Innovative Program Winner: Marketing Hometown America

31 July 2014 Written by 

Three State Marketing Program Honored

Longing to be home is a common sentiment. However, marketing home is a not-so-common way to stimulate development. Marketing Hometown America is the focus of three-state effort that recognizes the uniqueness of each small town and facilitates local citizens in creating a plan that is designed to attract new residents.

The team from North Dakota State University Extension (NDSU), South Dakota State University Extension (SDSU), and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension (UNL) collaborated in a USDA NIFA-funded research project to determine what causes people to move to small towns. The team then used those results to help develop marketing plans for a pair of small towns in each state.

The results so far are the development of different plans based on the uniqueness of each community. Community coaches are encouraging the beginning stages of implementation with each one taking a different path. For example, one pilot community hosts a small private college is working to bridge the gap between the students and the community through new activities and improved communication methods. Another place reached the realization that it was part of a mini regionof small communities that should ban together. That is now starting with an online contest to name themselves and the development of a common community calendar.

Shaun Evertson, the Steering Committee Chair for the Kimball (Neb.) Recruitment Coalition originally thought this would be like many other efforts he had seen over two decades – start strong but quickly fizzle out. He soon realized this was different: “In a nutshell, the program led our Kimball participants to a place where they could agree on a single, generalized goal that of marketing our community to newcomers. With that goal as an accepted measuring stick, sorting ideas and prioritizing projects became far simpler. Being able to ask “how does this help market the community to newcomers?” made it much easier to keep an eye on the prize and not get bogged down in minutia.”

Marketing Hometown America places the creation of a marketing plan in the hands of the community who knows its assets the best. It allows this to be done in an informed way and at an affordable price. It moves marketing a community away from a standardized approach and makes it unique for each community by requiring the participants to identify the assets that are around them. This empowers the community to work together toward their desired. This moved people from bridging social capital through transformational social capital, to bonding social capital where action occurs.

The team was led by Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel at UNL, Kathy Tweeten at NDSU, and David P. Olson at SDSU. A discussion guide to aid communities was written by Jodi Bruns of NDSU, Kari O’Neill and Peggy Schlechter of SDSU and Burkhart-Krissel of UNL. It was done in conjunction with Everyday Democracy, an East Hartford, Conn.-based organization which provides tools for positive community change and utilized its study circle program model. Reviewers of the guide were Randy Cantrell at UNL, Tweeten at NDSU, and the Hot Springs, S.D. community team.

Others involved from the three universities include Nancy Hodur, Sharon Smith, and Helen Volk-Schill of NDSU; Kenneth Sherin at SDSU; and Anita Hall, Connie Hancock, Charlotte Narjes, Rebecca Vogt, and Becky Brown at  UNL. Also working on the project were David Peters of Iowa State University and community members Becky Bown and Tyler Demars of North Dakota and Irene Fletcher of Nebraska.

This program also received the Excellence in Teamwork Award from the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals.

The photo shows members of the Marketing Hometown America team being presented the award by CDS President Bo Beaulieu. 

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