TDA taps Pruett as tourism director

County tourism to become Pruett’s ‘palette’

By Kevin Spradlin

Related coverage
* Feb. 11: TDA adopts tourism plan
* Jan. 22: ‘A playground for the creative class’
* Jan. 22: County seeks tourism director

ROCKINGHAM — A 45-year-old West Virginia native with a love for the outdoors has been selected as executive director of the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority.

TDA members met Tuesday morning at Rockingham City Hall and in a 25-minute closed session finalized a consensus on Kelly L. Pruett, of Spencer, W.Va. Pruett begins her new position on Thursday at the Visitors Center, located at the corner of Highway Business 74 and U.S. Route 1 South. The building is to be used for tourism offices and as the hub of information for area attractions.

Kelly Pruett

Kelly Pruett

She agreed to terms Tuesday and will be paid $55,000 for the first six months and is eligible for a 5 percent salary increase after a six-month probationary period. Pruett said she also is required to live in Richmond County within 12 months.

Pruett said during Tuesday’s meeting that she is “kind of an outsider” but believes that can be a strength. It means, she said, that she can come in “looking at the whole picture (and) being more objective” rather than favor a single attraction or tourism draw.

“I can give them an honest approach,” said Pruett, who will work to ensure Richmond County is “known for a little more than we used to have the Rockingham Speedway.”

Focusing on that “I think that’s taking a step backwards. It’s good that you have that heritage (but) you want to build on that heritage.”

As a visitor, she said, she wants to know where there is to do in Richmond County. She and her youngest son were two of an estimated 50,000 people to visit Discovery Place KIDS this year in downtown Rockingham. But what else is there to do?

“I’m not seeing signage, not seeing a lot of brochures,” Pruett said.

There was also no mention at Discovery Place of what other activities or experienced are offered. She said local attractions could and should work together to promote each other.

“Let’s utilize each other,” she said, and “make sure we’re working back and forth. We just need to get the word out there.”

Most recently, Pruett served as financial development director for the YMCA of Kanawha Valley in Charleston, W.Va., and has 17 years of experience in grant writing and more than four years of experience in economic development, marketing, tourism, website design, event development and coordination. Pruett also has worked as the executive director for the Nitro (W.Va.) Convention and Visitors Bureau. Before that, Pruett worked as executive director of the Nitro Development Authority and earlier served as director of the LaBelle Theater in south Charleston (W.Va.) and executive director of the South Charleston Chamber of Commerce.

Pruett said she already had plans to relocate to Pinehurst with her fiance when the TDA agreed in January to seek a tourism director.

“It was perfect,” Pruett said. “The timing was great.”

While holding an administrative position with the YMCA, Pruett said she’s looking forward to having the opportunity exercise her creative side. She was impressed with the organization of the four-person selection committee — Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump, Richmond County Manager Rick Sago, Rockingham City Planner John Massey and Kim Williams, events planner for the city of Rockingham. Pruett said the flexibility “to start from scratch” and build the tourism program from the ground up was too intriguing an opportunity pass up. Her guideline will be the plan outlined by Arnett Muldrow & Associates, in Greenville, S.C., which recently completed a two-year effort to help Richmond County brand and market itself as a destination. Pruett will spearhead the implementation of that plan.

“I just love that,” she said. “I always give 200 percent. It was very much ‘here you go. What can you do for us?'”

The approach presents the chance to “turn this into an artist’s palette,” Pruett said.

The geographic change comes only a short time after the loss of her husband to cancer in 2012.

“Sometimes you have to just say … leave some of the negative behind and start all over again,” Pruett said. “It’s great. I’m really excited about it.”

Pruett has three children — a daughter in the master’s program at UNC-Wilmington, a son who is a college undergrad and a 10-year-old son. Pruett said she and her fiance plan to build a home somewhere within Richmond County.



Filed in: Latest Headlines, Outdoors

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