Visitor center gets new leader

The new director of the Jackson County Visitor Center knows and loves this community.

And she said she has plenty of ideas for how to get more people to feel the same way.

Jackson County native Arann Banks of Brownstown recently was hired to lead the center, taking on the tasks of promoting the county and increasing local tourism.

County commissioners approved hiring her Tuesday. Banks’ first official day on the job will be May 1.

The center, located in Seymour, has been under the direction of interim director John Burkhart since last September when former director Karen Weik of Carmel was fired.

Officials did not publicly discuss the reason for Weik’s termination. She had only been in the position for a couple of months after being hired to replace Tina Stark, who resigned in May.

But visitor center board members believe Banks can put the agency back on track and bring more attention to what the county has to offer residents and outside visitors.

Bill Klaes, board president, said Banks’ past experience working for non-profit agencies was one of the qualities that made her stand out among the 16 applications they received for the job.

Banks most recently worked for Child Care Network and also spent many years with the Jackson County chapter of the American Red Cross.

“We think she will do a lot to initiate projects and ideas to move us forward,” Klaes said. “The visitor center has been a little reactive in the past, and we want to be more proactive.”

Banks said she wasn’t looking for a new job when she decided to apply for the position.

“A friend of mine had talked about interviewing for it and then decided not to,” Banks said. “When I asked her about it, she told me I should do it.”

So Banks looked into it and talked it over with her family.

“My husband said, ‘There’s nothing you know more about than Jackson County,’ and that’s true,” she said. “I decided then it was something I really wanted to do.”

The board was looking for someone with good communication skills who interacts well with other people, Klaes said.

“She has an outgoing personality that is needed for the job, and she brings a renewed vitality to our organization,” Klaes said.

He said they were impressed with Banks’ knowledge of events and sites in the county and expect that will aid her in finding new ways to highlight Jackson County.

“We want her to bring a bigger exposure to Jackson County and what we do at the visitor center, to make us more visible, because we do a lot,” Klaes said.

When it comes to new ideas and attracting people to this area, Banks said Jackson County has so much to market, such as Starve Hollow State Recreation Area in Vallonia and Salt Creek Winery near Freetown.

Banks said she is a fan of seeing people come together for community events. She wouldn’t think of missing a single second of the annual Seymour Oktoberfest, she said.

She would like to see the county start an annual wine fest, much like the Red Cross used to do here as a fundraiser, involving local wineries and breweries.

“I think we need to promote that as much as we can,” she said. “It’s a huge attraction to people.”

She also wants to tap into the county’s rich history and do promotions through schools to gets students more excited about exploring locally with their families.

“What kid wouldn’t want to hike Pinnacle Peak if they knew about it?” she said. “We’ve got a lot more than eating out and going to the movies, although those are great, too.”

Jackson County has so much to offer already, it doesn’t need big, expensive attractions, she said.

“There is so much we can get better at,” she said. “When I worked in real estate, there were people from big cities who wanted to get away, and we should be their choice.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Banks file” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Arann Banks

Age: 50

Hometown: Brownstown

New title: Executive director of the Jackson County Visitor Center

Past work experience: Child Care Network, Jackson County chapter of the American Red Cross, worked in real estate

Family: Husband, Dan; children, Tyler, Sally, Willis and Mitchell