Rep. Toby Barker Honored as "Friend of Tourism"

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from the Hattiesburg visitors center

During Mississippi Tourism Association's Annual Legislative Luncheon held today in Jackson, Representative Toby Barker was named a "Legislative Friend of Tourism" for 2014. Serving as the Representative for House District 102, Barker also serves as Vice Chairman of the House Public Health & Human Services Committee and is a member of the Appropriations, Education, Medicaid, Public Property and Universities & Colleges committees. This award is presented annually to a legislator who supports the tourism industry and plays a leadership role in moving tourism forward in Mississippi.

"VISITHATTIESBURG™ was pleased to nominate Toby for this award, and we congratulate him on this outstanding achievement," said Rick Taylor, Executive Director of the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission. "Our nomination was based on a pattern of support, development and advocacy of tourism and tourism projects here in Hattiesburg and on the state level for many years."

During the last legislative session, Barker was instrumental in repurposing a historical preservation bond bill to accelerate Hattiesburg's efforts to convert the Historic Eureka School in Downtown Hattiesburg into a Civil Rights Museum highlighting the Freedom Summer activities of 1964. The Historic Eureka School was the second brick school built for blacks in Mississippi, making it a fitting location to chronicle and remember the activities of that summer which helped change our state. Despite being hit by the devastating tornado that blew through Hattiesburg in February 2013, the Eureka School is on track to open in 2015 and will complement other notable Civil Rights sites throughout our state, including the state Civil Rights Museum in Jackson. Through Barker's efforts, the repurposing of the bond bill will allow this Museum to join Mississippi's important Civil Rights sites that serve residents and visitors alike with the preservation of an important part of America's history.

"Though Toby championed this recent investment in historical preservation, he has a history of event development, tourism infrastructure advancement and legislative support of tourism initiatives" Taylor added. "From the creation of several unique events focusing on the Hattiesburg Zoo to serving as a Board Member of FestivalSouth, Toby actively participates in the organization and operation of programs which highlight some of our state's unique offerings.

"We congratulate Toby as a Mississippi Tourism Association 'Friend of Tourism' for his unwavering support of tourism attractions and events in South Mississippi and his hands-on approach to growing our state's sixth largest industry."

In addition to Barker, District 22 Senator Eugene "Buck" Clarke was also recognized as a "Friend of Tourism" at today's luncheon. In 2008, following a nomination from VISITHATTIESBURG™, Representative Percy Watson received the "Friend of Tourism" Award.

Today's Legislative Luncheon, held at the Jackson Convention Complex, provided an opportunity for Mississippi tourism industry partners to network with the state's legislators. As part of its legislative agenda, Mississippi Tourism Association continues to reiterate tourism's economic impact. According to FY 2013 figures, the state's 21.6 million visitors spent $6.25 billion in Mississippi. Here in Hattiesburg, visitors spent $247 million last year, which supports 3,900 local tourism-related jobs.

Operating as VISITHATTIESBURG™, the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission is Hattiesburg's official Destination Marketing Organization and continues to economically grow the local and state tourism industry by presenting events like the Mississippi Miss Hospitality Pageant. Since VISITHATTIESBURG™'s creation in 1990, the Tourism Industry has grown to become a $247 million industry for Hattiesburg.

Photo Caption: Rick Taylor, Executive Director of the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission, is pictured with Rep. Toby Barker, 2014 Friend of Tourism