'Capital of the Buffalo Commons' new marketing theme
McCOOK, Nebraska -- Hello, world! Now, and from this day forward, McCook and the surrounding counties of the Golden Plains shall be known as the "Capitol of the Buffalo Commons."
The new brand -- announced at Thursday night's Town Hall meeting at the Fox Theatre - was proclaimed -- for the first time ever -- by Carol Schlegel, executive director of the McCook/Red Willow County Tourism Bureau.
The title, coined by Frank and Deborah Popper of Rutgers University more than 25 years ago as a negative description of this area, has been turned into a positive by the Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival and the forward-thinking vision of this region's citizens, who are united in their determination to show the world that -- despite the adversity of limited rain and sparse population -- we can not only survive ... we can achieve goodness and, perhaps, even greatness.
The Town Hall meeting, called by Kirk Dixon and Ben Dutton, two of McCook's newest residents, could be a life style-changer for the community, inspiring the town's citizens and councils to unite and align for progress, making McCook the kind of town that is an attraction to both visitors and new residents.
Dixon, the new executive director of the McCook Economic Development Corporation, and Dutton, the extension educator in charge of of the "Marketing Hometown America" initiative, spearheaded planning for Thursday night's Town Hall with assistance from Carol Schlegel, tourism director; Janet Hepp,a member of the McCook City Council, and Andrew Ambriz, a strategic projects intern assigned to McCook by the Rural Futures Institute.
Significantly, because of state laws concerning collusion, only two members of the McCook City Council could attend. Those two were Hepp and Gene Weedin, one of the facilitators of the Marketing Hometown America study groups.
But, by not being there, the other three City Council members -- Mayor Mike Gonzales, Jerry Calvin and Bruce McDowell -- are now poised, theoretically uninfluenced, to join Janet and Gene as the Council is confronted with a host of new initiatives to encourage the city's growth.
Town Hall attendees, gathered in McCook's historic Fox Theatre, were treated to a preview of those future possibilities Thursday night when Andy Long, Tor Olson, Bill Longnecker and Gene O. Morris stepped forward to present particulars on four of the many projects tabbed for future action by those who gathered last week for the Action Forum which topped off the Marketing Hometown America study sessions in McCook.
The initial top four projects for McCook, as determined by priority dots placed by those attending the Forum last week at the college included:
* VACANT HOMESTEADING - This idea, borrowed from Australia, is to inventory all the aging homes in the community which are not well kept up, and -- either for free or at a reduced price -- offer them to newcomers with the stipulation that they fix them up and agree to stay around for a period of years to contribute, through property taxes, to the city, county and schools.
* NEIGHBORHOOD TRAILER - This is also a borrowed idea. The object, as explained by Tor Olson, is to buy and equip a trailer with gifts and goodies which can be transported easily to all parts of town to welcome newcomers and host neighborhood parties. Done successfully in eastern Nebraska towns, the traveling trailer idea is hailed as a way to help create community closeness.
* COMMUNITY WEBSITE - Designated by every study group as a major McCook need, the community website idea is to develop a site so powerful and so popular that everyone from anywhere can find out, daily, all the wonderful things happening in McCook and the newly proclaimed Buffalo Commons region. A key part of this idea is for someone - either the chamber, the newspaper or the MEDC - to designate a person whose responsibility is to collect the date, time and place for all of the community's upcoming events, whether those be at schools, churches, clubs or community-wide activities. Bill Longnecker is leading this committee, with help and encouragement from Kirk Dixon and Ben and Janet Dutton.
* NORRIS/REA MEMORIAL - This idea, although just adopted for community action, has been floating around for several years. The good thing is, thanks to gifts from MarySue Hormel Harris and her late husband, Bill Harris, and the National Rural Electrification Association, funds are in place to go forward with the project. A noted architect who grew up in McCook, Robert Douglass, has agreed to supervise the design of the memorial with the assistance of Sondra Jonson, a sculptor from Cambridge, and David Wilson, a McCook-based architect. Cloyd Clark is chairing this project with the help of members of the Norris Foundation and Norris Institute.
In addition to the four initiatives chosen for immediate action, the growing Marketing Hometown America team is exploring other ideas for implementation. One example, which came out of a study group headed by Andy Long and Gene Weedin, is to emphasize one of the great attributes of a medium-sized town like McCook. Here, Andy said in his report at the Town Hall session, we are only minutes away from all the essential places for daily living, like the school, the hospital, the post office, the grocery store and the bank. How we present this idea -- called 'It's About Time!,' is yet to be determined, but one possibly is the placement of billboards proclaiming McCook's time advantage in metropolitan areas like Omaha and Denver.
All these community project ideas -- and more -- will be front and center in the weeks and months to come as the citizens of McCook and Nebraska prepare for the 2017 celebration of the town's 135th birthday and the state's 150th anniversary.
To add to the momentum for city-wide and region-wide action, the McCook/Red Willow County Visitor's Bureau will be doing a full-fledged roll-out of the "Capitol of the Buffalo Commons" marketing message at a brand booth during the Red Willow County Fair, upcoming later this month. The booth will be shared with the Marketing Hometown America team, which will also be showcasing the initial McCook projects and the progress that has been made by fair time.
The branding initiative, described as one of the best plans in city and county history, was spearheaded by Tourism Director Schlegel and the Visitors Bureau Board, which includes Dan Stramel, Perry Strombeck, Tyler Loop and Ryan Fuller. The brand plan was developed by Maly Marketing of Lincoln.
Enthused by the dynamic presentations at the Town Hall session, Dixon, the MEDC director, declared, "I can hardly contain my excitement and enthusiasm for this rollout for McCook and Southwest Nebraska. It is authentic, accurate, professional and, quite frankly, very cool."
Dixon should know, having worked in and around marketing initiatives for products and events formore than 30 years, including creative development for Reebok, Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works, and the NFL.