Nerissa Okiye was born in the Virgin Islands and raised on the beach. Her father was a lifeguard and fisherman, and she knew early on that she wanted to work in the tourism industry. She began this career venture in Georgia 16 years ago, but a snowstorm in 2014 convinced her to return to the sound of the waves in Martin County. Since relocating to the area, the Palm City resident has become one of its greatest cheerleaders, positioning the county as a fabulous destination for vacationers in her role as the county’s tourism and marketing manager.
What brought you down here?
I was with the Georgia Department of Economic Development—a place I’d been working for 13 years—and in 2014 I was helping coordinate Tourism Day at the capitol. Just after the governor had unveiled a travel guide, it started to snow—in Georgia. When the Tourism Day event was over, I headed to pick up my son from his elementary school 20 miles away. It took nearly 12 hours to get to his school, and we ended up spending the night in the Kroger parking lot. Two inches of snow had caused what has become known as “snowpocalypse,” crippling the entire area and helping me to draw an almost literal “line in the sand.”
What appealed to you about Martin County?
After “snowpocalypse,” we went to visit my aunt on Florida’s west coast. We talked about creating a three-year plan to relocate to Florida, but before we knew it, our three-year plan had accelerated a little faster than we expected. I accepted [a] position [with the Martin County Office of Tourism & Marketing], and my husband, Steven, was interviewing and was hired at Habitat for Humanity. Believe it or not, I had never seen Martin County before accepting the position. Now that we’re here, we know it was meant to be.
You almost single-handedly earned Stuart the “Happiest Seaside Town” title by Coastal Living magazine.
It was, without a doubt, a huge partnership and something that every person who voted played a significant role in helping us to attain. Add to that all of the support from the local businesses and the warm welcome from the community when the Coastal Living team was with us in 2016 that made it an easy decision for them to come back to announce Stuart as the “2017 Happiest Seaside Town.”
You are an authority on what makes Martin County worth visiting. With a job like that, do you ever find it hard to strike a balance between work and play?
When we first moved here, it was hard for our two sons, now 12 and 14. They would complain that they had to go to every beach cleanup, festival, rodeo and assorted event on the calendar. They’ve gotten acclimated now and now realize how lucky we are to have so many opportunities to do things and what a great place it is to grow up. We live where people dream of vacationing, and if we can share a little bit of our paradise and spread happiness with others, every day is a good day.