Commissioners sign-off on Marketing Taskforce report
“The point is we need bold thinking.”
That was part of the message from Warren County Commissioner Jeff Eggleston brought to the rollout of a report from the Warren County Marketing Taskforce.
Eggleston said the initiative to form the task force grew from marketing discussions held early in his term of office about the need to “bring everybody together… to improve marketing and promotion in Warren County.
He said the effort was to bring the “best, smartest, brightest” people together “to do something where the community got involved (at) limited cost to the county.”
The members of the task force include Jim Decker, president and CEO of the Warren County Chamber of Business & Industry; Eggleston; Chuck Gray, artistic director with the Struthers Library Theatre; Youngsville Borough Manager Lisa Hagberg; Dave Sherman, executive director of the Warren County Visitors Bureau; Sherry Tune, Allegheny National Forest and Piper VanOrd of Allegheny Outfitters.
“All kind of joined somewhat reluctantly,” Eggleston said, describing the task force’s work as “a very organic process…. This group was really fabulous to work with. It’s really creative. There’s nothing in it that I felt is really run of the mill. Everything that is in the report is tailored specifically to Warren County.”
The study was broken into five focus areas – Shape the Narrative, Destination Marketing, Virtual Warren County, Pa., Promoting & Preparing for Growth and Community Growth Initiatives.
Gray told the commissioners that there have been “many attempts at branding” in the county. “This was a goal to create a campaign of positive and cohesive… communication to create our message, put it together, make it genuine and active and welcome and a call to action.”
She said that a “lot of great effort” has been put into branding in the past but that “each was not widely accepted.” As part of this effort, she explained that the major assets of the county were identified and prioritized” in conjunction with a mantra unique to Warren County and in conjunction with regional and state tourism initiatives.
Such marketing efforts that were “scattershot… didn’t succeed as well as singular-focused ideas.
So the task force looked at those assets and determined which recommended “the Allegheny Reservoir should be the epicenter… of focused tourism marketing.”
The idea would be to develop that area until it reaches a “tipping point” as a tourist destination before shifting focus to an additional area of the county.
Gray also talked about the importance of a need to “be more discoverable online” and the report lays out a host of recommendations in that realm.
Eggleston said there are “five to ten really good proposals that are doable” in the report and advocated for the rest of the board to support a resolution that affirms the report and reauthorizes the task force to continue to implement the items in the plan.
He said that one of the key drivers in approving the study is the potential for grant funding from the state.
“Money passes us by at the state level because we don’t have shovel-ready projects,” he said. “The state is constantly looking for projects to fund” and views the report as a “tool to pull down funds.
“It’s important to remember that this report did not cost the county a cent in real tax dollars. A report of this quality and size would cost tens of thousands of dollars if we went to a consultant….”
Some of the projects are shooting for the skies – a suspension bridge from Jakes Rocks to Rimrock, the development of a staple event that generates crowds of up to 100,000 people as well as mention of universal cell coverage on the Allegheny National Forest.
Does that cheapen what the report is trying to achieve?
Warren County has a “long tradition of looking at something and figuring out how to try to find the dent,” Eggleston said. “The point is we need bold thinking. (We) needed to put everything down on paper that we could as an option. We couldn’t hold back.”
He noted that communities who make strategic changes “had bold changes within their community that were noticeable. There are things that aren’t in the report that I pulled…. I’m more focused… I wanted the group to feel they could put everything in it.
“Implementation wise, I’m focused on the stuff – Virtual Warren County – we do not have enough regional internet presence.”
He said that aspect could be completed “with very little money (and) could be done within” the next year.
“I think the other thing (is you) can’t read the report as every single thing in the report” will be accomplished. “It is a menu taken a la carte and prioritize and thought about in that fashion.”
On the signature event recommendation, he looked to thriving events in Erie, Franklin and Clarion.
“Warren County really doesn’t have” a signature event and there has been “no concerted effort to develop beyond what they’re doing” with current events in the county. “If we took every bold idea out, we would have a report like everything else.”
“Buy in” has been a challenge in previous initiatives but Eggleston sees a different outcome for this effort.
“I think that the people we’ve incorporated are thought leaders within the community,” he said. “All of these people, everyone’s waiting for an opportunity to serve and move things forward.”
He further suggested that the county is “more ready for change than it probably has been in a long time…. I think the time is right. They want development, want to see things grow.”
Eggleston said that “one of the big recommendations” was bringing back the position of recreation director or marketing director.
He said that “whether within the county or within (some) association, I don’t think (we) can do a lot of coordinated effort… without personnel. I think that’s a huge part of why we’re kind of in a position where everything is all over the place.”
He said that the state Department of Community and Economic Development has grants available that could be used to fund such a position.
“When putting this together, (I) want people to shoot for the sky. If (we) get a couple projects out of it” and pull people together “it’s a huge success.”