When Jane Howard took the helm of the Gilroy Visitors Bureau in 2005, she found the organization was hyper-focused on marketing the Garlic Festival to the world.
But the event only lasted for a weekend every year, so Howard tasked herself and Visit Gilroy, as the bureau is known, with presenting the city as a year-round destination spot.
Now, Gilroy’s reputation extends beyond the “Garlic Capital of the World,” and attracts countless visitors to Gilroy Gardens, the wine and taco trails and other attractions, through initiatives led by Visit Gilroy.
With more projects in the pipeline, and as the world slowly pulls itself out of the pandemic, Howard said she felt the time was right to step aside and let a new leader take Visit Gilroy to the next level.
In December, Howard announced her retirement, which will take effect on June 30.
“It’s a good time to hand it over,” she said. “I wanted to make sure we are in a good position. I believe coming out of Covid, our next leader will have to have a post-Covid mindset on how to do business a little differently.”
Howard, who has lived in Gilroy for more than 40 years, has been involved with many local organizations over those decades, including the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, Gilroy Gardens, Gilroy Downtown Business Association and more.
She came on board with Visit Gilroy in 2005 after a half-year stint as interim head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, when the board asked Howard for her help as it searched for a permanent director, which she eventually filled.
During Howard’s tenure, Visit Gilroy led the development of the city-wide wayfinding sign program and established the Gilroy Tourism Business Improvement District in 2012, which generates marketing funds through an assessment on hotel guests.
She also secured space for the original Gilroy Welcome Center at Gilroy Premium Outlets in 2011 and then led the successful effort to have the center designated as one of 20 California Welcome Centers located across the state.
Howard and Visit Gilroy are also heavily involved in the Gilroy Economic Development Partnership, which has focused its efforts on three areas: the proposed ice rink at the Sports Park, the 536 acres at Gilroy Gardens and downtown’s Gourmet Alley.
Such initiatives will help put Gilroy on the map as a recreation destination, she said.
“Letting the world know what we’ve got is only going to benefit the community as a whole,” Howard said.
Visit Gilroy’s board of directors have now begun the search for the organization’s next executive director, using a succession plan it approved in 2019.
“Jane created a dynamic team and has been a visionary leader for Gilroy,” Visit Gilroy Chairman of the Board Vic Vanni said. “Since joining the organization in January 2005, she has led with collaboration, enthusiasm and integrity. She earned the respect of community leaders, partner agencies and residents by engaging them and bringing them together in regional efforts to encourage visitation and overnight stays in Gilroy. We are truly grateful for her dedication and will miss her warm and wonderful spirit.”
Howard said she’s at peace with her decision, as she began evaluating her personal life following the passing of her husband Al in May 2020.
“As I look forward, I’m not sure what I’m going to do next,” she said. “I’m of the mindset that I’m going to do something. I believe I have a lot of other skill sets I can contribute.”
“When I look back, it doesn’t seem like 17 years. It went by so fast.”