Talking Tourism: Catalyst for Change

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: October 2021

Talking Tourism: Catalyst for Change – Two Strong Organizations – One Executive Director

By: Linda Jurek, Executive Director of Visit Cook County


Visit Cook County launched as an independent 501(c)(6) in the spring of 2010. The convergence of three tourism associations and strategic partnerships with Grand Portage and Lutsen Mountains resulted in an award-winning Destination Marketing Organization. Building upon that momentum, the Cook County Chamber of Commerce was established three years later to support the internal needs of the business community that traditionally come from a Chamber. When established, the mission of the Chamber was intentionally prioritized around policy and advocacy with Jim Boyd assuming the leadership role as the Chamber’s new Executive Director.

With the recent announcement of Jim’s desire to step down to part-time employment, the Chamber’s Executive Committee began entertaining an idea of one Executive Director leading both the Chamber and Visit Cook County. This organizational model is very common elsewhere, particularly in smaller communities and/or in communities that struggle to sustain two separate organizations both focused on one primary economic driver. Cook County, Minnesota is a shoe-in for both of these circumstances. 

Although there is a difference between the missions and visions of the two organizations, there is notable overlap in membership. As the main driver of the local economy is tourism, the work  on policy, workforce housing, road construction and business communications are only a sample of the intersections these two organizations experience on a daily basis. The Chamber is an inward facing organization; promoting member business, advocacy and policy. Visit Cook County is an outward facing organization; providing area branding, supporting events and programming, providing communications, and soliciting visitors to our areas. 

Under this new model, both organizations will maintain their autonomy and will continue to have two separate boards of directors. Each board will continue to guide the mission, work, and focus of the independent organizations. A new position, Director of Policy and Advocacy, will be created for the Chamber where Jim will remain to continue providing his expertise and leadership in the policy sphere. The seasoned and talented team at Visit Cook County will step in to begin supporting the administrative and membership work of the Chamber. Education and social networking events will be added as a benefit of Chamber membership. 

The single director model provides opportunities for both organizations. Visit Cook County is continuing to work toward a more balanced tourism economy with efforts toward sustainable tourism and destination management beyond destination marketing. These are inward facing initiatives (outside of VCC’s normal scope) but align with the work of local businesses, which in turn affects the Visit Cook County outward facing marketing and branding efforts and tactics. The synergy of work with the Chamber is naturally there, and is a proactive and timely response to the conditions set before us all in working to manage Cook County as a prosperous, safe, friendly, and sustainable destination and home for residents.

Visit Cook County is a firm believer in community engagement and actively seeks diverse voices. Under the leadership of Linda Jurek, Visit Cook County hopes to enhance our tourism partnerships. With strong partners, Visit Cook County continues to work toward the goal of creating balance between a thriving year-round tourism economy and extraordinary visitor experiences while maintaining the quality of life for residents. Boards of both organizations have voted to move forward under this new single director model and believe that Linda will be able to effectively and expertly utilize the strengths of both organizations to be successful together and separately.  

An FAQ has been prepared and can be found here: FAQ Shared Director