Dean Burke is the president and CEO of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County and Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission, two organizations that merged in 2019. Burke was an ideal choice for the board of directors for two reasons: The merger was Burke's idea, and Burke's promotional feelings for the Tacoma area is genuine.
A 25-year resident of Tacoma, Washington, Burke is an avid paddleboarder, and if you see him looking grim or distracted, just ask him about the area between the summit of Mt. Rainier to the Foss Waterway. He'll perk up. "What's interesting is that in surveys done throughout the Pacific Northwest, across every possible demographic, gender, race, income, the highest common denominator is they felt a connection to the outdoors, and I'm no different,” says Burke, who was previously the top executive of Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission.
Burke spent seven years with TSSSC after a decade at outdoor equipment company K2. The organization formed by the merger will not officially act as one body until Jan. 1, 2020; there is a year of administrative legwork until then—including a new name and branding—and Burke will be counting the days until he can get back to fully promoting the area he loves. He looks ahead to the new job.
What makes you the right person for the job?
I'm not coming in to repair a wrong, but I am coming in to interact in a very new platform. The way this county and cities have approached their strategic plan to invest in tourism has changed radically. That plan really lines up well with what I had been doing at the sports commission already, the way we thought, our process. We approached event development from a feasibility-minded standpoint into investment. Those things were already pretty normal applications for us on the sports side but they weren't necessarily the day-to-day routine on the tourism travel side.
How will your day-to-day duties change?
Well, I've given up sleeping—that was a waste of time. We call it running with scissors. It's kind of a hot mess at the moment because it is like I have two jobs. Through 2019, we'll legally run as two separate organizations, two audits, two tax statements, two payrolls, because of how contracts were written. All our work right now is built on 2020 and what we're doing in the future.
What changes come in 2020?
After we rebuild the skeleton, so to speak, I look forward to us getting to the fun part. We can then get out there and get creative and move the ideas that are inspiring and exciting because, at the end of the day, our stakeholders don’t care about spreadsheets as much as they want to feel excited and confident—those are all things I want to feel as well. We need to develop a signature event, that's critical for us. We have a collection of a lot of small events, or we get a one-and-done event like the U.S Open. Whether it's a sport, art or entertainment, we want to find that one thing that resonates and people want to come visit us and be a part of it.