I recently attended a meeting to discuss a pooled resource marketing initiative for attractions in northern Arizona. Much to my surprise, especially since the organizer of the initiative is a business owner in Williams, Arizona, Route 66 wasn’t considered important enough to be included in the marketing strategy.
If a business owner on Route 66 has trouble seeing the potential that the roads popularity represents, what about people who have little or no association with the storied old road? What about communities where the city government seems blissfully unaware of the Route 66 renaissance and the potential this represents while they desperately search for ways to create a sense of community, stimulate the local economy, and revitalize an historic district.How does this affect preservation or promotional initiatives? What are the long term ramifications for the Route 66 community? The need to address issues pertaining to promotion and economic development, and to foster awareness as well as provide a unified voice for the businesses and communities along the Route 66 corridor, was the cornerstone for establishment of the U.S. Highway 66 Association in early 1927.It is also one reason that I am such an avid supporter of Scott Piotrowski’s initiative to host a major festival in the heart of the historic Los Angeles business district this coming November, which will introduce a new multicultural demographic to the international Route 66 community. This is also the reason why I am a passionate supporter of the ambitious, and occasionally maligned, Route 66: The Road Ahead Initiative. It is also why I was so disappointed when the Route 66 Alliance spearheaded by Michael Wallis failed to meet the needs of this community.To date, in the era of the Route 66 renaissance there have been numerous attempts to address this growing need. A few, such as Ron Hart’s ambitious Route 66 Chamber of Commerce that has developed the largest multifaceted Route 66 website existent, innovative cooperative partnership initiatives developed by state Route 66 associations, programs such as the 160-Miles of Smiles marketing campaign, or David Knudson’s pioneering National Historic Route 66 Federation, publisher of the EZ 66 Guide by Jerry McClanahan, have made tremendous contributions to the growth of the Route 66 community as well as the preservation movement that is crucial to maintaining the historic integrity of the highways corridor. However, for a variety of reasons these organizations have been unable to fully meet the needs of a rapidly changing Route 66 community, or address the issues that this community faces. Also contributing to the inability to recreate a modern incarnation of the very successful U.S. Highway 66 Association are narrow minded groups who do not see Route 66 as a linear community, an apt term coined by Michael Wallis, individuals driven by personal agendas or egos that are savoy in the use of modern social media networks and that disseminate inaccurate or even misleading information, and even a few self serving business owners that have actively worked to stifle or hinder organizational initiatives such as the road ahead initiative.I, however, am rather confident that in the very near future we will see the spirit of the original promotional organization that gave us the Main Street of America marketing campaign made manifest in a new and vital organization. Just this morning I was engaged in correspondence pertaining to the Route 66: The Road Ahead Initiative and plans for establishment an international advisory group composed of members from the various European, Asian, and South American Route 66 associations. Last week I had some rather exciting discussions with folks in Holbrook, and attended a great networking meeting with members of the Route 66 Association of Kingman. It looks as though the Kingman organization is generating interest in the development of similar associations and their networking. It is quite possible that this could be the most exciting chapter in this storied old roads history. It is also quite possible that the decade leading to its centennial will see an unprecedented awakening about the road, its importance, and the opportunities the renaissance represents for a younger generation seeking unique business opportunities.