BILOXI (WLOX) -- The day to day operations of Harrison County's tourism industry now rest with a man from the Midwest. Richard Forester signed a contract on Tuesday to become Harrison County's new tourism director. Forester will be paid $100,000 a year.
The Kansas native's job will be to oversee a tourism industry that before Katrina brought an estimated 19 million people a year to the shores of south Mississippi. One of the keys to that industry is the new convention center space being built in Biloxi.
The concrete pillars being poured will form the foundation of an enlarged convention center, and in Forester's eyes, the foundation of south Mississippi's tourism recovery.
"It's certainly a significant piece of the puzzle," the new tourism commission director said.
At a Tuesday meeting of the Harrison County Tourism Commission, Forester signed a three year contract to be the group's next executive director.
"Do we all know what we're getting into?" he shouted out after the unanimous vote in favor of his hire.
Forester actually does. In the seven years he spent as the president of Topeka's convention and visitors bureau president, he learned what it takes to book big meeting groups. That experience will pay dividends once Harrison County's expanded convention center opens.
"I think we need to decide for sure, what do we want this destination to be?" he said. "And I hope to play a positive role in helping to shape that vision."
Forester's working for a commission that pictures post Katrina south Mississippi as a tier one tourism destination. George Watson is a tourism commissioner. After Forester was introduced, Watson said, "I know you will do us a good job. I hope you will be successful. And I feel confident you'll be successful."
The added convention center space is certainly a step in accomplishing the tourism commission's goal. But Forester says so are the casinos, the hotels, the golf courses, the charter fishing boats and the museums that have kept the tourism industry alive the last two-and-a-half years.
"I prefer to envision this community as having the potential to be the premiere destination on the gulf coast," he thought.
Forester's first day on the job will be May 15th. He replaces Steve Richer.