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Tourism: New director won’t lack for research data
By Nikki Best
For Jennifer Norman, the tourism industry was a choice.
After her second child was born, Norman took time off from a job and an industry that was shrinking. When she was ready to go back to work, her old job as a photo editor didn’t exist anymore. So she made a decision to work for the government.
In reality it was more than that. Norman had divorced and heeding the advice of her former father-in-law, she began searching for a new career. Talking to people, traveling and using the advertising skills she already had, tourism seemed like the logical choice. “It encompasses all the things I love,” Norman said.
In 2003, a welcome center position came open in Coweta County, Ga., and she applied. But she didn’t get the job. “So I called the lady back and told her, you made a mistake. I’m your girl,” she said. The hiring manager was impressed and gave Norman’s application another look, she said. She got the job.
Fast forward 14 years and Georgetown County has its latest tourism director. She’s been on the job a week and, “So far, so good,” she said. “I’m really excited. I’m ready to dive into it.”
Norman replaces Lauren Joseph who left the position in February to work at Brookgreen Gardens. She was hired by the Chamber of Commerce, which provides staff services to the county’s Tourism Management Commission.
Norman will fill the same role with the Pawleys Island Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee, which handles tourism marketing for the town.
Among the factors that enabled Norman to move from Anderson to Georgetown was the support from her husband Bill Norman, a professor at Clemson who specializes in tourism, her daughters and stepdaughter, scattered between Georgia and the Carolinas, and the response she got when they held a family meeting about the position. “We’re going to live here, we’re going to keep our house in Anderson. You guys are going to be at college. Can we make this work,” she said. “Fully when we said beach, they said, we’re in.”
She’s still learning all the background of her new job, but isn’t a stranger to Georgetown County. She spent some time here in the past with her husband as he did research and conducted focus groups on working waterfronts through S.C. Sea Grant. As he said in a speech a couple of years ago, “This is my favorite place.”
Because Norman is a tourism practitioner and her husband is a professor of the subject, it seems like Georgetown County got a two-for-one deal, but that’s not quite the case. “I think we make each other better,” she said. His theories and research can’t always be applied in real situations, so Norman interprets them.
In turn, Norman’s practice sometimes needs direction from research and he helps her interpret the best choices. “I always say I have the bonus of being able to eat dinner and have conversation with one of the top tourism researchers in the country. So I have a little bit of an advantage with that,” she said.
They met at a tourism conference. “Like all great marriages, we met at work,” she said. A long story short: following the worst three days of weather a fishing tournament had ever seen, Norman’s then-boss “forced” her to attend a little conference in the mountains of Georgia. “I was thinking, I’m going to die,” Norman said of the fishing tournament.
Later at the conference, “I’m in like jeans and tennis shoes and a sweatshirt, which is not normally my way to go. We walk in. I sit down, and he’s sitting across the table from me.” An elusive love-at-first-sight phenomenon occurred. They were “thick as thieves.”
For Georgetown County, her only current official plan is to be a good steward for the taxpayers. She has meetings with different boards and stakeholders in the area scheduled, and is ready to get moving. “I know we have a wealth of product, we have all the small business people and entrepreneurs, which I love,” she said.
Before joining Georgetown County, Norman worked as the executive director for Visit Anderson, the vice president for Discover Lake Lanier, and held various positions in the Coweta County conventions and visitors bureau. Most recently she worked as a freelance tourism consultant in Anderson for two years and as a part-time grant writer for the Anderson Free Clinic. “They really needed help and I filled the need,” she said about the free clinic. “It was interesting to be in a different industry for awhile, but — tourism, I’m back!”