Lapeer County greening Michigan 2018

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

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

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/entrepreneurial 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. Sebewaing has also developed their first Historical River District too as a result of participating in FIT.

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. This successful model has influenced Prosperity Region 1 in adopting a similar funding model across 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 assessment.

This successful community partnership endeavor has to lead to another round of FIT programs across Prosperity Region 6. Marine City in St. Clair County and Cass City in Tuscola County were both selected for FIT2018 in District 10. Both communities have begun the FIT process as of mid-August and will work directly with Andy Northrop, Tourism and Community Vitality Educator, throughout 2018 and 2019.

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