Visitor center director shares Mexico experience


Jackson County had a seat at the table during a recent trip to Mexico aimed at strengthening economic and tourism partnerships between the country and Indiana.

Arann Banks, executive director of the Jackson County Visitor Center, and 27 others joined Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch from July 7 to 11 in Mexico. Banks was the only visitor center director in the tourism delegation.

The trip included a delegation of representatives in the agriculture, economic and tourism industries in Indiana. The trip was to Mexico City and Hildago for meetings between members of the group and Mexican officials.

It also included a ceremony where officials signed a letter of intent between Indiana and Hildago to create a formalized partnership of how they could work together on economic, agricultural and tourism initiatives.

Banks said each meeting had a representative from Mexico who served in a similar capacity as each person from the Indiana delegation.

"Every meeting we went into had someone from a similar field," she said. "We spent a lot of time speaking to our counterparts to see what we could do together."

Banks said tourism around agriculture has grown in recent years, and with rural areas throughout Indiana, has positioned communities here to offer more to the public.

"Agritourism is growing in Jackson County and in Indiana," she said. "Agriculture and tourism can sort of join together and be very successful for each other."

Part of that interest has come from families who are now becoming more curious about where their food comes from and how farms produce and operate, she said.

"They want to pet a cow or a goat and see how farms work," she said. "I think we all take for granted that when we were growing up, we all either lived on a farm, had a grandparent with a farm or had a friend with a farm. There are a lot of families who haven’t experienced that and are beginning to want to see it. They don’t want big, expensive vacations and are focusing on longer weekends."

That was the focus of the Living Local Farm Festival at Lot Hill Dairy Farm in Cortland last September. Owner Jon Claycamp organized a festival featuring a milking demonstration, butter making, a tractor and car show, a petting zoo, a pumpkin patch, hand-dipped ice cream and more.

Those kinds of events are seeing growth in attendance throughout the state and are beneficial to efforts to boost local tourism, Banks said.

Capitalizing on growing those events as more people attend them is something Banks plans to focus on following the trip.

"Some farmers, I think, will begin to take a different look at tourism," she said.

There’s also strength in local farmers markets. While the county has organized markets in Brownstown, Crothersville and Seymour, there also are some family owned markets that boost visitors.

The trip was a positive experience, Banks said, and is one she plans to apply here at home.

"There were great discussions about how we can do better between agriculture and tourism," she said. "We can take a hard look at how we can pull out more dollars from those who are coming to see our community and get them to visit our agriculture offerings."

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