Leaders in Cape Girardeau say the start of projects such as the new conference center and indoor sports complex mark the beginning of another leap forward for the city. Keeping up with the city each step of the way is the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For the CVB, finding ways to promote the community is never-ending, though its efforts may not be obvious to many.
From bringing thousands to an event in Cape Girardeau to welcoming the families stopping by the visitor's center on Broadway, the Convention and Visitors Bureau uses four full time employees and one part-time worker. Others step in on a part-time basis to help welcome Mississippi River boats docking downtown or run welcome tables at special events.
"A lot of times, local people have no idea the extent and reach of what the CVB is doing," said John Mehner, chamber of commerce president and CEO.
Booked hotels, filled restaurant tables, sold out events -- that's what the CVB works toward every day through direct sales efforts, advertising and establishing relationships with other organizations.
These successes don't happen on their own, executive director Chuck Martin said.
"I think sometimes the knee-jerk reaction can be, 'So why do we have a CVB?' as if all of this is just going to magically happen if you don't," he said. "And that is a misconception. If we're not out there doing our job and doing it well, a whole lot of these overnight stays, a whole lot of what is going on in the community, doesn't happen."
These "happenings" include events such as the Hemmings Motor News Great Race that stopped in Cape Girardeau in 2013. Thousands of spectators flocked to Broadway and Main Street to see the classic cars, and the city's enthusiasm was rewarded with the Best Overnight Stop City award.
Stacy Dohogne Lane, the CVB's director of public relations, said that event led to more opportunities for the city to host similar events.
"Midway through working with the Great Race folks, they came to us and said, 'Hey, we're liking Cape Girardeau so far, and we're not even there yet. Could we partner with you guys on the  Motorcycle Cannonball Run?'" she said. "To which we said, 'Absolutely. Let's do it.' And then, the Corvette Caravan happened to be coming to our area, and we got that running."
If residents feel as if they don't always notice the CVB's efforts, it's likely because the focus is outside the community rather than inside, Mehner said.
The CVB's mission, as Martin explained, is to promote the city for the purpose of economic development through increased business and recreational tourism. Employees look at what is bringing people to Cape Girardeau and look at ways to enhance or lengthen their stay.
Much of the work is backed by data to ensure the right message is reaching the right market. For example, a ZIP-code analysis of overnight guests in Cape Girardeau has helped the CVB learn more about visitors.
The analysis found 48 percent of visitors come from Missouri and 12 percent from Illinois. St. Louis is the city's top "feeder market" when it comes to overnight guests, Martin said.
Knowing this, the CVB knows where to target its advertisements. Thanks to a survey by H2R Market Research of Springfield, Missouri, the CVB knows what people are enjoying about their Cape Girardeau experience. The top response came as little surprise to Martin.
"Ninety-three percent of those who responded mentioned our warm and welcoming people," he said.
This was followed by a variety of things to do, making a great weekend getaway location and offering a variety of dining and shopping options.
"Variety" also is at the top of the list for any CVB employee ticking off the city's best traits. Lane said the city's amenities are categorized, making them easier to market.
Among the primary categories are:
* Family-fun offerings that include Melaina's Magical Playland, Cape Splash and Discovery Playhouse;
* Back-in-time offerings, featuring historic attractions such as Fort D and the Red House Interpretive Center;
* Outdoors offerings, which features local parks and trails.
Lane said marketing of each category is strategic. Promotion for the outdoors, for example, begins about fall when outdoor attractions are "truly at their best," she said.
And each advertisement, social-media post or website update is designed to give a potential visitor whatever information he or she seeks, plus a little more.
Her focus now is on upcoming arts-and-crafts fairs in Cape Girardeau. She wrote a blog post on the CVB website covering all of the events, plus places to stay, nighttime events and restaurant suggestions.
"So we package it more as a narrative, instead of just as this disparate series of events," Lane said. "You don't want to make that potential visitor do all the work to put all the pieces together. If you can string the necklace for them, all the better."
If Lane's role is to promote Cape Girardeau, Alyssa Lage's job is to sell it.
Before a visitor sets foot in Cape Girardeau -- whether for work or leisure -- a lot of behind-the-scenes work has taken place at the CVB. Much of this work falls to Lage, director of sales.
Throughout the year, she's visiting conferences, bidding on events and participating in sales calls. Whether it's sports events or regional conferences, Lage works to bring new groups to Cape Girardeau.
"I get five to seven minutes to talk with somebody to tell them, if they've never heard of Cape Girardeau, first, show them geographically where we're located and what we have to offer and how can we help them make their event successful," she said. "Because that's what it's all about: How can we help them be successful?"
This year, Lage said, there were several large conferences in town, the most recent being the Missouri Preservation Conference. The value of these conferences comes from the exposure Cape Girardeau gets from these new visitors. Attendees are hitting up shops and restaurants, going on bus and walking tours -- seeing the sights of Cape Girardeau.
"They're doing more than just that specific event they're here for," Lage said.
Something Lane and Lage said continues to draw visitors is Cape Girardeau being a filming location for "Gone Girl." Lane said even before the movie was released in 2014, book clubs contacted the CVB wanting to come see where the movie was filmed. That prompted them to put together a "Gone Girl" driving tour.
"That's just been, I think, a really vital piece of collateral to get into the hands of those people who are interested in 'Gone Girl,'" she said. "Every day, somebody's mentioning it somewhere on social media, so it's really fun to be able to say 'Here, go download the driving tour right here.'"
When a group of Japanese journalists came to the city a few weeks ago, Lane said the driving tour was "a principal driver" behind the visit.
Lage has seen the effects of "Gone Girl" carry on in her work. She had a woman seek her out at a show of more than 1,000 people last year because she knew Cape Girardeau served as the filming location.
She described "Gone Girl" as a catalyst that has spurred more interest in the city.
"It's been interesting going to events and marketing a 'Gone Girl' tour to those group tours," she said. "It's been a learning process. You know, they want to see the 'Gone Girl' sites, they want to eat at the restaurants, but they also, once they see what Cape Girardeau has to offer, they want to combine those historic sites, and they want to combine the antiquing."
While "Gone Girl" likely will continue to be a factor in efforts to draw visitors, a few new developments will come into play soon. Public-private partnerships approved this year by the city council have paved the way for a new indoor sports complex and conference center.
For Lage, these are additional selling points to promote at expos and trade shows.
"They're not going to change my job, because I'll still be marketing every other aspect of Cape Girardeau, but obviously when you have something new in a market, you really want to help that thrive, because it's going to help your entire community thrive," she said.
The sports complex will help with the "off-season" between November and March, she said, while the conference center with attached hotel will offer an additional layer of convenience many groups seek.
"They want to stay in their room and be able to walk downstairs and walk in and have their session," Lage said. "And they also want new and shiny."
Martin said as he prepares to step away from the role of the CVB's executive director to take a position as executive director of the Missouri Travel Council, all of these successes for Cape Girardeau combined with the solid work of the CVB team make it the perfect time to "pass the baton."
"So I think it's just a great opportunity for whoever ends up being the next executive director. It's just a very, very exciting time," he said. "I think ultimately what you'll see over the course of the next five to 10 years is that Cape Girardeau is going to take another gigantic step forward in enhancing and solidifying the regional hub that it truly is."