This morning I enjoyed a brief but interesting discussion
with KC Keefer, the brilliant videographer behind the Genuine Route 66 series and a series of videos on forgotten places such as the Painted Desert Trading Post and Glenrio in partnership with Dr. Nick Gerlich. The topic of conversation was Route 66 as a catalyst for economic development and revitalization in rural communities. As that has been the subject of recent Jim Hinckley’s America blog posts as well as Facebook live programs, I found his insights and thoughts to be particularly relevant.
In building the foundation for economic development in a community, tourism as a primary component is a very poor choice. However, tourism should always be considered a component in the creation of an economic development plan, especially in a community that has Route 66 as the main street through its historic business district. Additionally, in these communities all marketing should include a Route 66 element. The popularity of the road will magnify these type of initiatives. often with tremendous results.
As important as Route 66 in in regards to marketing or revitalization initiatives, myopic focus on what Route 66 was can be as detrimental as not using it at all. It is imperative that a community also focus on the future. As an example consider the embryonic Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum in Kingman, Arizona. In addition, Route 66 should also be utilized as a means for showcasing the unique attributes of a community. If a town can blend these components in a single package, and has the leadership needed to get community buy in, it will be transformed, regardless of rural location or size.
Atlanta, Illinois illustrates this point. This small rural farming community has successfully utilized the international interest in Route 66 and the underlying quest for an authentic American experience as a component for economic development and revitalization. The vintage clock tower and a program that allows visitors to assist in its winding once a week, the development of an arcade museum that allows for an interactive experience, and events such as an electric vehicle cruise in ensure diversity of marketing opportunities as well as in visitors that make Atlanta a destination. The economic development projects are integrated with the tourism related components. These include a public/private partnership that resulted in the refurbishment and reopening of the Palms Grill Cafe, and the creation of the Colaw Rooming House, a one of a kind lodging experience for families or groups.
Communities such as Atlanta are rare examples. In many towns tourism is viewed merely as the dusty museum housed in the outdated courthouse manned by elderly volunteers. In these towns Route 66, if noted at all, is simply “that old highway.” Rarely will facts, statistics, or even demonstrable results be enough to spark a reawakening. More often than not when presented with evidence the response is apathy or a litany of excuses why what worked in other towns won’t work in (insert the name of town here).
At this point there are but three options for the individual that has a passion for their community, that laments the children who leave town after high school never return except for a 25th anniversary ceremony, and that longs for revival. One, complain until you have run off friends, family, and neighbors. Two, move. Three, develop a grassroots initiative for transformation. Here in Kingman two grassroots initiatives have finally taken root, the Route 66 Association of Kingman and the Promote Kingman initiative. Now, these two initiatives are working as partners with a common goal and there is a hint of a reawakening.
These initiatives now have allies in city government and there is the faintest of hints that tourism may be shaking off the apathy and indifference. Partnerships are being formed. As an example, the organizers of Chillin’ on Beale now have marketing as well as promotional assistance from Promote Kingman, and the event is being expanded to include a free movie night. There is a palpable sense of excitement made manifest in the restoration of buildings and in new construction in the cities historic core.
So, would you care to share stories of frustration, success, and new developments in your community? If so, drop.
Feel free to tip the story teller with change or comments. Either one is greatly appreciated.
Thank you –