Georgia Turner, the county’s radiant tourism director who oversaw Flagler’s and Palm Coast’s realignment as niche sports destinations, a steady rise in tourism-tax revenue and a first-ever working coalition of local arts groups, is leaving after just two years on the job. Personal, not political, reasons led her to the decision: She was offered a job in her hometown of Florence, Ala., where she will be able to move in next-door to her mother and the house she grew up in.
“The people who lived next door to her are moving,” Turner said of her mother in an interview this afternoon, “she really wanted me to come home, I wanted to come home, and it just happened that a job opened up literally last Wednesday. I was interviewed last Friday, and I had to make this really hard decision on my long ride home.” Turner will be the communications manager for the Florence-Lauderdale Tourism Office starting in January 2014.
Turner will work through December in Flagler, where she’s been the Vice President of Tourist Development at the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce since November 2011. The Flagler County Commission contracts the tourism office’s services through the chamber. But Turner was in charge of a $900,000 budget–revenue drawn from the county’s 4 percent bed tax–and three employees, working closely with the nine-member Tourist Development Council appointed by the county commission.
Her replacement will be appointed by Chamber President Rebecca DeLorenzo. While TDC members will be consulted, the search will be conducted by the chamber, and the decision rests entirely in DeLorenzo’s hands. DeLorenzo said the $67,000-a-year position is already being advertised at the state’s employment website and will be advertised on LinkedIn, with a decision made as soon as possible.
County Commissioner and TDC Chairman Nate McLaughlin met with DeLorenzo this morning and both, he said, were of the same mind. “I’ll put it to you this way: I look at Georgia and I know were losing her and it saddens me,” McLaughlin said, “but I’m looking for another Georgia. That’s what I think of her achievements and her abilities. I would like to find another Georgia.” McLaughlins aid the council is not looking to move to “another level,” having achieved, under Turner, the sort of level it sees as a good fit for the county. But the trick will be to find another executive with Turner’s skills.
“Her ability to reach out to build consensus, to build bridges, to build relationships, was a great talent,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day it’s Rebecca’s decision and I’m going to support whatever Rebecca wants to do with that position.” He added: “She’s being smart right out of the gate, she’s talked to me, she’s talked to Craig,” McLaughlin said, referring to Craig Coffey, the county administrator. “She’s reaching out for counsel and advice. Rebecca works for the community at large and I thinks she’s got that firmly in her mind.”
The county and the chamber are in the midst of writing a new three-year contract that will continue the same contractual relationship that’s been in force for the last many years. There were discussions about converting TDC employees into county employees earlier this year. Turner and DeLorenzo resisted the idea and county commissioners soon dropped it. “That’s off the table,” McLaughlin said today, at least for the next three years.
Turner cited the “re-branding” of the county’s tourism image into “Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches” as one of her chief achievements, though it drew some criticism at the time from segments of the county–among them Flagler Beach and the more rural but less touristy western part of the county–that felt unceremoniously displaced by the larger city.
“I really think this whole re-positioning idea, going from calling ourselves Flagler County to Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches, was a major accomplishment, not just for myself but for the entire industry,” Turner said. The addition of a product development manager, the focus on sports and publicizing the county through third-party endorsements, such as media write-ups, were also instrumental in solidifying the county’s tourism industry. One such endorsement followed the visit of McClatchy-Tribune News Service’s Mary Ann Anderson in February. The writer was having lunch with Turner at Flagler Beach’s Funky Pelican when a right whale and her calf swam by. The story appeared in the Sacramento Bee and South Carolina’s The State.
Turner’s reputation has been as solid as her achievements.
“She never played politics, she did a smart job, she had the contacts we needed to handle tourism development, she had all the local vendors, the restaurants, the hotels, working as a group, and she’s been a success story since she took over that position,” County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen said today. “And I’m going to miss her as a friend. She’s been a team player, and if there was a need for an additional phone call or something she’d follow up and just did a super job. I would have pleased to have her work for me when I was a manager. In fact if I could buy a pair of season tickets to Auburn football, I’d use that as incentive to keep her here.”
Turner’s projection for the county in her absence: “I just think the sky is the limit. I don’t think my leaving is going to stop anything. I really do think we’re on a roll here, we’re a force to be reckoned with, we’ve got a great team in place, people who know what they’re doing. That’s another thing I’m really proud of, the TDC is very focused and very tourism oriented.”