The Twin Engines of Tourism and Economic Development, with Connie Stopher and Melissa Barry

Episode 117:

Connie Stopher serves as Executive Director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization. In this role, she oversees the business and talent recruitment for a seven-county region. Since taking on the role of executive director in 2017, the southern Idaho region has experienced nearly $500 million in business expansions and nearly thousands of new jobs created.

Previously, Connie served as the executive director of the South Coast Development Council in Coos Bay, Oregon, and as the economic development specialist at Bannock Development in Pocatello, Idaho. In both of those roles, Connie enjoyed the opportunity to create new business retention and expansion programs that helped revitalize struggling communities and assist existing and new businesses.

Melissa Barry is the Executive Director of Southern Idaho Tourism. She is responsible for developing and promoting tourism and recreation in southern Idaho and helping to strike the balance between economic impact and environmental stewardship. Since taking the leadership role at Southern Idaho Tourism, lodging collections have risen from historically flat numbers to double-digit increases. Southern Idaho Tourism, has received multiple national press stories, and partner approval rating is at 94 percent.

Prior to joining Southern Idaho Tourism, Melissa managed the marketing department at Cabela’s, the world’s foremost outfitter.

On this episode, I talk with Connie and Melissa about how tourism and economic development go hand-in-hand, and some specific partnerships that they have forged in their region. From recruiting people to live and work to inviting visitors without damaging the natural resources that draw people to a region in the first place, working together with all potential stakeholders is the only way to really get the job done.


What You Will Learn on this Episode:

  • A “best-kept secret” pitch for talent recruitment 
  • Strategies you can use to marketing your region
  • How to get locals to become tourism cheerleaders
  • Ways stakeholders can manage visitor impact on natural resources
  • How to grow tourism in rural areas

Tourism as Economic Driver

Tourism and economic development can get siloed, hampering the collaboration that can happen and boost a region economically. For Connie and Melissa, that means working together. For instance, they might combine their video promotion budgets to create a better end product than each could have done separately. Or what if tourism agencies and local chambers of commerce work in conjunction with each other? In some areas, this is a stretch, but it shouldn’t be. There is a synergy that can happen when local communities welcome visitors, new residents, and new businesses to the region. When all of that happens together, communities thrive.

Tourism in Rural Areas

Why would anyone want to visit? That can be the sentiment from locals who don’t realize the beauty and wonder of their own backyard. Connie and Melissa share how sometimes they need a little bit of help in identifying the assets they have, even in the smallest of communities. It comes down to realizing that they have assets that are worthwhile for visitors to see and participate.


Episode Transcript

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