This week Pontiac, Illinois is host city for the seventh annual Miles of Possibility Conference. As this charming town has come to symbolize how the Route 66 renaissance can fuel revitalization of a blighted historic district and provide a community with an economic boost, it is a fitting location for the conference.
The conference is rooted in the conventions hosted by the U.S. Highway 66 Association ninety years ago. The association was born of simple precepts – with marketing and road improvements the newly minted US 66 would become an artery of commerce that provided communities along that highway corridor with nearly economic opportunities limited only by the imagination.
And so, Cyrus Avery and a small group of visionaries early in 1927 established the association in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The organization had two primary goals. Lobby to have the highway paved from end to end. And to develop tourism initiatives by borrowing a slogan from National Road and National Old Trails Road promotional campaigns and market Route 66 as the Main Street of America.
Paving, making the double six and all-weather highway from end to end, took longer than expected. It would the late 1930s before the last pavement was placed over the gravel and dirt near Valentine, Arizona.
The various marketing campaigns that centered on tourism development were overwhelmingly successful. Largely resultant of the associations work, this storied highway that officially no longer exists is the more popular than at any time in its history.
And that popularity made manifest in Route 66 associations in Europe, Canada and Japan, festivals in Europe, and tours along the iconic highway that is a part of the highways infectious magic will be a part of this week’s conference. But as with the original conventions, it is also about the business of Route 66 as evidenced by the list of speakers that includes Stephanie Sucky, CEO of Stuckey’s, and granddaughter of founder W. S. Stuckey, and Bill Thomas, Chairman, Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership.
From its inception, except for the years of the apocalypse, 2020 and 2021, we have included the conference in our fall tour. This year the Heartland Tour sponsored in part by Visit Tucumcari and the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona includes book signings, presentations and speaking engagements, and meetings with tourism directors as well as tour company owners, business owners, and event organizers.
A report about Route 66 trends, tourism, the centennial, etc. based on the conference and meetings will be written on return. It will be made available on request.
And, of course, I am gathering fodder for upcoming episodes of the Jim Hinckley’s America podcast, Coffee With Jim and Car Talk From The Main Street of America. And rest assured, some of our discoveries will be shared in future blog posts, articles and books, and speaking engagements. After all, telling people where to go and sharing America’s story is what we do.