Q&A: New CVB director says Mitchell is perfect sizeMiskimins takes over duty of promoting city to potential visitors as new director of organization.
By: Staff reports, The Daily Republic
The Corn Palace is a special place for Jacki Miskimins, the new director of the Mitchell Convention and Visitors Bureau. Miskimins, a Mitchell High School graduate, received her high school diploma on the Palace stage. And during a private gathering to honor a local businessman, she met her husband right there on the Corn Palace floor.
“My husband and I had run in similar circles, but had never really met,” she said. “To make a long story short, we ended up at that party and a month later he proposed. We met at the Corn Palace, in the arena there. It was our first date. ... The Corn Palace holds a special place in my heart.”
It’s fitting, then, that the 26-year-old Miskimins is the newest director of the CVB, filling the position left open by the resignation of Hannah Walters, who moved to Aberdeen. Miskimins comes to the job after graduating from Notre Dame, where she studied marketing and gender studies. Since graduation, she has been working at Dakota Wesleyan University.
The CVB is a division of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce. Though the chamber is a private nonprofit, the CVB gets funding from the city’s 1 percent sales tax on lodging, alcoholic beverages and prepared food. Miskimins’ chief task as CVB director is promoting Mitchell as a tourist and visitor destination. Her goal is to tout the Corn Palace as a pride-generating local showcase, while still understanding that many people poke fun at the corn-covered building.
No matter how people see the Palace, she said the CVB — as well as others in town — must work hard to get visitors to stop and spend a few extra minutes in town on their way to wherever it is they’re going.
“I want them to stop, to go inside and to look at all of the pictures of past murals, to see the video. I want them to look at the large murals in the interior,” she said. “I want them to experience it, and to also stay in Mitchell and see the other attractions — get them to experience all that Mitchell has to offer. If we do that, they will have more fun here and spend more time here. I think that would serve the community well.”
Following are excerpts from an interview Miskimins gave earlier this week at the offices of The Daily Republic.
Q. Why Mitchell?
For me, it has everything we need. It is the perfect size of town. We have room to get a little bigger yet still maintain who we are. If you need a phenomenal cheeseburger or great steak, you can get that. If you need ingredients to make Rice Krispie treats at 3 in the morning, like I was doing recently, you can get that.
It’s also the perfect size to try new things. We are big enough to have a community theater, but small enough that it’s not scary to join in.
You can always find a recommendation to go somewhere, whether it’s a daycare or something to do on a Saturday. You can always find some group of people who fit who you are. We are big enough to have all of them, but small enough that it’s still open and welcoming and very much a community. I love that.
Q. What does the CVB director do?
I’m definitely still learning. It’s a very big job.
The broad definition is that we are the marketing agency for the city of Mitchell. We promote our town and community to visitors, whether those be group tours, or vacationers or hunters. That is ultimately what we do.
That entails coordinating bus groups, and entails doing the advertising and that entails billboards. That’s all rolled into it, but ultimately our goal is to market the city of Mitchell to visitors.
In years past we have focused less on meetings and conventions and my goal is to up that focus, but that’s probably a longer term goal.
Q. What are your immediate goals?
I want to continue working with group travel and bus groups. That’s an area where you can get a lot of bang for your buck, so to speak. We can get a lot of people in one shot to come and experience Mitchell. I think we have room for growth there.
Speaking with some of our attractions and hotels, that’s one thing they always say, that they love having bus groups.
Q. We see bus tours unloading at the Corn Palace, and often they are comprised of older people. Are bus tours sustainable? There is obviously a lot of business now, but is it something we can always pursue?
I think that if it does decline, it will be several years out. We will have enough lead on that decline to work around it and try to transform it. …
It is my belief that it is currently sustainable and should it begin to decline in the future, that’s something we’d have enough lead time on to counteract.
Q. Do you have any other goals?
Pheasant hunting is the one time that Mitchell is a destination for visitors. Typically we are just a stopover on their way, generally to Mount Rushmore, but also other places. But we are a destination for pheasant hunting.
One of the things I would like to continue to do, and the CVB started doing this last year and the year before, is extending the hunting season. We do a real big push for a late-season hunt.
I would like to really build on that and have that become as much as a tradition, or close to the tradition, of the season opener.
Hunters enjoy coming to Mitchell. We are very good at hosting hunters and that’s something I would like to capitalize on and continue promoting.
One of the things I would really like to focus on is increasing attendance at other attractions, whether it’s the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village, or the George and Eleanor McGovern Legacy Museum, or Dakota Discovery Museum or the drive-in theater — or any other things that people can’t experience elsewhere.
I would love to increase attendance there.
Q. How do we do that?
When I figure that out, I will let you know. I’m still looking for that silver bullet.
We have done in the past some museum-specific marketing. One thing in particular was with the Prehistoric Indian Village — there is a huge interest in the tourism industry of those travelers. They want to see — what’s the word? — things that are authentic. They don’t want to see things that are fake, or manufactured or put on for show.
Q. Is that bad news for the Corn Palace?
I don’t think it is. With the Corn Palace, we’re corny on purpose.
I think people don’t always know what to think of it. A lot of it is determined by what people want to see. If they want to see it as fun and corny, they do. If they want to see it as a gym with murals, they do.
I think a lot of that is perception, so we try to have fun with it.
In Mitchell, the Corn Palace is our identity. We should be proud of it, and if we are proud of it, then I think visitors will have a more positive perception of it.
I think in general, they do.
Q. We have gone through periods where we market the Corn Palace as corny, funny and oddball, and now we have the historical video, which might be the first time the murals have been called “folk art.” Should we be using both approaches or do we need to just decide what the Corn Palace is: serious folk art and a testament to agriculture, or just a corny and oddball roadside attraction?
I spoke to a gentleman I worked with, shortly after I took the job, and he works with tourists often. He said, “I need you to tell me in one word, what is the Corn Palace?”
It took me a while. I really had to think about it.
I think it is art. But the word I finally settled on was pride. It started as a way to show off what our agriculture area can do. We are proud of it.
The perception of the building has gone through some transformations, but I think we are proud of it.
We are proud that it’s the home court of Mike Miller, an NBA champion. We are proud that we got to showcase Oscar Howe’s mural designs. We are proud of it.
Now, we can also have fun with that. Just because it’s authentic, that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun as well.
We’re going to poke fun at ourselves. We can have fun with it because we are proud of it.
It’s an interesting mix of authentic, fun and pride, and a little corniness.