Economic Bounty, Tourism Propels County's Economy

Who would not want to respond positively to an ad promoting beautiful lakes, miles of trails to explore, thousands of acres of beautiful public lands, fishing, boating, quaint towns with family-owned boutiques, antique malls and thrift stores, dozens of cafes, fine dining, and pizza? Thanks to the Benton County Tourism and Recreation Corporation (BCTR), these ads are bringing more tourists to the county every year to discover our natural and historical elements.
BCTR is a 501c3 non-profit organization whose mission is to increase visitation and awareness of the Benton County area. It has been a great force in the increasing growth in Benton County and provides an assurance of a prosperous economic future.
BCTR had a name change in about 2010 after many years of being known as the Benton County Economic Development Corp which Irv Jensen oversaw for many years.  He and his Board of Directors felt that it was time to transition from promoting economic growth to the wheelhouse of tourism. It seemed that by inviting people to come to Benton County to enjoy our recreational and natural amenities, there was the possibility they might elect to invest in real estate, spend money at local businesses, pay taxes, begin businesses, and spread the news about us by word-of-mouth.
Lynette Stokes started as the Assistant Director of BCTR in April 2017 and was promoted to Executive Director in June 2017. She is the single employee of the corporation working as a contractor and is responsible for overseeing and implementing all aspects of tourism including accounts payable, accounts receivable, marketing, administrative aspects, updating the website, sending out brochures to all Missouri Welcome Centers, updating brochures, county-wide events cards, Top 15 Things to Do in Benton County, MO State Fair Booths, ordering collateral to distribute, writing grants, overseeing social media management, analyzing reports, monthly newsletters and much more. She has helped with the Cole Camp Walking Tour Guide and was the organizer of the revised Warsaw Walking Tour that was newly published during the Missouri Bicentennial in 2021.
Stokes has help from a board of 10 representatives from different sectors, such as economic development, City of Warsaw, County/Lincoln, bank, lodging, insurance, and business owners. 
“I have many “bosses” that I report to because everything must be approved and go through all the channels so there are many checks and balances, but I like it that way,” said Stokes. “I enjoy the aspect of people helping each other and people supporting each other. My prior professional experience has been an asset in allowing me to be able to do this position successfully that includes multi-tasking, teamwork, accounting, customer service, marketing/advertising, event organization, and business management.”
Stokes is also a Warsaw representative for the Whiteman Base Community Council, which meets monthly to provide sister-city support for airmen in the 509th  Communication Squadron  on base. June 17th was the first annual Whiteman Day which was organized by a committee (with her as liaison). It brought military personnel and their families to Warsaw to participate in sporting and crafting activities, enjoy a catered meal, plus tours of the Visitor Center and Lost Valley Fish Hatchery.
She said that there are three meetings every month that include partnerships with the chambers, economic development, State Fair Community College, MU Extension Office and city officials. They discuss upcoming events and how they can support each other.
“I have been the catalyst for programs such as the Building Local Prosperity Workshop held back in 2019, the Barn Quilt Trail of Benton County, Arts Fest (formerly Art Walk), KCBS Master Series and Backyard Series BBQ Competition, the former Ozark Cigar Box Guitar Music Festival and Smokin’ Hot Harborfest. She organizes these events and sees to the marketing plan approved by the Board of Directors which includes advertising on three radio stations and the digital billboard in Sedalia for all chamber and city events.”
The annual County Tourism Plan includes a budget based on estimated bed tax, grants, and community contributions. From there she builds her marketing plan.
“Without the three percent guest tax and the support of the County and Cities – we wouldn’t be able to promote Benton County,” said Stokes. “This year, we are estimated to spend in marketing/promotion: $17,000 in events, $22,000 in billboards, $6,600 in brochures, $15,000 in digital advertising, $43,000 in print advertising, $14,000 in radio advertising, $3,000 in postage, collateral, fair/sports shows.”
Board member Suzie Brodersen said that BCTR is bringing customers into restaurants and expanding businesses. There are more people paying bed taxes and there are more people being brought into shops. 
“I would say that in the years since Lynette Stokes has taken over BCTR as director, the tourism budget has increased dramatically,” said Brodersen. “This is mostly due to her drive to bring more people into our county and make people aware of how tourism benefits their business. We have grown in infrastructure and people are staying longer on weekends.”
Kimberly Pearcy, Warsaw Chamber of Commerce Director, said that BCTR does an amazing job connecting tourists as well as local people with all the fun and excitement Benton County has to offer. 
“Their events and publications increase tourism and also help our local economy that relies on them,” said Pearcy. “We are lucky to have Lynette and her board in our county.”
Total expenditures in FY22 were $24,447,361 compared to $13,789,041 in FY10.
Look for the popular Smokin’ on the Harbor and Master Series BBQ Competition August 5-6 at Drake Harbor, as well as the Backyard Series BBQ Competition. The Smokin’ Hot Harborfest takes place August 5 from 11 A.M. to 7 P.M. with live music, food trucks, beer and wine garden, cornhole tournament, water show contests and more. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for kids $17 and under.