MENOMONIE — From the Namekagon River, Wisconsin’s Moving National Park, to ATV trails, resorts and restaurants, Washburn County Tourism Association Executive Director Michelle Martin’s eyes light up when she talks what her home county offers visitors.
Martin, a University of Wisconsin-Stout hotel, restaurant, and tourism management program alumna and Spooner native, always planned to return to her hometown area. “I love small towns,” she said. “I love knowing people when I go to the grocery store. I love the recreational opportunities we have here. I love the clean water. I just adore Washburn County.”
Martin, who is married to husband, Matt, and has two children under age two, credits UW-Stout with preparing her for a career in tourism. “I learned about working with a team,” she said. “I couldn’t have been more prepared to go out in my field than I was at UW-Stout. I had such a great experience with my professors.”
Martin last summer was appointed to a three-year term by former Gov. Scott Walker to the Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Tourism, an advisory group for the secretary of tourism and the Wisconsin Tourism Department.
“I was so humbled by that phone call,” she said. “The tourism council is something a lot of people strive for years to be a part of. It’s so exciting to be involved with the direction of state tourism. Everything tourism does is marketing. Everything we discuss at the tourism council comes right down to marketing our beautiful state.”
Also in 2014 she was named as the Governor’s Rising Star at the Wisconsin Governor’s Conference on Tourism. She co-chairs the Northwest International Trade, Business and Economic Development Council’s marketing committee with Ashland Chamber of Commerce Director Mary McPhetridge, who is also a newly appointed member of the Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Tourism.
Martin said she has learned so much from McPhetridge. In the tourism industry, neighboring counties cooperate to attract visitors to their region.
Tourism had a $20.6 billion impact on Wisconsin’s economy in 2017, up $631 million from $20 billion in 2016. The tourism economy generated $1.5 billion in state and local revenue and $1.2 billion in federal taxes, and it supports 195,255 jobs in the state.
In Washburn County 528 jobs with a total personal income of $11.6 million are supported by visitors. Washburn County visitors generated $3.8 million in state and local taxes during 2017.
Because of the growth of tourism, Martin encourages others to consider careers in the field. “There are so many opportunities in tourism-related careers in our state,” she said. “What I would recommend is look around your community. Someone is running the local museum, the chamber and the convention and visitor’s bureau.”
After graduating from Spooner High School in 2002, Martin attended UW-Eau Claire for a semester and then transferred to UW-Stout, graduating in 2006. “I decided what I wanted to do with my life, and it was the hospitality program,” Martin said.
She worked at a couple of hotels, including Telemark Resort in Cable, Parade Rest Guest Ranch in West Yellowstone, Mont., and the Marriott in downtown Rochester, Minn., before getting what she calls her “dream job” as the executive director of the Washburn County Tourism Association. S
he gets to promote her home county and share information about the businesses and natural activities it has to offer.
Student benefits from experience
Martin is not the only UW-Stout tie at the tourism association.
UW-Stout sophomore Tiffany Herzog, also a hotel, restaurant and tourism management major, is a tourism coordinator. The 2017 Shell Lake High School graduate has worked there part-time since June and returns every other weekend to work at the association’s center located on River Street in Spooner talking with visitors and helping them find activities in Washburn County.
“Growing up in the area has been helpful for recommending things to do for the visitors that stop in. I enjoy sharing my personal experiences and what Washburn County has to offer,” Herzog said.
Herzog chose to attend UW-Stout because of the hotel, restaurant and tourism management degree. “I wanted a major that would give me a unique set of skills that would set me apart and give me a competitive edge in the business industry,” she said.
Herzog will leave the tourism association next summer to work an internship in the recreational department at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear, Ala., an all-inclusive resort. She would not have gotten the position without her experience at the tourism association, she added.
Kaitlin Hanson, assistant director of the Washburn County Tourism Association, enjoys working with Herzog and Martin. “Michelle is a great leader,” Hanson said. “She makes the atmosphere fun. I love that the tourism industry is such a broad field. You get to work with a lot of different people.”
Sue Churchill, first lady at the Round Man Brewing Co. in Spooner and member of the Washburn County Tourism Board, said Martin is a fantastic leader. “I know no one who is more organized or more willing to get out there and put in the long hours, think strategically and listen to people’s suggestions. We’re so fortunate to have her.”
For Washburn County to have a voice at the state level of tourism through the Wisconsin Governor’s Council on Tourism is fantastic, Churchill said. “It was an honor for Michelle, but we’ll certainly be the benefactors as well,” she said.