Four Michigan Thumb communities organize and take action after receiving results from tourists’ first-impressions

Michigan State University Extension tourism educator conducts follow-up evaluations to determine what actions and impacts come from First Impressions Tourism (FIT) assessments.

Michigan State University Extension tourism educators partnered with Prosperity Region 6- a seven county partnership comprised of Huron, Tuscola, Sanilac, St. Clair, Lapeer, Genesee, and Shiawassee counties- to offer First Impressions: Tourism Assessments (FIT) to four separate communities during 2017. The communities were selected after reviewing their applications to participate in FIT during 2017 and included the Village of Elkton and the Village of Sebewaing (Huron County), Imlay City (Lapeer County), and the City of Marlette (Sanilac County). The partnership led to each community be awarded $2,000 from Prosperity Region 6 to implement improvements of their choice based on the results from FIT.

All four communities completed the FIT program successfully by adhering to the program expectations and their roles and responsibilities outlined in advance. Accomplishments include: establishing a cohesive and committed Community Leadership Team (CLT), attending the required Zoom kick-off meeting with MSU Extension FIT tourism leaders, organizing and sponsoring a community report forum (CRF) open to all where results are shared in a location identified by the community, and being available for follow-up evaluation meetings six to nine months after program completion. In addition, Prosperity Region 6 had expectations that implementation dollars would be spent before July 2018, which all four communities have executed. As of mid-2018, FIT has proven to be an effective program for communities interested in improving tourism, place making and overall quality of life.

Each community identified either one large or several small projects to move forward with. A brief list of impacts as a result of FIT for each community is below:

  • Elkton – Promotional social media videos, mural paintings in downtown designed to attract visitors, as well as student-to-business relationships established.
  • Imlay City – Historical walking tour and website consolidations, as well as beautification programs for community members and private/public partnerships between the city and Vlassic.
  • Marlette – Development and implementation of their first farmer’s market being drive by a re-engaged Downtown Development Authority comprised of nine new members.
  • Sebewaing – Successful completion of MSU Urban and Regional Planning program resulting in a new recreation plan and updates to master plans as a result of FIT, as well as the launching of a new farmer’s market.

FIT2017 communities continue to work diligently towards meeting goals identified during the FIT program. A majority of communities have used the $2,000 implementation money to receive additional grant dollars for funding more projects. All four FIT communities intend to be part of a 2020 FIT Summit where each community will share their successes and possibly be partnered with another community to conduct their own assessments of each other at a later date.

This successful community partnership endeavor has to lead to another round of FIT programs across Prosperity Region 6 and also has led to Prosperity Region 1 adopting a similar funding model in the western U.P. As a result of these four FIT programs in 2017, the program has received statewide attention from Michigan Economic Development Corporation and individual Michigan communities interested in funding their own FIT community assessments.

Communities interested in learning more about Michigan State University Extension’s First Impressions: Tourism Assessment program can read further by visiting our website and searching FIT articles.

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