SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 6, 2013

Marblehead chamber leader to head area's tourism efforts

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — MARBLEHEAD — The hand-carved wooden plaque on Ann Marie Casey’s desk at the Marblehead Chamber of Commerce reads: “Annmarie Casey/executive director.”

Her dad, who died in 2011, made it for her (though, for some reason, without the space between “Ann” and “Marie.”)

When Casey moves to her new job as executive director of the North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, the personable, 39-year-old Wilmington native can bring the sign along to her new desk in Salisbury. In mid-March, she will take over leadership of the private, nonprofit organization that receives state tourism dollars and uses them to market Essex County as a place to visit.

Casey is leaving an active Chamber of Commerce in a seaside tourist town where she has worked for almost six years.

“She’s going to be missed, that’s for sure,” said Cindy Latham, the Marblehead chamber’s president. “I think it’s the next obvious step for her growth-wise.”

Casey’s new job also will give Marblehead “a representative who understands us at the regional level.”

This region certainly has a diverse range of attractions. Among its varied destinations are Lawrence, where Robert Frost went to high school, with its historic textile mills; Salisbury, with its beaches and amusements; Newburyport and Gloucester, with their seafaring histories and upscale shops; Salem, with its maritime history, Peabody Essex Museum, numerous restaurants and Haunted Happenings; and Marblehead, with its harbor full of yachts and claim as the birthplace of the U.S. Navy.

“They deserve and require their individuality because there is something special in all of them,” Casey said of the various communities. “I think I can afford them some certain opportunities from their current marketing efforts and really expand their reach, but I also think there is a lot of opportunity for them to work together and to put together regional packaging and itineraries.”

Casey says she is used to working with other leaders in the region.

“What’s good for Salem is good for Marblehead; what’s good for Swampscott is good for Marblehead,” Casey said.

“And I think that is really what the CVB was looking for in a leader — a regional leader, because that’s going to be my largest charge, to have the 34 cities and towns in Essex County really working together and being a team. It does happen on a lot of levels right now, and I think I can take it to the next level.”

Casey wants to grow the tourism organization’s membership. It presently has about 200, compared with the Marblehead chamber, which has 320. Casey’s efforts in Marblehead include overseeing large festivals such as the Christmas Walk, the Art Walk, and the upcoming Spring Home and Garden Show (March 23 and 24). Last year, she started a Maritime Festival.

Casey sees her new job as coming “full circle” in her career.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications, politics and law with a minor in poetry from Emerson College, she landed a job working as an aide for state Rep. James Miceli, D-Wilmington. Later, she worked for state Sen. Bob Bernstein, whose term ended in 2001 when he decided not to run again.

Casey, who has a Master of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston, became special assistant to the director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

In 2003, she got a job with the North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, working as the membership manager. Back then, the organization had about 300 members, so she said one of her first tasks will be to retain members and recruit new ones.

“It’s part of my job, even here at the chamber, that I really enjoy,” Casey said. “I enjoy our members. I like getting my feet on the street.”

She worked for North of Boston for a little more than a year, then headed up Beverly Main Streets, taking over for Rinus Oosthoek, who is now executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce and who serves on the board of North of Boston.

“We are all coming around full circle, and I’m still having these relationships with these folks, which is great, which I think just makes the organizations stronger because we know each other,” Casey said.

In Beverly, she worked to market the city as a cultural destination, boost the downtown and make connections. She is friends with Gin Wallace, who took over for Casey at Beverly Main Streets in 2007.

Casey left to become executive director of the Marblehead chamber.

Casey said she is leaving a thriving chamber behind but also is working to make sure that whoever takes her job is able to pick up where she left off.

“The sense of pride and community spirit in Marblehead is bar none,” Casey said, “I have never seen anything quite like it, and that is why the chamber survives, because people care.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.