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Hill to depart Travel Southern Oregon post

Carolyn Hill, who has led Travel Southern Oregon and its predecessor, Southern Oregon Visitors Association, for the past 14 years, will step down Dec. 31.

Born and raised in the Portland area, Hill said she found her true home in the state's rural regions encompassed in the seven counties marketed by Travel Southern Oregon.

"For the first 26 years of my life, I had no idea what was south of Eugene," said the West Linn native. "I've lived here for an equal number of years, and I've really developed a passion for rural Oregon."

Hill stepped into her role as timber receded from its dominant economic role in Jackson, Josephine, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Klamath and Lake counties, helping communities adapt to new challenges, including the Great Recession. During Hill's tenure, Portland research firm Dean Runyan Associates estimated travel spending has grown 35.4 percent to $1.3 billion from $944.9 million in 2003.

Pooling limited resources across seven counties and shepherding more than two dozen board members, Hill helped transition the region's travel marketing from a handful of advertisements to an international presence.

"We represented a 30,000-square mile area," Hill said. "I felt like it was mine, and I took it seriously."

Ron Fox, retired executive director of Southern Oregon Economic Regional Development Inc., worked closely with Hill on a variety of endeavors, admiring her skill at developing collaboration.

"Carolyn has been on the phone, herding those cats, and she's done an absolute marvelous job at it," Fox said. "It will be a challenge to find someone who can manage that complexity as effectively as she has."

Transition into a post-resource-based economy hasn't come easy.

"For many reasons, the counties I've been working with are facing a lot of challenges," Hill said. "I do believe tourism is an economic development tool for many communities. But it can be hard, and has been hard, for the communities to transform themselves from resourced-based economies to a recreation and service-based economy."

To that end, she's relentlessly reminded boards and agencies she's dealt with in the state's power centers to not overlook the rest of the state.

"That's been a source of pride and a huge challenge," she said. "Every chance I get, I'm leaning in aggressively."

She has been a member of the Joint Legislative Committee for the Oregon-Fujian Sister State, which encouraged a Feb. 25 agreement to promote Crater Lake National Park in its top overseas travel market.  Hill earned her fourth Governor's Tourism Award for her efforts in establishing a sister park agreement between Crater Lake National Park and Wuyishan National Scenic Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in China. She also serves as the executive director of the Crater Lake National Park Trust.

“Carolyn has proven herself an innovative, devoted and fervent leader for Southern Oregon’s tourism industry,” said Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon. “She consistently brought strategic insight, thoughtful perspectives and a solution-driven approach to her work and her region.”

The many hours on the road and time spent overseas working to connect the region with foreign agencies has taken a toll, she said.

"Right now, I have family members that need me," Hill said. "I need to give them my time."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Carolyn Hill