Harry Sladich Jr. stayed in Spokane when all his high school buddies left. He convinced his wife to stay here when she wanted to move to Seattle. And now that the city is making progress with economic development, the Spokane native wants to be a bigger part of it.
“I love Spokane. I’ve lived here all my life,” Sladich said Tuesday.
His passion came through when Sladich applied and was selected to be the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau’s new president. The nonprofit tourism promotion organization announced Tuesday that Sladich would assume the top post May 25. Sladich replaces John Brewer, who left three months ago to take a position in Billings, Mont.
“I just think the CVB hit a home run in finding somebody with the characteristics that Harry has,” Brewer said. “He’s an incredible individual who will do a phenomenal job. He’s earned this.”
Sladich, 44, has built a 26-year-career working in Spokane’s hotel industry, starting fresh out of high school working for the downtown Sheraton Hotel, now the DoubleTree Spokane City Center. He worked his way up to become vice president of sales and marketing for Sterling Hospitality, directing sales efforts at the company’s nine hotels in four western states.
Sladich said his career path has run parallel to his new position because he sees the CVB, essentially, as a sales organization. The only difference is that now he’ll be selling the hometown he loves.
“Selling is about relationships,” Sladich said. “You buy from people you like. I have been very effective at doing that, so I want to get involved and tell that story.”
The president of the CVB is beholden to many different shareholders because public funding comes from Spokane County, the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley, the Spokane Public Facilities District and a tax on hotel room nights. In addition, membership dues, from restaurants, retail shops, hotels and other businesses, contribute several hundred thousand to the $2.5 million annual budget.
As all the members expect their interests to be protected in the marketing of Spokane, keeping everyone happy can be a challenge, Sladich admits. It’s tougher still when a variety of opinions exist on how Spokane should be marketed.
However, after a career filled with civic involvement, including service on the boards of the CVB, Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, Hotel/Motel Association and Spokane Restaurant Association, Sladich said he’s developed the contacts and relationships to reach out to all the CVB’s partners.
“Everybody respects him,” said Ron Anderson, vice chairman of the CVB board of directors. “The jury won’t be out like if he was a brand new person coming to the community. Everybody knows Harry.”
Board Chairman Jim Dean agreed.
“There’s some comfort in the fact that the groups that have a lot at stake were very supportive of Harry,” Dean said. Sladich was interviewed extensively for the position by hoteliers, the senior staff of the CVB and a 10-person search committee including representatives from each of the CVB’s constituencies.
“A common thread is everyone said Harry is a person who has a great deal of passion about the tourism industry and the region of Spokane,” Dean said.