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Paula Vann: TDC Director Moving Up Into the Corporate World & Out of Columbia County Government

Glass ceiling with headline: TDC Director Paula Vann moving up into the corporate world
Photo: János Bencs via Pixabay | Columbia County Observer graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Paula Vann, Columbia County’s Tourist Development Council Director (TDC), is moving out of County government into the corporate world. In 2014, Ms. Vann had a shaky beginning, but her demeanor, good nature, and education have helped turn Columbia County into a sports tourism destination for the whole Southeast.

On March 4, 2014, Ms. Vann sent her application to Columbia County’s Human Resource Office. She wrote:

The Tourist Development Director position is an excellent match to my qualifications. With over eleven years of strategy, business development, and consulting experience, my diverse skills and demonstrated desire for excellence can add value to the Columbia County Tourism office. Many of my transferable skills align with the key responsibilities of the Director role.

Paula Vann, Columbia County TDC Director, 2014
Paula Vann, eary in her career at the TDC.

Seven months later, the TDC met and balked at hiring Ms. Vann, who had married into Columbia County’s then-powerful “Vann Clan.” It wasn’t a pretty situation. In the end, County 5 member Ron Williams strong-armed the TDC  into recommending Ms. Vann for the position.

Ms. Vann had her work cut out. The County had previously taken over the City’s South Side Sports Complex. Lake City was divesting itself of its sports and recreation programs, and at the time, the County was willing to pick up some of the slack. The Southside field upgrades and renovations were underway.

Was Ms. Vann up to the task of navigating Columbia County's legendary-infamous good ole’ boy politics: the numbers tell the tale:

• Annual bed tax revenue grew from $938K to over $2 million;

• The economic impact of tourism grew from $135 million to $200 million;

• Softball and baseball tournaments grew from 24 annual events to over 40 events for 2023;

• Operational and financial management of the TDC was reorganized, shedding $1 million of debt and increasing cash reserves to over $3 million.

Additionally, after the controversial County 5 purchase of 500 acres of mostly wetlands for a new regional sports tourism park, Ms. Vann coordinated the strategic plan, feasibility study, financial modeling, and master plan.

Paula Vann, TDC Director, 2021
TDC Director Vann, years later.

Your reporter spoke with Ms. Vann on Sunday afternoon.

Ms. Vann said she was not excited about leaving Columbia County but thought her new position would be a good thing. "It's a new challenge and something using what I've been doing and taking it to the next level. That is exciting."

Ms. Vann had been working with the company, Zartico, a startup that helps tourism offices promote local destinations allowing them to gain real-time visibility into the purchasing behavior of nearly 94 mil consumers.

Ms. Vann impressed the company to offer her a job. Ms. Vann said, “I'm going to be a strategic advisor-director, so I'll oversee a team of strategic advisors for small markets. They track economic impact and spending data and where travelers come from to help determine target markets for tourism bureaus and things like that.”

When Ms. Vann began her employment with the County, she brought a solid educational background from real post-secondary schools. She had an undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Tennessee. Ms. Van followed that up nine years later with an MBA from the University of Florida.

Your reporter asked Ms. Vann to talk a little about her education and how it helped her in her career.

Ms. Vann said, "I think my education played a part because I went to school to learn business, numbers, and finance. I learned how to strategize and problem-solve.”

Your reporter asked, “How do you feel your MBA helped you?"

Ms. Vann answered, “I think an MBA teaches you more about business strategy than anything else. The MBA is a foundation for becoming a finance expert. I relied on the lessons I learned again and again: strategies, data, and research. And that's what it teaches you: how to find information or use the information that you gather to develop strategies.

Your reporter: “So you are saying an MBA is like a road map?”

Ms. Vann: "Yes. It gives you a roadmap to figure out whatever problems you encounter. And I think you don't always have to be in a specific vertical market or industry. Those things overlap a lot of times.”

Your reporter: "It looks like your education has influenced your success. Would you recommend that other people, particularly girls, go to school and get degrees and get MBAs or similar degrees to help them in their future careers?"

Ms. Vann: "If that's the path they choose and they have the desire and determination to do that -- absolutely. It may not be for everyone. It takes a lot of hard work, patience, and time."

Your reporter: “Do you think it's worthwhile?”

Ms. Vann: “I absolutely do. Yes.”


Ms. Vann closed out her 2014 introductory letter: "I assure you that my commitment, enthusiasm, and professionalism will be of great value to your team."

Over the weekend, County manager David Kraus told your reporter, "Ms. Vann brought a lot to Columbia County."

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