Tapping into Tourism: Craig Rickert Takes the Helm in Jonesboro’s Effort to Recruit Visitors

Brittney Osborn


Tapping into Tourism: Craig Rickert Takes the Helm in Jonesboro’s Effort to Recruit Visitors

By Audrey Hanes, Photography by Melissa Donner

As the Jonesboro Advertising and Promotion Commission continues to promote local tourism with the goal of producing a positive economic impact on the City of Jonesboro, they do so under the leadership of new Executive Director Craig Rickert, who has spent more than two decades encouraging others to get to know his hometown.

Rickert is well-known in Jonesboro; he was a lead anchor at KAIT-TV for 15 years, where he earned multiple awards from the Associated Press and won two regional Emmy Awards. Seven years ago, his career headed down a different path as he became the director of communications for Jonesboro Unlimited, a private partnership organization with the purpose of advancing economic prosperity in Jonesboro and the region, particularly with regards to its industry. He was also the driving force behind the city’s 2022 rebranding and move towards a more unified look.

“My background for over 20 years has been telling Jonesboro’s story, whether that was on the news every night for 15 years or the last six years working with an incredible team at Jonesboro Unlimited and the Chamber of Commerce to bring more business and industry to Jonesboro,” said Rickert, who has three children with his wife, Sarah, all of whom are active in the community.

“To be in this position, I think you have to know and love your community; that has to be genuine. If it’s not, people can pick up on that right away. I know our potential and where we can improve, and I’m honest about that. I love telling people where we’ve been and where we are going.”

Recently, Jonesboro’s Advertising and Promotion Commission (A&P) created a position for the longtime Jonesboro advocate, employing his longstanding knowledge of and passion for Jonesboro for a role that focuses on attracting tourism through the funding of promotion and advertising of events held in the city.

“Many A&P Commissions across the state already have large staffs that help with the tourism and sports industry for their cities,” said Jerry Morgan, chairman of the A&P Commission Board of Directors. “… We have been a strong volunteer organization for several years, but as we have grown, we have realized that we needed a strong leader to help with the future direction, especially with the advancement of our upcoming Sports Complex. With that the A&P Commission decided that it was now time or probably past time that we have a full-time person to help lead us in that direction. …

“We also get requests daily from organizations and event companies looking to explore Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas for their next event, and we felt like this would be a great return on investment to hire a full-time executive director to be able to respond to those requests in a timely manner to continue to catapult Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas as a tourism destination for travel and sports events.”

Morgan says Rickert was an easy choice for the position.

“For anyone that has lived in Jonesboro for the last several years and has been active in the community, it was easy to see that Craig was the right person at the right time for this new position,” he said. “Craig understands Jonesboro, the business community and has lived and worked here most of his adult life. His experience in different fields before this position made him a natural fit to go out and sell Jonesboro to the rest of the United States.”

Rickert has embraced his new role and the many upcoming events and plans within the community.

“If it involves promoting Jonesboro, that’s where you’ll find me,” he said. “Currently, my attention is focused on the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism and the Great Jonesboro Eclipse. Very soon, the development of the new Jonesboro Sports Complex will occupy a great deal of my time. Those are the things people see. I call it an ‘iceberg’ mentality; most of the mass of this job remains beneath the surface. The job comes with some built-in commitments like speaking to civic groups, serving on committees and keeping up with administrative tasks.”

The past year was a record-setting year for Jonesboro hotels, and the city continues to attract more large-scale events and opportunities. Rickert says 2024 is shaping up to be just as successful for the city’s tourism industry.

“There’s not a single reason for our record year for tourism; A-State, our incredible industries, conventions, weddings, indoor and outdoor sports – it all adds up,” he said. “I think some people have a narrow view of tourism, only associating it with theme parks and grand vacations. Our tournaments, sporting events at A-State, business travel, it all adds up more than you think.”

One of the year’s largest events is the 50th annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism, which took place last month and brought hundreds of people to Jonesboro for a multi-day event that explored community, collaboration and celebration.

“The Governor’s Conference was huge,” said Rickert. “Over 500 people from all over the state got to see Craighead Forest Park, The Shooting Sports Club, A-State’s campus and, more importantly, they got a heavy helping of our hospitality. I feel confident we’ll get a lot of them to come see us again. At the very least, they’ll tell their friends what an impressive community we have.”

Next up is the Great American Eclipse; Jonesboro is in the totality zone for the total solar eclipse on April 8, which should attract many to the area for a prime viewing location.

“The eclipse marks a tremendous opportunity for Jonesboro.” said the executive director. “Tens of thousands of people will be here for a couple of days. That’s a chance to welcome people and invite them back. A lot of communities are focused on only April 8, (but) we see it as an invitation to come back and see us anytime.”

Also in the pipeline is the highly anticipated addition of a large sports complex, which the A&P Commission hopes will really put Jonesboro in the running in the area of sports-related tourism and all that comes with it.

“Our next major undertaking is the Jonesboro Sportsplex that is currently in the design and construction phase,” said Morgan. “While the final plans are still being completed, this will be the single largest public project that this city has even undertaken. This will be a true game-changer not only for the city of Jonesboro, but all of Northeast Arkansas.”

“The sports complex will become a tremendous asset for Jonesboro,” added Rickert. “We already host huge tournaments. When the sports complex is completed, our reach will extend even further. Add in the planned Olympic-style natatorium, and Jonesboro will become a destination for sports tourism.

“… Tourism benefits the entire community not just hotels and restaurants. The revenue that comes to Jonesboro through tourism helps us all. The A&P Commission’s mission is to work with all groups to foster an environment that puts Jonesboro top of mind as a place to come for work and play.”

From a volunteer standpoint, Morgan says that serving on Jonesboro’s A&P Commission is very rewarding for several reasons, particularly that it is able to return almost all of the tax collections back to the community and to the organizations that are experts in their areas of service.

“We have very little administrative overhead due to our volunteer board, and this allows us to return a much larger amount of our funds to the community when compared to other A&P Commissions and Convention and Visitor’s Boards,”said Morgan. “This allows the majority of the funds to be deployed directly into our community with tourism-related events. This has continued to give us a strong return on investment and has been reflected in a steady increase of A&P Collections.”

The board chairman says another rewarding aspect of service on the A&P Commission is to be able to work with collaborative projects across the city.

“Naz Kazi, a former commissioner and hotel owner, issued the first challenge several years ago to come up with a solution to find funding for turf on the baseball fields of Joe Mack Campbell Park,” said Morgan. “Within a couple of months, the A&P Commission was able to partner with Jonesboro Baseball Boosters and the City of Jonesboro to complete a partnership to fund over $1 million to turf 10 baseball fields.

“After that project, the A&P Commission was successful in partnering with the O’Reilly Group to bring the Red Wolf Convention Center and Hotel to Jonesboro. This was a project that had been dreamed about and sought after for decades. The commission was able to make this come to fruition by deploying those tax receipts towards the expenses associated with the convention center. This project has been a huge win-win for all parties involved, and we have seen significant increases in tourism-related revenues on the hotel and restaurant side since that has been in existence. … We have grown our hotel industry into 17 active hotels providing over 2,300 hotel rooms that generated almost $40 million in revenues in 2023. This has evolved into a major industry for our city, and we currently have two additional hotels under construction that will come online this year.”

Rickert says that the community has been eager to support the A&P Commission’s efforts to promote tourism in Jonesboro.
“I love the energy and enthusiasm I get from people now that I am in this role,” he said. “We have so many people who are invested in Jonesboro’s future both financially and emotionally. They have pride in Jonesboro and want people to know what a special place we have here. I’m honored to be a voice for them.

“… What makes Jonesboro special is our people. It’s easily our best resource and strongest piece of infrastructure. When you are part of Jonesboro, we take you in as one of our own. I want people to feel that way when they visit, and they have to feel it immediately. It doesn’t do us well to have someone visit only once; we want them to come back. Our hospitality always has to be on full display. I’ve started conversations with people from out of town without letting them know ‘it’s my job’ to do so. They are always complimentary of our community and the people they encounter. The best advertising and promotion we can have is people telling others they had a great experience in Jonesboro.”

For more information about the Jonesboro Advertising and Promotion Commission, visit tourjonesboro.com.



The Occasions Lady and Fireworks of the Future