to an organized and established board with an executive director to take on the day-to-day tasks of running it.

“Really the best thing about Robert was he brought a very fair, rational approach to leadership,” said Nick Breedlove, the TDA’s executive director since the position was established in January 2016. “At these meetings we have a lot to accomplish, and he kept us on track every time. The amount of work we had as a board to consider at every meeting was substantial, and he guided us through that process, helped us make the best decisions for Jackson County. And I think that’s pretty remarkable.”

The short list of TDA accomplishments under Jumper’s leadership includes completing a strategic branding process, bringing Rawle Murdy on board as Jackson’s new ad agency, hiring an executive director, promoting sustainable tourism by incorporating “leave no trace” messaging, launching a new website, completing a Jackson County photo shoot, generating increased media publicity, instituting data-driven decision-making and streamlining the TDA board by reducing it from 15 to nine members.

Unified marketing efforts have resulted in a tangible increase in overnight stays, Breedlove said. Accommodation sales have skyrocketed from $18.75 million in fiscal year 2013-2014 to projected collections topping $27 million by the end of 2017-2018. The TDA budget is derived from an occupancy tax charged on these accommodation sales — correspondingly that budget has increased from $750,000 in 2013-2014 to a projected $1.08 million by the end of 2017-2018.

In recognition of this leadership, the TDA presented Jumper with a plaque during his last board meeting, an “Appreciation of Leadership” given “in recognition of strategic leadership as Jackson County TDA chairman.”

“Anyone you’ll talk to who knows Robert knows his strength as a leader,” Breedlove said. “He’s left big shoes to fill.”

Jumper’s workload as TDA chairman has been substantially larger than that likely to be required of future chairmen. Before Breedlove’s hire, Jumper said, the TDA’s more active members — all of whom have demanding jobs in addition to their board responsibilities — were putting in as many as 20 hours per week in volunteer labor. Jumper said he’d average five to 10 hours in a typical week, reaching the 20-hour mark sometimes as well.

Since hiring Breedlove, that’s dropped to something more like two or three hours per month.

“Nick has taken on the complete load of work as a full-time employee,” Jumper said. “His workload now is between 40 and 60 hours a week, and that’s a significant load off of the volunteer board.”

Vick Patel, general manager at the Best Western Plus River Escape Inn in Dillsboro, is now serving as the TDA’s new chairman. Patel was first appointed to the board in December 2012, serving a three-year term and appointed to a second three-year term starting in December 2015.

“He’s got a great deal of experience in the hotel industry, and we think he’ll do the job very well,” Breedlove said. “He’s also got a great familiarity with the organization’s history being on the board since the very beginning, so he’ll guide us very well going forward.”

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