WHEN ASKED if he considers himself a walking encyclopedia of all things Arkansas, newly appointed tourism director Jim Dailey laughs.
“I’m stepping in the shoes of Joe Rice, who was just that,” he says of his predecessor, who held the post for three decades. “Around him, I go, God, I don’t know anything.”
But that’s just Jim being modest. In truth, he’s a natural for the job. After all, he had the public-servant thing down pat: He was the mayor of Little Rock for 13 years, served on the Arkansas State Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission, and led the Arkansas Municipal League as its president, just to name a few of his bona fides. He’s more comfortable being called a salesman, working to promote his stomping grounds—a not-too-pushy, not-too-passive, all-too-good-at-his-job salesman. By the time he’s done talking about this bluff or that lake, this museum or that off-the-beaten-path eatery, you immediately start making plans.
“I love this state,” he says. “I grew up in Arkansas. I’ve always been in the business of promoting our assets. I’m just telling stories about something that’s really rich with history, that’s rich with attractions that I know people will enjoy.”
On representing the state
“What this job is about is promoting our state, connecting possible visitors from outside of the state and country to the assets and beauty that we have here in Arkansas. That’s kind of what I did as mayor. Before that, I had my own business—an office-furniture business—so I’ve always been a conceptual salesman, I guess. I’ve moved from the local-level representation to now, representing the entire state. I’d already been calling myself, with a degree of smile on my face, the mayor of Arkansas. We have such a wonderful state, and I’m just happy to be one of the key people that’s working with a great team to promote it.”
On the first days of his new job
“A lot of it, as a newbie, is interaction with the staff and talking about some of our assignments. We have a commission meeting that’s coming up. I’m setting up appointments with people I want to visit. We also have the Governor’s Conference on Tourism coming up in March. That’s a really big part of the tourism department each year. There’s just a lot on the plate. I mean, I walk in here, first day in, and think, Well, it’s going to be a little bit of getting myself oriented. But it’s like jumping in over your head immediately.”
On his goals
“There are 502 cities [in Arkansas], and I bet each one—whether it’s a city of 200 or a city of 100,000—has a story to tell. I’m actually going to the Arkansas Municipal League meetings, starting tomorrow in Fort Smith, and will be making a short pitch to them. To say, Let’s start the conversation about stories that you may have to tell, and then hopefully, we’ll follow up with those [stories] and begin to document and promote them. My goal is to elevate that as much as we can and, hopefully, to make each and every city proud of the fact that it has a story to tell and that it’s getting out there.”
On efforts to bring more visitors to Arkansas
“We have a governor who is very passionate about the tourism and hospitality industry and sees it as economic development, so we’re blessed to have that kind of support from the top. We may not have the automatic attraction that, say, New Orleans or Atlanta has, but collectively, we have something we can capitalize on if we can get travelers to come to the region. Then once they get here—whether it’s a person who gets recruited here for a job or a person who’s recruited here to visit—they say, Wow, this is really a great state. We will come back. We will tell our friends. Our biggest obstacle, if I look at it as an obstacle, is not what we have to offer, but it’s getting that message out there to where we get people to give us the first try.”