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Williams strives to keep tourism interest here alive

Outreach is at the heart of many efforts Sheryl Williams has in mind for expanding promotion of tourism in Pierce County.

Williams said Wednesday she foresees reaching out with tours encouraging tourists to, as the slogan reads, "explore our back roads." She wants to tap youths by educating them about this area's advantages in tourism and provide more education as well to members of Pierce County Partners in Tourism (PCPT), the organization for which she recently became coordinator, succeeding Judie Zubick.

And now that the group's most extensive project over the past year--production of an Autumn Bounty arts and agriculture map--is nearly complete, Williams envisions producing other maps, perhaps about bike trails or historical attractions in this vicinity.

"It might be the springboard for others," she said about the new fall tour map, targeting art studios which are traditionally open this season plus ag outlets operating at harvest time. Funded by a state grant, it was designed to be used in both 2006 and 2007.

The new coordinator was involved with the map from its beginnings in her former capacity as PCPT administrative assistant, she said. Besides answering phone calls, handling correspondence, preparing agendas, recording minutes and updating the organization's board members, she participated in related publications such as the county travel planner.

"It's been a variety of things, that's why I've liked it," she said of the job she had with PCPT for approximately two years.

Now in the coordinator position, Williams said she's more responsible for "figuring out what we're going to do." Her initial plan is to create programs of widespread benefit, in addition to public relations and advertising. For next year, she intends to develop partnerships, meaning compatible organizations would team with PCPT to share staff time, for instance, helping both deal with limited resources.

This kind of partnership already exists between the group and area Lions clubs, she said. The Lions assist with tourism brochure racks placed in businesses throughout the county.

Most of the PCPT's nearly 50 members are businesses serving tourists, she said, ranging from restaurant and lodging establishments to realtors and agricultural enterprises. Several chambers are associate members, while relationships are being nurtured with similar groups to share information, network, and mutually cooperate on presentations and projects, as resources allow.

The number of PCPT board members varies, usually from 10 to 12, though sometimes more, Williams said. The board meets once monthly, often discussing meetings or events at which they volunteer to help. For example, they've staffed a booth at the Wings of Freedom Air Show at Red Wing's airport, joined crews working the state Department of Tourism's booth at the Northwest Sports Show in the Twin Cities, and arranged promotional displays for the county at tourist information centers in Hudson and Menomonie.

"Our busiest time is April to October," she said, noting winters are more devoted to compiling information.

During peak months, the PCPT office inside the Ames Business Center in Ellsworth is open at least three times weekly, she said. The staff frequently answers specific questions from callers, referring them to other agencies if unable to supply the answers themselves. The phone number is 1-800-4-PIERCE.

Williams enjoys her employment with the tourism office. A medical transcriptionist for over 30 years, the Iowa native said she'd tired of having large supervisory duties, so she began looking for a part-time position to supplement her income a couple of years ago. She'd volunteered with non-profits in the past and felt she had an idea how they operated, their structure and financial challenges. Besides, she likes writing and PCPT offers opportunities for that in its promotions.

"This job combines the things I like," she said.

She and her husband Lew, who has relatives living near Hastings, Minn., relocated to this area 25 years ago, she said. The couple has lived outside of Red Wing for the past seven years on a small farm, where they're raising a few chickens and establishing an apple orchard. They have two grown children, a daughter, Amber, and a son, Landon, plus two grandchildren.