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Martha Starkey is a young "old pro" at connecting people with fabulous destinations.
For the past 13 years, Martha has been the executive director of the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau in downtown Wooster, the county seat of Wayne County, Ohio. She is also the current president of the Ohio Association of CVBs.
Before coming to Wayne County, Martha worked for a bus-tour company, another local CVB and a family and convention resort.
"I really love talking to all the people," Martha said. "I get a real satisfaction when I find the right places to visit and the right things to do for visitors to our county."
The Wayne County CVB was begun in 1984 as a way to bring visitors to the county, dubbed as a "crossroads of culture and countryside."
"We try to bring people into the county for a day, to discover all the wonderful things we have to offer," Martha said. "Then, hopefully, the next time they come, they'll choose to come and spend a night or two! We're funded by the local bed tax, so of course we hope they stay over!"
Wayne County was founded in 1796, the third county founded in the Northwest Territory and was named after "Mad" Anthony Wayne of the Revolutionary War. Wayne County is the 13th largest of Ohio's 88 counties.
Agriculture has always been a mainstay in Wayne County, and dairy farms still dot the countryside. The railroad brought industry to the county in the late 1800s, and still today, world-renowned companies such as Wooster Brush, Gerstenslager's, LuK USA LLC and Smucker's make their home here.
Wayne County is bisected by U.S. Route 30, which stretches from New York City, across the mid-section of the country, clear to San Francisco. That route, formerly known as The Lincoln Highway, is now designated by red, white and blue signs and runs through Wooster and Dalton.
Wayne County and Holmes, Ashland and Tuscarawas counties, are home to the largest concentration of Amish in the world. The Amish are a deeply religious group of Anabaptist Christians who choose to live simply, without modern conveniences such as automobiles and electricity. Many are still farmers; others operate home-based "cottage industries." Woodworking, construction and crafts have become major businesses for the Amish.
The Ohio Division of Tourism lists this area "Ohio's top rural destination."
The county is also home to the College of Wooster, the Wayne College branch of the University of Akron, ATI (Agricultural Technical Institute/Ohio State University) and OARDC (Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center/Ohio State University).
Martha said the local CVB gets many, many requests for information about the area.
"For instance, in May 2007, our office received 828 phone calls, 3,000 e-mails and 4,582 Web site hits," she said. "And, 311 people came directly into our office for information."
In 2005, the latest year for which data is available, visitors to Wayne County spent $161.6 million, and that keeps increasing. The county boasts 3,000 jobs related to the tourism business.
I asked Martha if she thought the recent hike in gas prices made an impact on the tourism business in our area.
"Actually, we're very optimistic," she said. "I think people from, say, Michigan or North Carolina, may decide not to come right now because of the cost of gas. But, people from Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit or Pittsburgh are making us their destination because gas prices are too high for them to go to Florida, the seashore, etc.
"Our office works very hard to attract visitors. You have to remember Ohio's tourism budget is the lowest in the region, so locally, we have to work harder."
If you are planning a trip to our area in the near future, give Martha a call and/or visit the CVB's Web site for more information. There is so much to do in Wayne County you'll have to come back several times in order to get it all done! And there are wonderful places to stay and out-of-this-world restaurants at which you can eat.
Come experience Wayne County!
Some Wayne County Attractions
Cat's Meow Village
Everything Rubbermaid Retail Store
Kidron Town & Country Store
Mrs. Miller's Homemade Noodles
P. Graham Dunn Gallery
Shisler's Cheese House
Mishler Weaving Mill
Ramseyer Farms Maze Adventures
Wayne County Historical Society
Wayne County Fair
Orrville Railroad Heritage Society
Shisler Conference Center
Wayne County Convention & Visitors Bureau -- 428 W. Liberty St., Wooster, OH 44691 (located in the Wayne County Administration Building), (330) 264-1800 or (800) 362-6474, email@example.com, www.waynecountycvb.org.