March 8, 2013

ED office teams with tourism to toot West Memphis’ horn

The West Memphis Office of Economic Development is expanding its horizons by joining forces with a new and improved city tourism office. With a nod to the reality that promoting a city to potential businesses is closely linked to attracting visitors and improving quality of life, the Economic Development office is aligning with tourism staff to solidify the East Arkansas city’s place on the map.

Two new staff members are at the heart of the expansion. Joe Beasley started work as the Executive Director of the Performing Arts Complex of West Memphis on Feb. 1. He was followed a few weeks later by Jim Jackson, who started his position as Director of Tourism Development on March 4.

Beasley – whose past experience includes stints at East Arkansas Community Fine Arts Center, Playhouse on the Square in Memphis and Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center – says that he and Jackson are both focused on the West Memphis “big picture.”

“West Memphis is so much more than just a place to drive through and we’re here to promote that fact,” Joe said. “We’re trying to put West Memphis back on the map as a major Delta tourism stop.”

To that end, Beasley is taking over the operation of the Performing Arts Complex – consisting of The West Memphis Civic Auditorium and The Eugene Woods Civic Center – with an eye to maximizing their use and booking events that will draw visitors and locals alike. His task is to design and implement several performing arts series – a spotlight series featuring name performers as well as a series for families and one for students and children.

In his role as Director of Tourism Development, Jackson will be doing everything from attracting and booking large groups, conventions and bus tours to coordinating events with the city’s Main Street department to promoting KWEM, the historic West Memphis radio station in the process of being revived by Mid-South Community College. Having never lived in the area, his newcomer’s eyes, he says, are a distinct advantage.

“I’m starting from scratch and i’m wearing several hats, Jackson says. “It’s exciting. I’m trying to keep my eyes open and I’m really getting to know West Memphis.”

Jackson’s past experience includes city planning, hospitality management and property development. Most recently he served as Director of Economic Development for Cleburne County. But being located in Heber Springs with its focus on outdoor recreation, his experience is based much more in growing tourism than attracting industry.

One of his first goals will be to design and plan a sustainable outdoor event, likely tied to cycling, to coincide with the completion of the planned bike trail across the Harahan Bridge from Memphis. He’ll also work closely with Beasley to plan and execute festivals and events.

Economic Development Director Ward Wimbish says that having Beasley and Jackson in place is a missing link for the success of his department.

“We sell West Memphis everyday – our ideal location, our access to road, river and rail and our low cost of doing business,” Wimbish said. “But when a company considers a site for starting up, relocating or expanding, knowing that the area has the recreation and entertainment amenities to attract workers is crucial. West Memphis has history, culture and natural assets. We’ve just got to make the best use of them and market them. I’m convinced that Joe, Jim and their staffs are up to the job.”