Mama always told me bragging was not nice. But I’m pretty sure she would give Ellie Westman Chin the nod of approval on bragging about Williamson County like it’s her job. Because it is.
Westman Chin moved to Nashville in 1993 and helped create the Nashville Sports Council for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau, now the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. Under her guidance, the Houston Oilers (Tennessee Titans) and the Predators came to Nashville. She also produced the first Music City Bowl, helping to create a new sports era for Nashville. In addition, Westman Chin was director of operations for the 1997 U.S. Figure Skating Championships held in Nashville.
Fast forward to today, and she is now president and CEO of the Williamson County Convention & Visitors Bureau. This talented, passionate woman is ready to nurture all of the history, charm and potential that is Williamson County, and that’s why we’re thrilled to introduce her as our January FACE for StyleBlueprint Williamson County.
Ellie, you originally lived in Nashville in 1993, and after a short time in Atlanta, you returned. When you moved back, how had the community changed? Especially Williamson County?
In June, when I flew in to interview for the president & CEO position with the Williamson County Convention & Visitors Bureau, I arrived early and drove all around the county, including Brentwood, Leiper’s Fork, Nolensville and Franklin. I was shocked by how much the county had grown, but although there has been great growth, each of the communities in Williamson County has maintained their charm and sophistication. It was great to see.
It’s also very exciting to see a destination of this size have great attractions and activities, such as the three house museums (Carnton Plantation, Carter House and Lotz House), Arrington Vineyards, incredible music and music venues, and great shopping and dining options.
What is the role of the WCCVB in our community?
The role of the WCCVB is to positively impact the local economy by increasing travel-related spending in the county, provide quality services to the visitor and the local hospitality industry, and assist in the development, preservation and expansion of the county’s tourism product.
I remember when the only tourists in Williamson County were Civil War buffs. How has the demographic of a tourist coming to Williamson County changed?
While history remains an important part of our marketing mix, we are finding that tourists are also visiting Williamson County for the great shopping options, live music and culture.
What is the financial impact of tourism in Williamson County?
In 2013, Williamson County was ranked sixth of Tennessee’s 95 counties in visitor spending, with an economic impact of $382 million.
WillCo is so hot right now. How are you working to keep the county growing and attractive to tourists and conventions?
Presently, we are working on a new marketing campaign that reflects all the great things there are to do and see in WillCo, including redesigning our website to better represent Williamson County and our unique communities. We are also working closely with new development in the area to ensure we continue to grow and offer tourists and visitors new and exciting activities, such as the Leiper’s Fork Distillery that will open in the spring of this year. In 2015, we will concentrate our advertising and promotion on the four pillars of Williamson County: music, history, shopping and culture (theater, art and dining).
What new offerings do we have to attract conventions?
The perfect size meeting/conference for Williamson County is 300 to 500 people. We can host that size meeting at the conference center at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs, and also utilize the meeting space at the Embassy Suites. We also have nontraditional meeting space at The Factory and Green’s Grocery in Leiper’s Fork, if a meeting planner is looking for something a little bit different.
Can we even compete with Nashville on that front? Or do we attract a different convention client?
Nashville is a good friend to Williamson County. We work closely with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp to make sure we are supporting their efforts in attracting conventions and events. It certainly helps with our success that Nashville is the “it” city. We see a lot of day-trippers out of Nashville who will drive to Franklin to experience history, live music, shop and dine.
If you have out-of-town company visit you, is the pressure on?
The pressure is definitely on! I want to make sure our family and friends have a great experience while they’re visiting. I’m also known to overdo it, since I want our guests to experience all there is to do in WillCo while they’re visiting!
I imagine you get asked all the time, “Where do I go/stay/eat?” from friends and acquaintances. What sort of advice do you give friends and family coming to visit?
I try to align the experience with their interests. From Studio Tenn’s theater productions to history to shopping and live music, there is something for everyone in Williamson County. Of course, narrowing down the dining options is always difficult because there are many great restaurants.
If you only had eight hours to spend in Williamson County, how would you spend it?
This is a very difficult question, because there are so many things to experience in WillCo. As one of many itineraries, I would start my day with breakfast at Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant in Franklin. The food is great, and a visitor will get a feel for the local vibe. From there, I would stroll down our Great American Main Street and visit The Factory to do some shopping in our unique boutiques and shops. For lunch, I would stop at 55 South, then I would drive to Leiper’s Fork to visit the art galleries. Now, depending on the day of the week, I would end my day with a Music City Roots Show or the Franklin Theatre.
I am embarrassed to say that there are still lots of things I haven’t done or seen in my own hometown. What are some hidden gems that locals may have missed? How can they play tourist in their own backyard?
I would suggest that a Williamson County resident stop by the WCCVB visitor center on Fourth and Main to get a map and visitor guide, and they can also learn about any special events or other activities that are happening. As for hidden gems, I would suggest that they head out to the Natchez Trace Parkway and hike Timberland Park, or head into Franklin and hike around Harlinsdale Farm. The bike trails in Brentwood are also a great option for recreational activity.
I know you have an incredible passion for your work, but your other passion is family. Tell me a little about yours.
My husband and I recently celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary. We were married in October 2004 at Woodmont Christian Church in Nashville. When we met, I was living in Nashville working for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, and Ken (my husband) was living in New York City working for the NHL. After we married, I moved to New York. We don’t have children, but between the two of us, we have 14 nieces and nephews.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what three things can you not live without?
Laughter, books and music
What books are on your bedside table?
So, Anyway by John Cleese, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Fear Not by Max Lucado
Thank you, Ellie, for sharing your WillCo passion with us today. We’re excited to see the changes you mentioned and to fall in love even more with our fantastic Southern community.
Special thanks to Heather Sisemore of Heather Sisemore Photography for taking these fantastic portraits today. See more of her work at heathersisemore.com.