BOISE – Idaho’s longtime tourism chief and its head of international trade were both laid off Monday, as state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer launched a reorganization of his 53-person agency.
Karen Ballard, the state’s tourism division chief for the past six years and a tourism staffer for the state for more than 20 years, is out of a job, as is Damien Bard, chief of the department’s Division of International Business.
“Our reorganization is really us trimming back at the top levels of management, and streamlining our team so that we can be more responsive to the businesses of the state and changes that are occurring in economic development,” Sayer said.
Commerce will now have just three divisions: Administration, headed by Megan Ronk, former government relations, marketing and public relations officer; Business Expansion, including the international division, community development and more, headed by current team leader Gynii Gilliam; and Business Creation, including tourism along with sales and marketing, business attraction and national sales. The department is seeking a leader for that division.
Ballard, who said she was advised of the reorganization on Wednesday, said, “We are eligible to reapply for some other positions that are going to be here. It’s a streamlining of Commerce that’s going to have a few less people, but actually redistribute some of the salaries to be more equitable. … So they’ll be creating a new position for manager of tourism, and we’re hoping that one of my staff will be able to fill that position.”
Ballard said she won’t be reapplying for the manager post. “That is a reclassify and a downgrade of what my current position is,” she said. With a chuckle, she said, “Basically, they’re splitting my job up into two different directions, which makes me feel better for the amount of work my job was, it needing to be split.”
Asked about her plans, she said, “Well, I’m open to opportunities that might come my way.”
Sayer will brief the Idaho Travel Council on the changes at its meeting in McCall this week, and will seek to reassure them that tourism promotion remains a focus for the department. “I feel like it’s an enhancement to what we’re doing right now,” he said. “We’re actually bringing teams together that can benefit by working in tandem. … There’s a number of synergies we’re going to pick up.”
Ballard said staffers knew Sayer, who’s been on the job two years, was working on a reorganization. “We actually helped him with some of these ideas that he came up with,” she said. “I had not anticipated that it would be the elimination of my job, but I understand what he’s trying to do, and it could be very productive for him.”
Prior to joining Commerce, Ballard worked in the hospitality industry in the Sun Valley area, including five years as director of sales for Elkhorn Resort. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, and in 2012, won top honors for overall destination marketing for “Visit Idaho” from the U.S. Travel Association, despite the state’s meager tourism promotion budget compared to larger states.
Bard has worked in international trade promotion for more than 15 years, has headed the international business division for the past six years and is a Boise State University graduate who also studied in Japan and Thailand and is fluent in Thai.
“These are two high-quality individuals who have done a lot of great things for the state,” Sayer said. “That’s what made this so hard. … This has been gut-wrenching, but necessary.”
Sayer said the department is now actively recruiting for new positions created by the reorganization. “They’re both encouraged to reapply for the other positions should they want to,” he said. “They will get nothing but the highest recommendations from me, regardless of what decisions they make.”