Retiring Manley notes county’s tourism growth

Kayla Renie/The Herald
Kevin Manley of Jasper poses for a portrait in front of the Dubois County Visitors Center in Jasper on Wednesday. Manley is retiring from his job as executive director of the center. "It was a tough decision," Manley said. "I love my job, but as I'm approaching 66, there are still other things I'd like to do that require more time."

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

Kevin Manley, executive director of the Dubois County Visitors Center, has enjoyed his job of creating and promoting tourism events throughout the county.

But the time has come for him to step down.

“I looked at retiring at the end of May or the end of this year, because I’m going to be 66 in September,” he said. “And no one knows what our health is going to do or anything. There are still things I want to do, and I just need a little more free time in order to do some of those things.”

Manley, 65, decided to retire May 29. He told the tourism board of his decision in February.

“It’s the hardest decision you’ll ever make,” he said. “When you love something as much as I love this, it’s a pretty tough decision.”

He has been in the position for nine years. Before joining the visitors center in 2010, he had been at Kimball International for 36 years.

“I had a great career at Kimball, and loved it,” he said. “But they were going through some downsizing, and there were several sets of layoffs, five or six sets. And I made the last one.”

After that, Manley worked for Hedinger Beverage for about nine months when the tourism position became available. So he applied.

“I felt that my business background, my marketing and sales experience, and the things that I had done over my career would be a good fit,” he said. “Plus, I love the county and I love all our people. It’s a great place to live, work and play.”

The tourism industry is a business. But for Manley, running this department was different than operating in the corporate arena.

“When you’re in the corporate world, you’re working for people, and over your career, for a lot of different people,” he said. “Here, I report to a great and dynamic board. When I started, one of our board members at that time told me, ‘Just look at this as you’re running your own business. We can help influence the direction, but you let us know what you think we should be doing.’ Working for someone else in the corporate world is totally different than if you’re running your own business.”

The tourism industry, including local tourism, has changed a lot in the nine years Manley has been at the helm.

“We’ve added new events. We’ve added DC Multisport, which gave us seven athletic events that we didn’t have before. And things kept growing and adding to what we’re doing,” he said. “Our focus has been sports tourism and leisure travel and the motorcoach industry. It’s enabled us to grow.”

The impact has been seen in the industry.

“In tourism, our job is economic impact. A wing of tourism is economic development,” Manley said. “When I came, our economic impact to the county was $65 million. As of 2018 — we just got our numbers back now — we’ve grown to $91.1 million. So we’ve had significant growth during that period.”

But now, with the virus and stay-at-home orders all over the country, the tourism industry, just like other areas, is feeling the affect.

“Right now, we are in a very difficult period,” he said. “This is unprecedented times, and it’s going to take a dip for a little bit here, until we get back out of this. And it affects everything: restaurants and hotels and everything. All businesses are affected by this.”

Manley is hopeful society, businesses and tourism will be able to weather this storm.

“We just need to get through it as quick as possible,” he said. “And I think tourism will jump right back up there again, because there’s going to be pent-up demand. Nobody’s used to staying in their house this long.”

The current situation had nothing to do with Manley’s decision to retire. “I had actually submitted my retirement letter about a week before anything ever came out about COVID-19,” he said.

Manley will continue being involved in the community. And he will continue to serve as Jasper councilman for District 6. “I’m gonna stay on the things I’m already involved with,” he said. “It’s just that this particular job requires some nights and weekends. It’s a lot of fun, but it does take away from other things.

“I’ve got grandkids playing sports that sometimes I miss. I want to go to as many as possible,” Manley said. “I want to enjoy more recreation time and vacation time. I want to enjoy as much of life as I can.”

The Dubois County Tourism Board is currently seeking the next executive director. The goal is to have the new person in place before Manley retires.

When I came on, it was kind of difficult because there wasn’t a handoff person. The person in the position had already left,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to extend [my retirement date] out. So when they do make their decision, I can work with that person before I leave and make it easier on them to get started.”

Manley has enjoyed the experience with the Dubois County Visitors Center.

“It’s just been a great relationship with our board. And over the years, we’ve grown considerably,” he said. “This has been a great, great period of time in my life.”




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com