With Jamie Furbush, President of the Frankenmuth Convention and Visitors Bureau
Frankenmuth is open for business! Jamie Furbush, President of the Frankenmuth Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, shares with us how her team is working hand-in-hand with Frankenmuth’s businesses to keep visitors safe while creating new memories in Michigan’s Little Bavaria.
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Frankenmuth is one of the top tourist and family destinations in the state of Michigan. Known throughout the world, this exciting city is known for creating wonderful memories for generations of people from all walks of life. From retail shops, indoor dining to outdoor dining and outdoor sporting activities, there’s something for everyone at Michigan’s Little Bavarian. Start planning your next trip at Frankenmuth.org.
Cliff Duvernois: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Call of Leadership podcast, where we interview people from our Michigan community who answered the call of leadership. We will hear their powerful stories and get their advice so that we can be better leaders for ourselves, our family, and our community. I am your host Cliff Duvernois, and today’s guest on the podcast is a fixture in the Frankenmuth community. She serves as the president of the Frankenmuth chamber of commerce, as well as the Frankenmuth convention and visitors Bureau. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the show, Jamie Furbush. Jamie, how are you?
Jamie Furbush: I’m great Cliff. Thanks for having me.
Cliff Duvernois: Thanks for taking the time to be on the show today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from, where you grew up.
Jamie Furbush: Sure. So, I grew up in Utica, Michigan. That’s in McComb County, down in Southeast Michigan. And, I went to Central Michigan University up in Mount Pleasant and that’s where I met my husband who grew up here in a Saginaw County.
Cliff Duvernois: what did you study at CMU?
Jamie Furbush: Commercial recreation and facilities management, is what my degree was in. Although I studied a lot of things until I fell upon that. so I went into college, actually thinking I might be an optometrist, but, the science classes were a little too much for my, my take.
Cliff Duvernois: Wow. That’s a, that’s a big leap optometry to, facilities management. Excellent. Now, what was it about like, facilities management that, that kind of inspired you or drew you to it?
Jamie Furbush: So actually commercial recreation. Part of that, it was, I know, kind of a complicated degree, but it was in the, recreation field and they have four different emphasis. So community recreation, public recreation, other things like that. for me in particular, I was very interested in the meeting and convention markets, planning events, and planning meetings.
I had worked in a. Banquet and convention center since I was about 15 years old. And so that was very familiar to me. And as I went through college and, and, got involved in different things, I realized that planning events really fit my skill set and was enjoyable. So that was something that really interested me.
Cliff Duvernois: You graduated from central Michigan university.
How did you wind up in Frankenmuth?
Jamie Furbush: So actually my husband and I were engaged here in Frankenmuth. He proposed to me on the horse drawn carriage, which is, many proposals have happened on, before and after that moment. And we, When we were looking for location for our wedding, we decided upon, we settled upon the Bavarian Inn Lodge here in Frankenmuth.
partly because our families were spread out and we wanted somewhere that everybody could come as sort of a destination thing. And so, as we were preparing for that day, you know, for over the course of a year and a half, we really got to know the staff at the Bavarian Inn Lodge. Well, and when we were looking to move from Southeast Michigan, we were in Rochester Hills at the time.
We relied on some of the, the relationships that we had built up in this area and my husband already had a job with Buena Vista school district actually, and their nutrition department. so he was already sort of up in this area. And, we just asked the folks at the Bavarian Inn lodge, that we were working with if they ever heard of anything in the area to let us know.
And sure enough, I got a call from Annette Rummell, who was the president of our organization for 16 years. She, before me and she, she. Called me in for an interview. And, I asked her in that interview, it was kind of funny. I asked her if she knew was familiar with the Rummell studios, that was the portrait studio, that took my photos for our wedding.
And sure enough, it was her husband. So we made a quick connection and the rest is history,
Cliff Duvernois: nice. And when you said that she was president of our organization, which organization is that?
Jamie Furbush: The Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Cliff Duvernois: Okay. Now a question that I have for you then is, you know, with graduation and I definitely understand your ties and connections to, to Frankenmuth. How did you wind up getting involved with the chamber of commerce with the convention and visitor’s Bureau?
Jamie Furbush: Sure. So Annie hired me in 2002, January of 2002 is when I started here as a sales manager. And so at that time, this organization and the convention visitors Bureau side of our business, Was running a lot of the festivals and events here in Frankenmuth, and they made a strategic decision to outsource some of those to local groups.
So, Mark Jansen with Ram productions, they, they run the summer music Fest. They also now run the October Fest, which was originally, created and organized by the staff of the convention of visitors Bureau here. when they decided to, sort of outsource that to Ram productions, they decided to focus our organization’s efforts on meeting and convention sales.
And so that’s when they hired me for that position. I worked a lot with the meeting and convention market throughout the state of Michigan, attracting different reunions and associations and government groups, to have their business meetings here in Frankenmuth.
Cliff Duvernois: And at some point in time, you made the decision to run for president of both of the organizations. What, what made you decide to do that?
Jamie Furbush: Actually Annie Rummell, it’s a kind of a long story, but Annie Rummell went on to, within the first year of me being here, she went on to lead, the Saginaw County convention and visitor’s Bureau and fill a void that was left there. and, and now it has been a great leader for our region and in the Great Lakes Bay or the Go Great, Convention of Visitors Bureau that you might be familiar with, who represents our entire region of Midland ,Bay and Saginaw counties.
And. so when she left, I served as an interim director for a little while. a number of months actually, until they hired a, another director who was here for a number of years. And at that time I went back to, doing my sales, meeting and convention sales role. We sort of evolved my role at that time.
And even. There was a point in time in my history here with the organization that I was part time. and I opened a business myself, the Frankenmuth wedding chapel, and, and I took a short hiatus. I, I left, thinking I wanted to focus on my own business. And, within a couple of months though, my predecessor Jennifer had resigned and the position of president and CEO was open.
And so, I had some, some friends in the community that suggested I consider going for that position. And that was in 2008. So I’ve been in my current role since 2008.
Cliff Duvernois: You are the president of both the chamber of commerce, as well as the Convention and Visitors bureau. Is this, is this a common experience for, for cities to have a president who represent both of these?
Or is this something that’s a little bit more, perhaps on the unique side for Frankenmuth?
Jamie Furbush: It’s a little bit unique. but it’s all we know here in Frankenmuth. There there’s a, you know, a handful of us in the state of Michigan that operate this way as a combined unit. Each of them are a little bit, you know, slightly different organizational capacities, but, Really for Frankenmuth. It makes sense because we are very collaborative.
We have so many locally owned businesses that we’re very tourism heavy as, as you know. And so, so many of our business owners it’s, they don’t only have an interest in the tourism side of business. Tourism is their business. And so, they want to support the entire business community and do things in a unified matter.
And that’s just sort of been the, the collaboration here is just part of the culture. And, so I can’t imagine it really working any other way, than it does in Frankenmuth for us. Anyway.
Cliff Duvernois: Excellent. The, the question that I have, and perhaps this is going to be one of the strengths of actually having, the chamber of commerce, as well as the convention and visitors, Bureau CVB working underneath one umbrella. But I do want to spend some time talking about. The reopening of Frankenmuth and at the time of this recording, The, the governor has lifted, many of the restrictions, so people can start going out.
But I, I know that there’s a lot of people out there who are concerned about their safety. And can I go out and have, a nice evening with my family without worrying about us getting sick or something along those lines. So, first off, I wanna, I want to talk to you about a little bit about, perhaps the plans that you have in place to start.
Opening Frankenmuth up and getting people to visit. So would you share some of your, some of your plans and some of your thoughts around what you, what you are implementing in order to make that happen?
Jamie Furbush: Sure. So really our plan started, you know, a couple months ago, right? In the middle of the pandemic when we started having conversations about, When, when it’s time to reopen, how, how do we do this? Right. we’ve always had our businesses have always had a legacy for creating an environment that’s very safe and welcoming and, and we want to uphold that legacy.
And how do we prepare to do that? And times that are looking, you know, Changing so rapidly. It’s, it’s hard to keep up with. And also, in times that are very confusing and quite honestly, you know, very conflicted in some regards, you know, people have very high emotions about different things. So we early on decided that we needed to set expectations for ourselves.
And for those that, choose to visit our community. And so. Because we’re a small town first. we are a community of only about 5,000 residents here that we want to make sure our residents feel comfortable. We’ve spent a lot of time working with our partners at the city and the schools and, Bridget Smith, our city manager created a task force early on.
So we were able to sort of identify what some of the concerns would be throughout the community. And then we got to work from our organization’s perspective. We got to work with our business owners. We held think tank work groups to try and decide what we were going to do. and we, we developed a toolkit for businesses so that there was some standardization and unified, resources that they could utilize.
Now, certain businesses are big restaurants. For example, they rely heavily on, some of the state associations, like the restaurant lodging association, but also, You know, what resources could we have locally that would be unique, and, and really have a shared vision for how we come out of this. And so, the toolkit’s been very helpful.
just this weekend, we had some comments back about, How nice it felt around town that we were prepared. And I think, the signage that we have throughout town is, is fairly consistent. Some people have amended it to their own business standards, but for the most part, you’ll see similar signage throughout town.
So, social distancing, signage, reminding people that, we’re doing these things, for, Your safety. And we would ask that you do these things for our safety as well. And so some of those things include, of course, wearing masks. All of our staff, throughout the community are wearing masks. We also, encourage people to wear masks and all of our businesses, and we have them available for free at the visitor center.
many of the businesses have them for free as well. And, You know, continue to have sanitizing stations publicly available and re requesting that people use them frequently. You know, those kinds of things, just to reminders, on how we can all, protect each other in these, kind of challenging times.
Cliff Duvernois: I know that with some of the other guests that I’ve had on the podcast, they have mentioned that it seems like the requirements for protecting customers, protecting visitors seem to be almost changing on a daily basis. And there might be some conflicts between, let’s say the guidelines that Michigan’s coming out with versus the guidelines that are, that are the CDC.
Was, was there anything about putting together, like you mentioned before this toolkit, was there anything about that that you’ve just found particularly challenging or what was some of the, what was some of the ideas that you had to try to make, you know, make something available so people could start implementing it in their businesses.
Jamie Furbush: Yeah. So the, we constantly throughout the pandemic, communicated with the business community on the orders as they were changing and evolving. And then when we created the toolkit, we’ve continued to watch and monitor, to see what kind of changes needed to be added or changed. to those kinds of things, things like response and readiness plans.
When we first, put out templates for those kinds of things, which we did with the help of the Michigan chamber and Bodmin law, was very gracious to provide templates for businesses across the state of Michigan. So our businesses use those resources and they were ready so that when the governor announced that those plans had to be ready to be submitted within two weeks of your opening, our businesses have the resources at their fingertips to do that. So we’ve, we’ve tried to be, on top of it, when things are new orders are coming down, that we have, are able to be flexible and that we communicate and sort of help. Keep things as clear as possible.
There’s a lot of information and the businesses quickly become overwhelmed. They rely on us. They trust us to sort of be a source of good information. So that’s sort of what I’m doing.
Cliff Duvernois: Okay. And that was interesting. And I want to go back and kind of explore that a little bit. If I heard you correctly, you said that these, the businesses, especially in particular, the restaurants and it’s probably applicable to hotels too, but they have to actually submit a plan.
Jamie Furbush: So they don’t, they have to be prepared to present a plan. I guess it came out in the order as, as though they had to submit it. let’s say your, a business that has a liquor license. So if the liquor license calls upon your business, you need to have a plan that you can present to the liquor control commission.
So whatever the governing agency is over your business, you need to have that plan prepared and ready to be presented. If it’s requested.
Cliff Duvernois: For people that are thinking about coming out and visiting Frankenmuth, what would be some like key pieces of advice that, that you would give them to make sure that they can come out and really experience what it is that Frankenmuth has to offer, but at the same point in time, be mindful of keeping their family safe.
Jamie Furbush: First of all, would highly encourage people to go to our, welcome back page on our site, our website. So it’s frankenmuth.org/welcomeback. That’s where we’re keeping a collective update on businesses that are changing their hours or have different restrictions during this time. So if, if one of your favorite businesses that you like to go to has restricted, occupancy, which most of them do right now, you may want to call ahead and find out, a little bit more about that.
If you can make a reservation, things like that, so that you can have a good experience, with limited wait times, that kind of thing. I also encourage you to review on that same page. We have, sort of the, the list of our, The things that we’re doing because we care and the things that we hope that you’ll do because you care.
So, you know, if you have a mask, bring it with you, be prepared to socially distance, perhaps do some more things outside, explore parts of our town that you haven’t considered exploring before. The river and our kayaking has been incredibly popular over the last few weekends. a lot of people have told us they didn’t even realize Frankenmuth had a river.
So, you know, there’s different, Ways that you can safely, if you aren’t comfortable yet going inside a restaurant, there are ways to enjoy Frankenmuth, in, in different and safe ways. And we’ve created some new outdoor seating. You’ll see some, picnic tables in various spots throughout the town.
A lot of people are doing takeout and. Even though the restaurants are begun to open where you can get, take out and go enjoy it. And one of our parks, we have 19 different parks throughout the city and beautiful riverfront as I mentioned. So there’s lots of great ways to be able to enjoy Frankenmuth safely.
And I would also say to, you know, and selfishly I’d asked for, Our visitors to be patient with us. All of our employees are having to learn and work in a new environment with all these new regulations. And so, patients is, is greatly appreciated as we try to navigate the new environment and uphold that wonderful service that we’re accustomed to.
And I know Sanders has been really passionate about saying there’s always a smile behind the mask. It’s hard for us, you know, we like to have smiles and they’re a little bit hidden right now, but they’re there.
Cliff Duvernois: I do understand that, that, that particular sentiment. Going out this last weekend, my fiance and I went to Michigan on Main and it was a little bit different having the servers and the hostesses walk up and greet you and talk to you with the mask on that. That to me, kind of threw me for a little bit loop and I understand why they have their mask on, but it just, you know, when you can’t see people’s smile, it’s just a different feeling.
Jamie Furbush: Right. It’s, it’s a, it’s a new environment for all of us to get used to. So,
Cliff Duvernois: With regards to the tool kit. Was there anything in particular? Cause I know like Frankenmuth has just so many varied businesses that are there. You have restaurants and hotels and you’ve got retail shops and things like that. Was there anything in particular about the tool kit that you found that was particularly challenging to be able to help the businesses out with.
Jamie Furbush: I think all the changes that were occurring, where we’re probably. Know, keeping up with those changes. And a lot of the changes happen by sector. So we did our think tanks by sector. We had a think tank for our restaurants in hotels and attractions. We had a separate thing tank for our retail group, and then we had a separate think tank for more of our service based professional kind of, of local businesses.
And, what I found at the end of those three different groups, you know, even though they’re three different sectors and, and I’ve noticed this throughout all the. The different orders that have come out some have slightly different, or more restrictive, requirements, really the basic, The basic fundamentals of what needs to be done in order to keep businesses safe are our, and to keep our employees safe.
And our customers safe is very, very similar from sector to sector. And it’s only when you get into specifics that each business type really needs to think about their unique situation. And there’s been some help of course, from the orders with, By the state based on sector, but I think there’s, there’s sort of a baseline that everybody can follow.
And that’s what we focused on in our tool kit, where the baseline, and then every business individually sort of has to look at and we’ve just field a lot of questions and done what we could to help on an individual basis as well, because it’s a unique situation.
Cliff Duvernois: When I was walking down the street in Frankenmuth, this last Saturday, I looked above main street and there was a big sign hanging across main street that said Muth means courage.
Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Jamie Furbush: Yeah. So, in German Muth means courage Frankenmuth. It means the courage of the Franconia ans our settlers that actually settled our town 175 years ago this year. And so, at the beginning of the pandemic, we, Somebody, I think one of my team members, my creative staff came up with that. They came up with a blog post, actually about the courage in our community to tackle this head on.
And, and, so it’s become a community rally cry quickly after then. our mayor encouraged actually, I think there were a couple of teachers that encouraged residents to put out red ribbons. Outside their homes to signify that we all have courage to get through this together. And the mayor was putting pictures of homes with red ribbons and there had to be, I mean, hundreds of homes with red ribbons. It was quite impressive.
And, so it’s become the community rally cry, I would say for our 175th year, coincidentally, it wasn’t, what we thought it would be, probably a couple of. Months before that, but, it’s really unified our community around, you know, having encouraged, we’ve talked to the seniors that graduated this year about having courage and they’ve been so courageous as a class and had to, you know, tackle a lot of different things in a, a very historic time for their, senior year.
And so, it’s been a, Muth means courage is, is, we sold t-shirts in fact as well. that said Muth means courage on them. And those, the proceeds from those are actually being raffled off to frontline, folks that have served throughout the pandemic, it’s a sort of way to give back to some of those that have had a real challenging time during this.
Cliff Duvernois: On the subject of giving back, has there been some, some programs or, some other, activities that either the chamber or the CVB has been involved with to, to kind of give back to those particular first responders? Or maybe, maybe there’s some businesses that you would like to spotlight that, did something to help out.
Jamie Furbush: Oh, my goodness. We had so many, in fact, just the other day, Kremin. on the North end of town, they are making masks for the medical community. They gave a box of a hundred to me to give out to any of the businesses that needed them still as they were reopening. So very generous, donations, continuing from some of our businesses, the Frankenmuth Wollen Mill is another great example.
They, they right out of the gate started, providing fabric. You know, they are a. Manufacturer of wool bedding. And so they have lots and lots of high quality fabric and they immediately went to work, cutting it and giving it out to the, so the, sewing groups that were sewing masks during the outbreak.
And so those, Kind of efforts have been really contagious. In fact, the woolen mill and, and will their owners, that also own Abby’s of Frankenmuth and Jamie’s ice creams and treats. They provided two masks to every household in our community, and they did that as a way to. To help protect the community.
So as we talk about businesses, starting to reopen again, that that thought that our business community wants to keep our residents and our community and our employees safe. we care about each other and as people start to visit our community again, we want to make sure that everybody has what they need to be prepared.
Cliff Duvernois: And this is, and this is something that I’ve heard with other interviews from, from people that have been in the. The Frankenmuth community. And I’m thinking of why, for instance, an interview that I had with Adele Martin, talking about this really symbiotic relationship between, the government business, as well as the community in Frankenmuth.
And talk to us a little bit about. How that, how that all works together, or maybe even how it was even formed. Cause I know a lot of communities seem to be lacking this, but Frankenmuths just community overall just seems to be really, really strong and really tight knit. So talk to us a little bit about that.
Jamie Furbush: I think it’s true. We definitely have a very tight knit group. And when Bridget Smith was hired as a city manager, we made an intentional effort. her and Adele Martin from the school district and myself to meet regularly to start to talk about community-wide issues that that really require collaboration between our organizations.
We’ve done some incredible things. you know, I think, Communicating with the local community is, is one big thing that was a struggle beforehand. And we’re, we’re working on improving that effort in a number of ways. and really just having open, transparent conversations with the community. that’s another way that we’ve really tried to engage our local, stakeholders and, and continue to do so.
I mean, and it was important, especially as we faced, we didn’t. Ever expect what happened in 2020, and you can’t prepare for that, but when you have the kind of relationships that we have here, it makes it a lot easier to weather the storm because we can call on each other for help. So when Adele was really struggling with some of the, Details of the graduation.
For example, she could call upon, myself or the city to help make things happen. And so, they were able to, to pull off a wonderful, the night they were going to, they did a drive by graduation and the night that they did the drive by graduation, it was scheduled to rain. And so they quickly moved it to the Harvey Kern community pavilion, which, Bridget graciously offered a so that they could drive through that pavilion and, have a nice safe space to do that.
So it all worked out wonderful, but I think it’s, it’s those kinds of relationships that you can count on each other to help weather these kinds of storms.
Cliff Duvernois: From a community standpoint, Frankenmuth has so many events that are going on. And I, and I know that the Bavarian parade was canceled for this particular, for this year, just because of the, of the stay at home order. Is there any plans right now? And I know that this could, this could definitely change, but is there any plans, for the foreseeable future where you’re thinking that you might go ahead with some of these other festivals that might be coming up.
Jamie Furbush: Oh, yeah. Actually. So even in July, there’s some, of the, like the, running race in the mutter, the Frankenmudder, which was a fundraiser for the Michigan, Hero’s museum, they are running virtual races this year. So there’s still some of those kinds of efforts going on in August is when we have some events that have not yet canceled or actually have been rescheduled from earlier in the year.
So the dog bowl, balloons over Bavaria, those kinds of things are currently scheduled for August. And so, they’re spreading them out over two weekends in hopes of, again, just trying to create a outdoor. Spread out safer kind of, experience. And so there’s guidelines, being established, currently that I think will, will create a good environment for some of those events to hopefully take place yet, this fall.
So, not all of our hope is lot is lost for events, in 2020, although, you know, A lot of communities have lost if they had one major event of a year and it gets canceled for Frankenmuth, we have, you know, multiple pretty large scale events every month throughout Murphy’s. And, and so, while some have had to cancel many have been rescheduled.
And so they’ll probably look a little different obviously this year, but, you know, if we can, if we can make any happen, this fall, that’s the intent.
Cliff Duvernois: If there is something that, you know, like a particular message that you would just like to share with the, with the people that are out there, like people thinking, you know what I, I would like to bring my family over to Frankenmuth and enjoy something or whatever.
If there was some message that you would want to give, what would be that message.
Jamie Furbush: Come visit us. We’re we’re ready. we’re ready for you and, and, okay. We’re excited to have you back, in our community and, We’ve created a safe environment for you to be here. And so, we just ask that you, have the same care and compassion for our employees and our teams, as we have for you as our guests.
Cliff Duvernois: If anybody wants to connect with you either online or maybe follow, what the convention visitors Bureau is doing, or maybe, catch up on like any of the latest news, what would be the best way for them to do that?
Jamie Furbush: Yeah. So on our website at frankenmuth.org that’s, and on the homepage, we have, any of the blogs that we do that change regularly would be right there on the homepage. You can access the, the blog information and keep up to date. You can also sign up for our newsletter, that goes out at least once a month.
And if anyone wants to email me directly, my email address is .
Cliff Duvernois: excellent. And for our audience, we will have those links in the show notes down below. Jamie. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. I really do appreciate it.
Jamie Furbush: Oh, thank you, Cliff.