“I consider myself the state cheerleader,” laughs Cory Jobe, a Springfield alderman who, in February, became the state director for the Illinois Office of Tourism. The combination uniquely fits the natural born tour guide, who was raised in the small town of Robinson, “home of the Heath candy bar,” and has big plans for boosting the profile of Main Street Illinois while keeping four consecutive years of visitor growth on track for the near future.
ILM+E: What is your prior experience in the tourism market?
CJ: I started my career as the economic development director for former state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. In 2000, we created the Experience Illinois program that offered $40 million in low-interest loans that helped the tourism industry by financing hotels, historic renovations, theater improvements, B&Bs, even minor league ballpark projects. I’ve worked closely with CVBs, which has helped me to know a lot of individuals who have been helping grow the tourism infrastructure.
ILM+E: Does being an alderman benefit your role as the director of tourism?
CJ: I think so. As a Springfield alderman, I’m proud to represent a lot of the historic downtown area sites like the Lincoln home and Route 66 attractions and renovation projects in my ward. Seeing what we could do at a city level gave me the drive and passion to see what could be done on a larger scale.
ILM+E: It seems like you have a strong focus on attracting visitors to areas outside of Chicago.
CJ: Chicago is our gateway for sure, and we do partner with Choose Chicago, but we know that visitors do like to travel the state and book outside of the city, so our historical sites and preservation are critical. One of the things I’m urging the administration to continue is the Illinois Main Street program, so visitors can touch, feel explore and experience the real America here in the state. We have 40 CVBs and they all are our extended family and our front line in terms of attracting and retaining quality visitors.
ILM+E: What are some of your other goals and strategies?
CJ: We’re launching a new initiative called Illinois Made, a multifaceted series with documentaries, videos and print and digital features showcasing Illinois entrepreneurs— the chefs, winemakers and artisans who love the state and their craft. We’ll be highlighting their stories to inspire travel. We’re also enhancing our state travel guide as a new quarterly leisure lifestyle magazine called Enjoy that will showcase every region of state with more regularity and more variety.