City councilor takes county marketing job

By MIKE FERGUSON, Baker City Herald September 30, 2008 12:00 am

Andrew Bryan, a Baker City businessman and city councilor, has been named the county’s marketing director.

Bryan replaces Kari Whitacre, who resigned to take a new position with a community development organization in Corvallis.

Bryan began his duties Monday. He will be paid $42,000 per year.

To take the job, Bryan resigned from the board of directors for the Baker County Development Corp., a non-profit group that supervises the marketing director and channels transient room tax money to attract visitors to Baker County.

The remaining board members then hired Bryan, who’s also an education consultant.

There’s precedent for Bryan’s path to his new job, he said, citing the example of Ann Mehaffy, Historic Baker City’s program director. Bryan’s wife, Ann, co-owner of Mad Matilda’s and Sane Jane’s downtown, was an HBC board member at the time Mehaffy gained her job. It was clear to that board, Bryan told her husband, that Mehaffy had the knowledge base and the experience to carry the work forward as HBC’s only paid staffer.

Bryan called Mehaffy’s example “my template.”

He said his new job presents no conflict with his role as city councilor because the Transient Lodging Tax — a countywide 8 percent tax on hotel, motel and RV guests that annually generates about $365,000 — is a county function, and the program is overseen by by Baker County Commissioners, who appoint members to the Transient Lodging Tax Committee, which administers where 70 percent of the funds are spent.

The other 30 percent goes to the county’s administration fee (the cost of accounting for the program and administering it) and the Economic Development Council, which supervises both homegrown business efforts and attempts to entice companies and entrepreneurs to expand or move to Baker County.

Although he’s new to the position, Bryan already has some ideas he’d like to pursue:

n Partnering with the Baker City Herald, Bryan wants to spend about $20,000 to transform the newspaper’s annual Visitors Guide into a slick-stock magazine piece “that’s more contemporary.” The money would go toward upgrading the paper and cover quality of the 2009 publication. Bryan said he’s also mulling collaborative efforts with other media outlets, including the Hells Canyon Journal and The Record-Courier, as well as chambers of commerce in Halfway and Sumpter and radio stations.

n Bryan wants to maintain cooperative advertising efforts, particularly with Idaho’s Treasure Valley. One example: a Boise TV station packaged four reports on tourism destinations nearby for its viewers; one was Baker County.

n He wants to spend “time and effort communicating and collaborating” with communities in Baker County outside Baker City. He also wants frequent communications with the county’s three chambers, the EDC, the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association and Travel Oregon, which promotes tourism among all Oregon locales.

n Bryan wants to assess the county’s brand, and plans to have an announcement on some ideas that have already been proposed, within six weeks.

“What we have to offer visitors is countywide, and the more we can tie that together for visitors, the better,” he said.

Once attractions in Baker County are better tied together, he said, he can begin marketing the accessibility of regional attractions, such as the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway.

While “everyone is working hard to provide services for visitors and tourists,” Bryan sees his job as “helping feel that marketing efforts are being accounted for.”

“It’s all heads in beds,” he said. “Marketing can help Baker County events be successful and to tie in with our brand,” but beyond that, Bryan said he wants to pump up the amount collected by the Transient Lodging Tax — the best and most visible indicator that efforts to attract visitors are paying off.

Baker County Commission Chair Fred Warner Jr. said that while he thinks “Andrew can do a good job,” he would have liked BCDC to have appointed an interim marketing director “while we see what’s out there.”

“I prefer that we go out for (requests for proposals),” Warner said, “and I’ll tell that to the Transient Lodging Tax Committee” when it meets next month