By Scott Sullivan
“You have a world-class destination,” new Saugatuck-Douglas Convention and Visitors Bureau consultant Jerry Preston told the CVB board Monday. “Now you need a world-class leader.”
Members are looking to replace 27-year executive director Felicia Fairchild, who announced Dec. 7 she would not renew her full-time consulting contract with the bureau.
The board agreed to hire Michigan Society of Associate Executives president Cheryl Ronk to conduct a search for a new full-time leader plus possible interim director starting as soon as possible.
The Lansing-based MSAE (msae.org) is a not-for-profit membership organization that serves similar groups in a variety of managerial and staff specialist roles.
“Cheryl is very capable and qualified,” said Preston, a former Flint and Ann Arbor CVB director retained by the local bureau last month as a part-time interim advisor.
“She can start tomorrow and has set a very aggressive timeline,” he continued. “She is looking at a nationwide search and possible hire as soon as April.”
Treasurer Jane Verplank urged the board to consider an interim director to aid current day-to-day operations. Peers noted she and new board chair Andrew Milauckas were putting in many unpaid hours to help with CVB operations, sometimes at the expense of their own private businesses.
“An interim director can be part of the MSAE search too,” Preston said.
Strategic planning committee member Mark Mikolitis, president of Lakeshore Lodging, said local candidates have approached him about the CVB leader opening.
“I’ve heard local interest as well,” said Milauckas. “The best candidate could be right here in our community.”
“I think it’s a good idea,” said non-board member Catherine Simon, owner of the Maplewood Hotel, “to have a professional outside agency oversee the search.”
The bureau in October 2015 unveiled a five-year strategic tourism marketing plan broaching the possibility of increasing its current 2-percent room assessment to 5 percent, as most CVBs statewide have approved. The increase was expected to generate $429,000 more in advertising funds.
An advisory board, appointed to follow through on that, asked Fairchild to address policy and transparency concerns to build support among general members for the increase. She declined to renew her contract close to one year later.
There was wide support at the Jan. 8 membership meeting to pursue the increase, said Milauckas.
“Are we getting ahead of ourselves trying to hire a new director before we know if we’ll have an increase?” asked Mikolitis.
“Cheryl will present the situation as it is to job candidates,” said secretary Anne Mathieu.
“I think the right candidate will welcome that as a challenge,” said Preston. “I think (winning an increase) is a pretty realistic possibility.”
The board also discharged the advisory committee “so members can continue their good work and refocus on helping our marketing and strategic planning committees or other areas in the future,” Mathieu said.